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Chilonga villagers face torrid intimidation

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INTIMIDATION of community leaders in Chilonga who are against displacements to pave way for a lucerne grass project and possibly the extraction of minerals, has reached frightening levels as some traditional leaders are now staying in the bush in fear of state agents, The NewsHawks can report.

MORRIS BISHI
State security agents travelling in unmarked vehicles are visiting the homes of known village heads who are at the forefront of resisting a government move to evict over 12 000 families from their ancestral land to pave way for a lucerne grass project by Kwekwe-based milk producer Dendairy.

Two weeks ago, Albert Dumela, a youth from Chilonga, was arrested after he chanted “pasi nemaKaranga” (down with Karanga people) during a visit to the area by Masvingo minister of state Ezra Chadzamira.

Charges against Dumela are not yet clear. He was summoned by police at Chambuta who directed him to pay a fine, but he refused and is now being represented by Collen Maboke of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.

A village head in Chibwedziva told The NewsHawks he is now staying in the bush after men travelling in an unmarked vehicle visited his home looking for him. He said the men came back the following day and abducted his child whom they told to lead them to where his father was.

“I am now living in fear to the extent that it is risky for me to tell you my name. I once left my home for three days after men travelling in an unmarked vehicle came looking for me. After failing to locate me, they abducted my son, telling him that he should lead them to where l was. I am innocent, my crime is only that l represent my voiceless people who are against these forced relocations to pave way for a grass project which will feed cattle. I am yet to believe this is true. What is important between animals and human beings?” asked the village head.

Ephraim Mthombeni, director of the Masvingo Centre for Research and Advocacy (Macrad), a non-profit social justice organisation, told The NewsHawks that it is surprising that instead of intensifying public consultation over the project, the government is threatening known opponents of the project in Chilonga. 

He said traditional leaders were being targeted and he also confirmed that one of the village heads once moved from his home after men believed to be state security agents visited his home looking for him.

“At the heart of the villagers’ concerns is intimidation by some government agents who claim to be from the President’s Office. The community leaders put forward that instead of seeing door-to-door consultations, they have witnessed door-to-door intimidation of people who publicly criticise the government’s decision to set aside land for lucerne production. One village head narrated how some men driving a car without number plates have terrorised his family. He explained that he once spent three days away from home fearing for his life and the unidentified men thereafter kidnapped his son and asked him to direct them to where his father was. The son had to dodge the men,” Mthombeni said.

“The community leaders are now living in fear as state security agents have been roaming around their villages and intimidating people. The security agents have reportedly threatened to decisively deal with all those against government programmes. The surveillance by the agents intensified after some top-ranking officials from the county’s main opposition party visited Chiredzi,” said Mthombeni.

He added that the government should hold proper consultations which should be monitored by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) to ensure that human rights are not being violated.

He said the ZHRC should visit the area and interview the people with a view to protecting their rights as people of Chilonga are now even fearing of constructing permanent buildings as their future is uncertain. 

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