…Mnangagwa’s associates under fire from the public
OUTRAGE is growing over government’s plan to displace over 12 500 villagers in the Chilonga area of Chiredzi to accommodate President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s cronies at Dendairy.
Darren Coetzee, Dendairy boss and a close Mnangagwa business ally from Kwekwe where the dairy company is headquartered, was awarded controversial rights to land to produce lucerne grass for his dairy.
Mnangagwa’s government last week moved to order evictions of the farmers by gazetting the land through Statutory Instrument (SI) 50 of 2021. The SI designates 12 940 hectares of communal land for the grass project.
The SI orders the eviction of locals who protested the move when Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga visited the area last year.
Dendairy was formed in 2004. It is owned by the Coetzee family, with Scandinavian private equity firm Spear Capital holding a minority stake in the company. Spear bought 27% of Dendairy in 2015.
Dendairy is involved in merger negotiations with local dairy giant Dairibord Holdings Limited.
Although the company pledged US$10 million as compensation for the displacement of the villagers, the offer was strongly rejected by community leaders.
Despite resistance from the villagers, Mnangagwa’s government is pushing to evict the Chilonga villagers.
The move has triggered widespread outrage from civil society, humanitarian organisations, opposition parties, communities and ordinary Zimbabweans.
An online campaign, under the hashtag #BoycottDendairy to boycott Dendairy products over the land seizure, has been launched to express opposition to the deal.
Dr Phillan Zamchiya, a senior researcher at the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies where he is currently the regional coordinator for its new project on the privatisation of customary land and women’s land rights in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia, said government must put a moratorium on communal land seizures.
“There is need for a moratorium on the continued rise of large-scale acquisitions of customary land for private investments in the marginalised rural areas of Zimbabwe to allow for a post-colonial democratic national resolution of the three issues articulated below,” Zamchiya said.
“The latest such unchallenged trend is epitomised by the recently gazetted Statutory Instrument 50 of 2021. This Communal Land (Setting aside of Land) (Chiredzi,) Notice, 2021) by Minister of Local Government, Urban and Rural Development orders about 12 000 people occupying or using 12 940 hectares of customary land in Chilonga communal area in Chiredzi to depart immediately and permanently.
“This is meant to pave way for lucerne grass farming by Dendairy Private Limited. For emphasis, this is not an isolated case, as land rights holders – vulnerable women and men – living on marginal customary land face similar types of evictions in marginal places like Hwange and Chipinge districts.”
Zamchiya, who holds a PhD in International Development from the University of Oxford, said government’s approach is deeply flawed and undesirable.
“First, the government is partly basing its decision on a narrow belief that private big estates are the only vehicle for economic transformation despite widespread evidence to their detrimental effects on the vulnerable people’s diverse livelihoods on the African continent,” he said.
“This approach is problematic because it is premised on a narrow development transition pathway that envisions big companies (like Dendairy Pvt Ltd) led farming in the countryside as the only viable model or the real deal.”
Zamchiya added: “Second, Zimbabwe’s land laws do not explicitly mention the right to consent in line with the universal principle of Free Prior Informed Consent and the national 2013 constitution.
“A moratorium would allow the government to entrench the universal right to self-determination in order to protect vulnerable communities such as the people of Chilonga. The current land laws give power to the President, local authorities and traditional leaders and responsible ministers toto act on behalf of men and women who live on customary land. This limits the power of the actual land rights holders to say Yes or No to development projects.
“Third, even in the context of the Zimbabwean state using its expropriation powers, as happens elsewhere, the current compensation model for customary land reinforces a pervasive neo-colonial policy line that casts land under customary tenure as being of little or no economic value.”
Main opposition MDC Alliance secretary for local government and rural development Sessel Zvidzai said cronyism was central in the allocation of the land to Dendairy.
“We know that Dendairy is well-heeled and well connected. As a result it will get unfair favour from the powers-that-be. This is why President Mnangagwa and Zanu PF have told the villagers that they have no choice, but to move from the land of their ancestors to make way for Mr Cotzee’s Dendairy, notwithstanding the irreparable damage this will do to the ripped livelihoods,” Zvidzai said.
Filmmaking journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, who has been in the forefront of the push for a Dendairy boycott, said the move was corrupt.
“What is happening to the Shangani people of Chilonga is unacceptable even by the standards of any corrupt society. It is unacceptable that a company that is directly linked to the President of the country goes to take land from black people,” Chin’ono said.
“For how long are poor people going to be abused like this? For how long are we going to allow the President to use his state power to enhance his own private wealth? This is unacceptable.”
The Chilonga case spilled into parliament this week, with independent Norton legislator Temba Mliswa asking whether the government was reversing the year 2000’s fast-track land redistribution programme and displacing people from their ancestral lands.
“These are not illegal settlers; they are legal settlers. They have been there for a long time. They are 12 000 plus those who live off them, they maybe 50 000 but over one person. The question is have we now gotten to a point where we have reversed the land reform programme?” he asked.