BY ANDREW KUNAMBURA AND MOSES MATENGA
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government was forced to hold crisis meetings after a controversial edict paving the way for the eviction of thousands of Chiredzi villagers caused an uproar.
The government wants to remove the more than 12 000 Chilonga villagers from their ancestral lands to make way for a lucerne grass project by a Kwekwe-based dairy firm, Dendairy.
On Friday, a Masvingo magistrate temporarily stopped the evictions after ruling that the government should show cause why it was ejecting villagers from Chilonga communal lands.
This followed a joint court application by the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network and the Centre for Natural Resource Governance on behalf of the villagers.
Legal experts have described Statutory Instrument 50 of 2021 as unconstitutional.
It has since emerged that an emergency meeting chaired by Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga was held last Thursday to discuss the evictions and there were suggestions that there could have been sabotage in the way the matter was handled.
Local Government and Agriculture ministries also allegedly came under fire for failing to handle the impending evictions properly.
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Mnangagwa is said to have ordered the convening of the meeting, which resolved that the evictions would go ahead despite the multiple court challenges.
“It was established that there was a discrepancy between policy and the legal instrument,” an official, who attended the meeting said.
The official said the project had been in the pipeline for a long time and there was nothing sinister about it.
“It is a plan by Rhodesians many years ago, in the 50s,” said the government official.
“What we have just done is to now to say we have water in Tugwi-Mukosi and Lake Mutirikwi and plans to build Runde-Tende and a good water basis and plan.”
He added: “That statutory instrument doesn’t align with the Communal Lands Act and it is ultra vires the constitution.
“We are correcting that. We met to whip people into line and by Monday (tomorrow) an announcement will be made and heads will roll.
“Things will be addressed; we will have a proper statutory instrument.”
Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba described the court order as a “temporary relief anyway”.
“Trust me, all those with throbbing veins on Chilonga will realise it’s all much ado about nothing,” Charamba said on Twitter.
“The courts are not foolish to give interim relief over nothing happening materially on the ground anyway.”
He said those celebrating the court victory will realise “as early as Monday” that it was “all much ado about nothing”.
Charamba claimed the Chilonga project was “terribly misunderstood”.
“Facts on the ground show very few households stand to be affected by this new thrust, huge swathes of which land fall within unutilised zones,” he said.
“The few households, which may be affected only get so affected in the sense of being re-sited as already indicated, all at government expense and for improved rural housing.”
On Friday, the Masvingo Centre for Research Advocacy and Development (Macrad), represented by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association, filed two court applications on behalf of the Chilonga community.
The applications filed at the Masvingo Magistrates’ Court and High Court challenge the constitutionality of the Communal Land Act and Statutory Instrument 50 of 2021 that authorised the evictions.
“The affected community and majority of the Zimbabwean citizens feel that the lucerne project is not a public need, and thus makes the rights of the Chilonga community illusory,” Macrad said.
Constutional law expert Lovemore Madhuku said the statutory instrument was unconstitutional.
“That statutory instrument is unconstitutional; it is based on an unconstitutional understanding of the powers of government over communal land,” Madhuku said.
“Communal land rights are somewhat special rights, communal people cannot be displaced merely at the whims of government.”
He said the government should have approached the High Court “stating its reasons and then getting an appropriate order for those people to be moved to a different place”.