AN aspiring Zanu PF Tsholotsho District Coordinating Committee (DCC) chairperson is locked in a dispute with Ward 13 villagers and traditional leaders who accuse him of grabbing their grazing land.
Villagers say Owen Sibanda unilaterally took over about 30 hectares in the Godzo area under controversial circumstances in 2018, after being allocated a portion of the land by the Tsholotsho Rural District Council (RDC).
Several attempts to evict Sibanda have hit a brick wall even after the matter spilled to the High Court, which in 2019 ruled in his favour.
Undeterred by the court ruling, traditional leaders have appealed to the Zanu PF provincial leadership to intervene in their bid to evict the businessman from the area, arguing that the land in question is communal, not commercial.
Villagers also say the land was reserved for their livestock grazing.
In an interview, a local traditional leader, Chief Magama, under whose jurisdiction the land falls, said: “We will never accept a land baron to politically preside over our jurisdiction”.
Zanu PF is preparing to hold DCC elections ahead of the party’s 19th annual conference in Mashonaland Central in December.
“We feel undermined and disrespected as the traditional leadership. Community members do not want him after taking communal lands meant for grazing,” Chief Magama told The NewsHawks.
“It is for this reason that angry community members once burned and destroyed his property. We hope Zanu PF will do the right thing as villagers don’t want him in this area.”
About 120 villagers were arrested in 2018 for public violence and malicious damage to property belonging to Sibanda in a matter arising from a land dispute.
The businessman however withdrew the case against villagers, leading to their release.
Contacted for comment, Sibanda was adamant that he was allocated the land procedurally.
He accused his political opponents of sponsoring villagers to frustrate his political campaign.
“Everything was above board until politics came into play. It’s all politics. With regards to so-called grazing lands, surely a whole village cannot be seen complaining over those hectares. Was it not for politics at play?” Sibanda asked.
“They (political opponents) are trying every ‘dirty’ trick to frustrate my political ambitions. I have been victimised a lot by the same people who are now sponsoring the villagers to create conflict between me and them.”
However, Tsholotsho RDC chief executive officer Nkululeko Sibanda said the businessman unprocedurally grabbed the bulk of the land.
“As far as the council is concerned, the allocation of the land in question was not done procedurally. Council documents show that Sibanda was supposed to be allocated only 4.4 hectares but he ended up getting as much as 19.2 hectares extra, if I am not mistaken. A forensic audit also confirms that he was given more land under unclear circumstances,” he said.
“We have been in contact with his lawyers as council, and very soon and on behalf of the villagers we (as council) will have a roundtable with them (Sibanda’s lawyers) to deal with this matter. Also, the land in question was for agricultural purposes but then we have seen construction of other property such as houses and various facilities. Villagers do not want him since his projects have blocked access to their grazing lands and Godzo Dam where they used to water their livestock. This land dispute is also one reason that cost the former CEO his job.”
Former Tsholotsho RDC chief executive Themba Moyo resigned in February 2019 after serving the council for 10 years. Moyo resigned while he was on suspension for 33 counts of gross misconduct and misappropriation of funds.
On 24 September 2020, some aspiring Tsholotsho DCC candidates wrote to the provincial elections directorate seeking Sibanda’s disqualification on the ground that he started campaigning before the national commissariat had given the go-ahead for candidates to canvass for votes.
Contacted for comment, Zanu PF’s Matabeleland North provincial chairperson, Richard Moyo, said: “I have not seen any letter of complaint from the said villagers and aspiring candidates. However, if ever there is such a complaint, we will not hesitate to write to the national commissariat to investigate the matter.”–Own Correspondent
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