A CHIREDZI magistrate has acquitted traditional leader Livison Chikutu who is at the forefront of resisting the establishment of lucerne plantations in Chilonga after he was arrested for inciting public violence in June in a case viewed by local villagers as intimidation meant to deter them from defending their rights.
Chikutu was arrested near his home by detectives from the Law and Order department after angry villagers stormed a meeting at Chief Chilonga’s homestead and protested plans by Kwekwe-based dairy firm Dendairy to establish lucerne plantations in their area which will leave the future of more than 10 000 people uncertain.
After trial commenced last month, magistrate Vimbai Mutukwa ruled that the state and its witnesses failed to prove to the court that Chikutu, who was being represented by Rita Chakauya of Muzenda and Chitsama Attorneys, incited his people to cause public violence and discharged him.
Speaking to The NewsHawks after his acquittal last week, Chikutu said he never incited people during the meeting but his arrest was only meant to intimidate him since he is leading his community against Dendairy’s manoeuvres.
“I am happy that the court set me free after charges were created by the police against me. This was done to instill fear in me so that l can stop standing up for what belongs to the Shangaan people. There are ongoing activities over the lucerne project which we are challenging as a community and the setting up of my trial dates were meant to eliminate me from attending some of the meetings. Let them know that we will not rest until our rights over land are respected,” said Chikutu.
Masvingo Centre for Research Advocacy and Community Development (MACRAD) programmes cordinator Ephraim Mthombeni told The NewsHawks that the state should stop employing tactics meant to intimidate the Shangaan people against standing up for their rights.
He said the victims of the land seizure should be given information about the planned move by the government which should also respect the constitution which protects all citizens rather than arresting them on trumped up charges.
“The state failed to establish a prima facie case against Chikutu. It was obvious the court was going to throw away the case. The state should not try to hide behind a finger, intimidating local leaders in Chilonga; instead, proper procedures should be followed. The supreme law of the land is there to guide us. The indigenous Shangaan community in Chilonga should enjoy all the fundamental human rights like all other human beings. These people cannot continue with relocations after they moved two times to pave way for sugar plantations and Gonarezhou National Park without being compensated,” said Mthombeni.