GOVERNMENT has finally launched a process to consult the people of Chilonga over a grass-growing project to be undertaken in parts of Chiredzi East and South which could displace 10 000 families.
The first meeting, held on Tuesday at Hippo Valley Country Club, was attended by traditional leaders from the area, government officials including members of the Chiredzi joint operations command, former journalist Lilian Muungani who was representing Kwekwe-based company Dendairy as well as Zanu PF Chiredzi district coordinating committee members.
The consultative meeting comes more than 6 months after the gazzetting of statutory instruments by Local Government minister July Moyo advising the nation about the government’s intention to use the Land Act to evict the mostly Shangaan people to pave way for the Dendairy project whose owners are linked to President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The Shangaan people are resisting the move, saying they cannot be moved away from their ancestral land for a project which will not benefit them.
They also said they cannot be moved for the third time since they were once evicted from Hippo Valley and Triangle to pave way for sugarcane farming before being moved again to pave way for the creation of Gonarezhou National Park.
The villagers are also citing huge mineral deposits in their area, including diamonds as the primary target of senior government officials and their allies rather that the livestock feed which the government is talking about.
First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa has adopted Chambuta Refugee Camp, turning it into an orphanage which will run under her Angel of Hope char initiative and is now being upgraded.
Four village heads from each ward were invited to attend the preliminary meeting which will see the meetings cascading to affected villages and communities. Wards 6 and 7 from Chilonga as well as Ward 8 in Masivamele which now falls under the newly created Chilonga chieftainship.
A traditional leader who attended the consultative meeting on Tuesday told The NewsHawks that the deliberations, chaired by Chiredzi district development Coordinator Lovemore Chisema, was also addressed by Muungani on behalf of Dendairy.
He said Muungani told the meeting that the milk-processing company will consult people at all levels in the affected communities with the firm requesting 200 hectares to construct a dam for a pilot project which will see communities taking part as outgrower farmers.
The project will move to other areas if the pilot project succeeded.
“We attended the first meeting on Tuesday which saw Dendairy through their representative giving us all details about the project which they are intending to launch in our area. The representative told us about the services offered by Dendairy and she also told us that the company always wanted to consult the communities before launching the project. Dendairy distanced itself from the processes which were being taken by government.
It was just the beginning of the consultative process and we were not asked if we accept the project since other meetings will be held at community level,” said the traditional leader.
Chiredzi district development coordinator Lovemore Chisema confirmed the convening of the meeting to The NewsHawks, but said he was not privileged to delve into the details of the Tuesday discussion.
Efforts to get a comment from Muungani were fruitless as her mobile phone was switched off when The NewsHawks called for a comment.
Masvingo Centre for Research Advocacy and Community Development (Macrad) programmes manager Ephraim Mthombeni said the first consultative meeting was done in a partisan manner as Zanu PF officials were invited to attend in their political capacities.
He said the venue of the meeting was unfair as it was far from where the affected communities live, with the situation being worsened by the flooded Lundi River where people are paying R50 to cross the river using illegal boats, with one having to fork out R200 as transport fare to the venue.
“The consultative meetings have already been done in a partisan manner. We are reliably informed that Zanu PF DCC members were invited to attend in their capacities as Zanu PF members. There is no basis whatsoever for inviting Zanu PF members to the meeting. The meeting was done in Chiredzi town, far away from where the affected people are domiciled. To worsen the situation, the meetings are being done at a time when Lundi River is overflowing at Chilonga bridge, with cars unable to cross and one has to use an engineless boat to cross the river and the boats are charging R50 with the total cost of travelling rising to R200 for the trip inclusive of transport fare for the trip”
“We humbly submit that if there are any consultations to be done it is the government that should travel to the people to conduct the consultation and not vice versa. The land question is a very sensitive issue which affects a lot of fundamental human rights. Where possible, all affected people must take part in consultation meetings that are to be done, while village heads can be used as mediums of communication where the government must engage villagers on a village-to-village basis” said Mthombeni.