Wedzerai Gwenzi from Chisumbanje asks with regret why his late father abandoned his family to join the liberation struggle.
Gwenzi says while his father played his part in liberating the country; he died after independence without anything — a pauper who had his land taken away by a white man, businessman Billy Rautenbach.
“I now blame my father for wasting his time fighting for independence and land ownership because during the time he spent at war, he could not mobilise resources for our education,” an emotional Gwenzi told delegates last Thursday at a Transparency International Zimbabwe launch of a documentary on women, land and corruption.
“Thirty six years later I am still fighting to take back our land in Chisumbanje. Government allowed one man, Rautenbach to displace close to 30 000 villagers for his sugarcane plantation.”
Gwenzi said the ethanol project at Chisumbanje had impoverished villagers to the extent that some women ended up selling their bodies to headmen, just to be given half a hectare of land to plough and feed their children.
“‘Sextortion’ is now the order of the day in Chisumbanje, and women are sexually exploited by headmen and other powerful people to get small pieces of land. They are scared to make reports for fear of losing the land — their only source of livelihood,” she said.
“Rautenbach is a powerful man and he has the backing of people at the top. We used to see former state security minister Didymus Mutasa and MPs threatening people whenever they tried to resist occupation of their land to make way for the ethanol project. Right now in Chisumbanje, there is need to capacitate women to be self-sustaining so that they can defend themselves from sextortion.”
Robinson Nyakurwa (74) said he was born in Chisumbanje and had seen different companies setting up in the area.
“A company called Tilco which was the first to set up in Chisumbanje looked after the villagers well. It used to build schools and people would be contracted to remove tree stumps and be paid well for it. Arda then took over from Tilco and they assisted us with tractors. They only requested that we buy diesel to use their tractors for ploughing,” he said.
Nyakurwa said when the ethanol project started the situation in Chisumbanje changed.
“He [Rautenbach], however, does not help people. He made an agreement with Arda to acquire 5½ hectares of land and we did not have qualms with that. But [although he has now taken thousands of hactres], he should leave the pieces of land where he has not worked to enable us to farm because we are now unsure where our next meal will come from,” Nyakurwa said.
Claris Madhuku, the director for Platform for Youth Development, said “sextortion” of women desperate for land in Chisumbanje was happening under cover, with most of them lacking courage to speak out.
“There is need to increase awareness on the affected women so that the cases can be reported. As the Chisumbanje community, the biggest problem we have is that since 2009, everything that was promised to the community has not been delivered,” Madhuku said.
Chinhoyi University lecturer Patience Mutopo who authored a book on women, land disposition and biofuels, said what was happening in Chisumbanje was a negation of human rights principles and protocols which Zimbabwe was signatory to.
“We cannot talk of the existence of working gender policies in Zimbabwe. We need responsive national gender policies which include views of rural women. Land policies should look at the rights of women and children, business human rights and corporate social responsibility,” Mutopo said.
Manase Chiweshe, an associate coordinator of the Chinhoyi University Unesco Saich Platform said urban land was desirable for women because unlike rural land, it could be sold.
“Land is now also a political tool and when we have elections in 2018, people will be allowed to build on illegal land but the houses will be demolished after elections,” Chiweshe said.