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Evictions violate constitutional rights



A MASVINGO-BASED Youth advocacy group, Community Tolerance, Reconciliation and Development (Cotrad), has condemned the arbitrary eviction of resettled farmers, saying this violates a constitutionally enshrined right against unfair eviction.


In a letter written on 24 February 2024 to the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Masvingo office, Cotrad director Zivanai Muzorodzi bemoaned the evictions that have affected Masvingo province under a government operation codenamed “No to Land Barons” which has left families homeless civilians.

“I am writing to bring to your attention a matter of grave concern regarding the recent government operation ‘No to Land Barons,’ which has resulted in the arbitrary eviction of individuals from their land and homes. This operation, purportedly aimed at addressing land barons and illegal land allocations, has unfortunately led to widespread human rights violations, particularly in contravention of the constitutionally enshrined rights to freedom from arbitrary evictions, rights to agricultural land, and property rights,” wrote Muzorodzi.

 The police says of 13 February 2024, a total of 3 775 people had been arrested in connection with the alleged parcelling out of land without authority. There have been 985 convictions.

A fortnight ago, videos went viral showing people in Masvingo being evicted by the police from their homes. The issue has been debated in Parliament amid fears of a housing crisis as grave as that of Operation Murambatsvina of 2005.

Although the Speaker of the National Assembly, Jacob Mudenda, says those who are illegally settled should be removed from the areas they occupy, Muzorodzi says the evictions are violating the constitutionally enshrined right against arbitrary eviction.

 “The operation ‘No to Land Barons’ has directly infringed upon the fundamental rights of the affected individuals, as outlined in the constitution of Zimbabwe. I respectfully draw your attention to the following constitutional provisions and how they have been violated by the government’s actions, section 74 (freedom from arbitrary evictions),” said Muzorodzi.

Section 74 of the constitution of Zimbabwe guarantees every person the right to freedom from arbitrary eviction.

 “No person may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances,” reads the constitution. Muzorodzi says the evictions are evidence of lack of due process.

“The arbitrary nature of the evictions carried out under the operation ‘No to Land Barons’ is evident in the lack of due process, adequate notice, or legal recourse for the affected individuals. Many families have been forcibly removed from their homes without proper consultation, compensation, or alternative accommodation, leading to homelessness and displacement,” he said.

 On the eve of National Youth Day which was celebrated on 21 February, the government put the evictions on hold after the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights challenged the constitutionality of the evictions. On 7 February 2024, Masvingo magistrate Ivy Jawona sentenced the villagers to a wholly suspended three months in prison.

 But the villagers filed an appeal the High Court in Masvingo on 9 February 2024, arguing that Magistrate Jawona erred and misdirected herself in convicting and sentencing them to serve jail terms for illegally occupying gazetted land as some of them have been in occupation of their land for more than 40 years and had effected tremendous improvements to their land.

 The villagers want the High Court to overturn their conviction and set aside their sentence and refer their matter to the Constitutional Court for a determination of the constitutionality of their eviction. More recently 66 villagers in Masvingo were acquitted of occupying state land.

The 66 villagers had been on trial at the Masvingo magistrates’ court after they were arrested on 22 January by police and charged for occupying gazetted land without lawful authority as defined in section 3(1) of the Gazetted Land (Consequential Provisions) Act.

During trial, prosecutors alleged that the 66 villagers, some of them aged above 70 years, unlawfully held, used or occupied part of Great Zimbabwe University land in Masvingo province, which is deemed to be state land.

The prosecutors, who stated that the complainant in the matter was Charity Mumera, the deputy director in the ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Fisheries and Rural Development, claimed that the villagers illegally occupied pieces of state land from the year 2000 to date in contravention of section 3(1) of the Gazetted Land (Consequential Provisions) Act.

The wave of evictions is affecting many in rural Zimbabwe. On 13 February 2024, a total of 247 villagers residing in Mahachi Village in Chipinge were accused of illegally occupying land, while 80 others were accused of illegally occupying Munyokowere Village in Masvingo.

On 23 February, a total of 180 villagers in Gwanda were in court, but out on bail, accused of illegally occupying state land.

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