On 29 April 2019 villagers in Munyokowere were served with eviction notices by the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement. The eviction notices gave at least 750 villagers seven days to vacate the land they have been occupying since the early 1990s. PYD, a community based organization is dismayed by the government’s penchant to use institutionalized intimidation in an environment where the communities might have little bargaining power to contest the evictions, as they often lack formal documentation of their customary land rights and access to justice. In the process, PYD engaged the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) on behalf of the villagers. The ZLHR wrote to the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Settlement.
“That some of our clients have been in occupation for a long period as such have built their livelihood, they have built their houses and they have minor children who cannot soldier the harsh winter.” Reads part of the letter to the government. They went on to state that “The state despite demand of request for offer letters has either failed or neglected to provide them with security of tenure.” The letter continued.
The eviction notices are deemed to be necessitated by a 2018 Cabinet resolution on illegal settlers. The cabinet resolved that all people found in farms without any offer letter, permit, lease or title deed are committing a crime in terms of the Lands Consequential Provisions Act Chapter 20:28.
“The cabinet resolution is admittance that there is rampant corruption in the land governance system and that the evictions are not structured but just a moment to punish some communities that did not vote for Zanu PF in the 2018 plebiscite.” Claris Madhuku, PYD Director said. He went on to state the role of his organisation in the matter. “PYD is at the community level to protect the vulnerable members of our community who are exposed to political vindication and manipulation. Again, we applaud the organizational value of ZLHR in its response to our human rights violation alert.”
Administration of the Lands Consequential Provisions Act Chapter 20:28 neglected the land rights of resettled villagers.
The Munyokowere villagers case dates back to the colonial era. In the 1950s, they were forcibly evicted by the colonial government to pave way for the commercialization of Middle Sabi. They were resettled back in the area in the early 1990s. The first batch of resettled villagers amounted to 39 families and the number has since grown to 750 families. The then Chipinge District Administrator (DA) Mufukera formalized the villagers’ settlement. This move by the local authority heightened villagers’ perceptions and expectation regarding the right to the land.
The manner and timing of the notice of eviction is likely to impact negatively on the villagers’ food security and livelihoods. The absence of formal offer letters, permit, lease or title deed in the area clearly proved a glaring weak land governance system in Zimbabwe. This seriously impair the land use rights of local people as they are not properly reflected in our domestic legal system. Weak land governance systems can thus negatively affect local populations and their food security since they will be open to political manipulation as being witnessed in Munyokowere village.
This case from a face value can obscure important but masked socio – economic and political issues. The political culture in Zimbabwe has created social inequities in rural communities and they are seemingly allowed to persist, and in the process violate the notion of social justice within the local context.
“What they have done to the villagers is unjust and smacks of arbitrary authority from our government. The government must ensure that customary land rights are protected and leveraged against manipulation. is the same institution that is exposing vulnerable communities.” Allan Murozvi said. Allan Murozvi is a community activist working with the Platform for Youth Development Trust (PYD).
The villagers claim to the land evolve through the principle of kinship that was recognized by local government authorities including the then Local Government Deputy Minister Morris Sakabuya. Distortions around customary ownership of land is the bedrock of the villagers” dilemma. The eviction notices enunciated by the government make it clear that the presence of the villagers in Munyokowere since the early 1990s was a result of political patronage. The false sense of security that the local political and administrative leadership provided to the Munyokowere villagers became an instrument for regulating access to communal land, and also determined the granting of rights. This was done in the narrative of procuring and maintaining political support in the Middle Sabi.
“The government has to understand and interpret their laws in the context that the control of land is vested in an ancestry group and access is determined by social identity. This particular defines our social identity as a people and we cannot be denied that identity.” Headman Munyokowere is quoted as saying. He is one of the 750 villagers served with a notice to vacate the land. Headman Munyokowere bemoaned the fact that the government since the period of their resettlement failed to ensure that customary land rights are protected.
Source: Platform for Youth Development Trust (PYD)