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Opinion

Govt must be transparent on Chilonga

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IT seems the Chilonga saga is not about to die down. Civil society groups, media, communities, villagers and professionals won’t let it go.

Not because they have a score to settle with government, particularly President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his Dendairy business associates.

Investment and business are good, not just for the shareholders, but also for workers, communities, the economy and development. People, especially in impoverished economies like Zimbabwe, would like to see investment and jobs being created, but not at the cost of their constitutional rights, ancestral land, history, culture and identity.

Jobs that come that way are not welcome. People would rather die poor than allow their identity and heritage to be destroyed by crony capitalism – investment which comes through a nexus of greedy political and business elites, especially if there is corruption involved.

So government must withdraw from Chilonga. If there are diamonds or any other minerals in the area,
there is a way of engaging communities and following the law to ensure such investment and development are accommodated.

People need to respected and consulted about issues that affect their rights and wellbeing. Bulldozing in
the name of power and influence doesn’t work. Nobody owns this country as private property.

Not even those who delude themselves claiming they are the owners, saying “this is our thing”. A country cannot be owned by a group of corrupt cronies and their hangers-on. It is owned by the collective of its citizens.

That’s a no brainer.

Even if political, business and military elites colonise the state and plunder, they still don’t own it. That colonial mentality of Cecil Rhodes and Leopold II of Belgium must perish.

The point is government must respect citizens and consult. When that is done, people will naturally cooperate and help those who want to invest and bring development. Why would anyone refuse development, especially in poor rural and vulnerable communities?

There is always a need to balance community interests and development. In other words, balance community interests and the common

good. Not this authoritarian and arrogant approach we see from rulers who can’t even run the country properly.

So Chilonga must be properly reset.

A statement by civil society today helps on what should be done.

Last week, on 16 March 2021, the government published Statutory Instrument (SI) 72A of 2021 (Communal Land (Setting Aside of Land) (Chiredzi) Notice, 2021), which repealed SI 50 of 2021.

Gazetted on 26 February 2021, SI 50 of 2021 had set aside 12 940 hectares of land in Chiredzi for what was originally said to be a lucerne grass farming venture.

The SI required residents to vacate the land immediately. On 9 March, SI 63A of 2021 was published to correct certain mistakes that were in SI 50 of 2021.

The new SI 72A of 2021 maintains the original intent, with the land now said to be set aside for an irrigation scheme.

What has changed is the removal of the clause requiring the immediate vacation of the land by residents.

As a result, some people celebrated in the aftermath of SI 72A of 2021 thinking a people’s victory has been won following the outrage and pushback over Chilonga.

When the government gazetted SI 50 of 2021, simultaneously SI 51 of 2021 was gazetted.

SI 51 of 2021 changed designation of the same piece of land from being communal land to being state land. SI 51 of 2021 has not been repealed.

The effect of this is clear: the land on which the people of Chilonga live, has been taken away from them, and is now state land.

That same piece of land remains targeted and set aside under the new SI 72A for a purported irrigation
project.

So effectively nothing has changed.

Accordingly, the people of Chilonga remain at risk of eviction.

That is why prominent lawyer Tendai Biti’s (pictured) court challenge against the colonial land tenure system governing communal areas and rural communities like Chilonga is more than welcome.

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