The move by the government to eject over 12 000 people in Chiredzi to make way for a lucerne grass project has once again exposed the authorities’ disregard for the rule of law.
A week ago Chilonga villagers woke up to the news that they would be forcibly removed from their ancestral lands to make way for the stockfeed project by Dendairy, a Kwekwe-based company.
The government gazetted 6 000 hectares of land in the area, which paved the way for the evictions.
On Friday a Masvingo magistrate temporarily blocked the evictions after human rights advocates approached the courts to challenge the statutory instrument issued by Local Government minister July Moyo.
The magistrate said the government should show cause why they were evicting the “communal farmers from Chilonga community affected by Statutory Instrument 50 of 2021 without first securing an order of the court”.
Legal experts have pointed out that the mooted evictions are a violation of the constitution, which in Section 74 stipulates that “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”.
They point out that the government should have approached the High Court first to get an order allowing it to move the affected villagers to a different place.
The government argues the Dendairy project is meant to benefit the Chilonga community, but it has not bothered to explain how those benefits would accrue to the ordinary villagers.
If its intentions were sincere, the government should have first started by consulting the affected villagers to get their buy-in.
The reaction to the gazetting of Statutory Instrument 50 of 2021 has clearly demonstrated that the affected villagers are not convinced that the project will benefit their community.
The villagers do not want to move for various reasons, some of them cultural.
They are also not encouraged by the government’s track record in relocating villagers to make way for so-called national projects.
Over a decade ago, thousands of Masvingo villagers were moved from their ancestral lands to make way for the Tokwe-Mukosi Dam and they were dumped in Chingwizi.
The government is yet to provide the new settlements with requisite infrastructure such as schools, clinics and clean water.
A similar travesty happened in Manicaland where thousands of villagers were forcibly relocated to make way for diamond mines.
The diamond companies were not bothered to ensure that the resettlement areas had proper infrastructure and to this day some villagers are living in squalor.
Besides respecting the law, the authorities are obliged to ensure there is a buy-in from the Chilonga community for the project to take off and this can only happen if the villagers’ concerns are addressed before any moves are made to relocate them.