Evicted Lowveld villagers endure two months of hell
By the roadside in the scorching Lowveld heat, a group of women and children sit under a tree, their few belongings scattered all over the place.
Two women have just finished preparing a very small meal of sadza and cow peas, hardly enough to feed all the people there; numbering around 80.
The children share the meal put in one dish of sadza and another with watery, variegated soup, while the older women do the same.
It is a dog-eat-dog situation and they do not give the meal time to cool off.
“This is our first and possibly last meal of the day, you have to eat.
“We do not know when we will get the next meal if your father does not bring food,” Violet Muzongomerwa warns her nine-year-old kid.
Muzongomerwa is part of 56 families from Gutsaruzhinji village, Ward 23 in Chiredzi North, whose homes were demolished on July 10 this year in a land dispute that has reduced them into homeless hunters and gatherers.
Their husbands have gone out in the forest to look for the next meal.
The villagers, who settled in the area in 2008, were evicted from their homes and their houses, crops and property was destroyed and burnt in the ongoing Nyangambe land conflict.
They were kicked out by the Nyangambe villagers, the original settlers of the resettlement area before the fast-track land reform programme, which brought Gutsaruzhinji villagers. Nyangambe villagers now say they need the land for their children, who are grown up, married and need to till it.
The matter has since been referred to the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, who are engaging the two conflicting parties.
Before the dust has settled, the land that the villagers were staying at has already been turned into sugarcane plots, drawing water from the nearby canal.
It is two months counting, and the villagers are still living under a tree with no roof over their heads.
They have no toilets and fetch water from the nearby canal, bordering Mkwasine Estates and the place where they were evicted from.
The villagers also do not have a safety net, while their sources of livelihood were disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We do not have anywhere to go as we had since left our original homes in Zaka.
“We have no source of income. “We have no food and it’s a daily struggle every day to find food.
“We also fear for the little left of our livestock that is not secured during the night,” says Eria Marwei, who had returned from doing menial jobs in the outgrowers’ sugar plantation.
“We had built permanent structures and all that has been reduced to rubble, we hardly salvaged anything.
“We no longer enjoy our conjugal rights because of the way we are living here.”
Ironically, the villagers are a stone’s throw away from a police station, where they said they reported the matter, but the culprits who burnt their houses are walking free.
Masvingo provincial police spokesperson Inspector Charity Mazula could not be reached for comment.
The villagers’ predicament will be worsened by the onset of the rainy season as they just have some make-shift structures.
Muzongomerwa said the women have sanitary challenges and have to use old rags for sanitary pads. She said their children were suffering from malnutrition because of lack of food.
“We fear for our kids, who are sleeping in the open and do not have adequate food,” she said.
“The few chickens that we had, we slaughtered them already.
“We depend on food handouts from well-wishers, but this is not sustainable.”
Chiredzi district development coordinator Lovemore Chisema said the government was aware of the plight of the villagers. He said they were evicted legally using a court order. He was, however, mobilising food for them.
“As government we will be providing them with maize meal. We will be giving each family a 50kg bag, meaning 56 bags.
“We have also appealed to organisations like the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to provide shelter, as well as our own Civil Protection Unit.
“We are getting positive responses and very soon we will be handing them the items,” Chisema said.
The Zimbabwe People’s Land Rights Movement (ZPLRM), an organisation dealing with victims of forced evictions, said the government must move in to stop land rights violations.
“It is very sad that the government is prioritising land rights and reparations of those who for decades have been benefiting from the land. These are clearly misdirected efforts. here we have poor families, who have been forcibly evicted and have had their rights grossly violated. They have been living in the open without basics for close to three months now without any relief or assistance from the government.
“Government is not setting its priorities right, the highest priority in all sectors is to uphold the wellbeing and human rights of the people of Zimbabwe, whereas all other considerations are secondary.
“There is a clear need for land rights for every Zimbabwean now.
“These forced evictions of Zimbabweans come at huge cost to their wealth, wellbeing and habitat and make the government liable for gross violations of human rights, triggering further reparations entitlements to be claimed from the state of Zimbabwe and its responsible organs,” said ZPLRM national coordinator Hillary Zhou.
Another equitable land rights organisation, the Masvingo Centre for Research, Advocacy and Development (Macrad), lamented the rise in forced evictions in the province.
In its August report, Macrad cited four cases of forced displacement in the province — two in Chiredzi, and the other two in Masvingo rural.
The report came at a time Zimbabwe is scheduled for its Universal Periodic Review before the UN Human Rights Council and its “voluntary” National Review before the High-Level Political Forum at the UN Headquarters in 2021.
It also may trigger the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ early-warning procedures for Zimbabwe’s breach of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) treaty under which Zimbabwe is delinquent for 22 years in its reporting obligation, as well as under the African Charter on Human Rights.
Chisema said the government will be looking for alternative land for the Nyangambe evictees.
“We are making efforts to look for a permanent place for them and Provincial Affairs minister Ezra Chadzamira is seized with the matter,” Chisema said.
However, Farai Makese, the representative of the 56 families, said they do not have money to rebuild their homes even if they were offered alternative land.
“We are doomed and our gains of the past 12 years have been reduced to nothing,” Makese.
“All our toil, all our sweat has come to nothing. It is back to square one for us.
“We are hoping we will get some assistance from the government as well as humanitarian organisations.”
Photo: Chiredzi Land Taskforce spokesperson, Mr. Vonani Majoko. Source: Lowveld Post.