Eviction of Gonarezhou invaders stalls

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MASVINGO — The government has made an about-turn on its intention to evict about 1 000 villagers of the Chitsa clan who invaded the Gonarezhou National Park at the height of the chaotic land reform programme amid reports there is no money and alternative land to facilitate their relocation.

The families have locked horns with the government since 2003 over plans to eject them from the area, resisting eviction, on the grounds that the land on which the park lay was traditionally theirs.

Although Masvingo governor and resident minister Titus Maluleke could not be reached for comment yesterday, he recently told State media that the government had no funds to carry out the resettlement exercise.

“The Chitsa families are no longer going anywhere. The issue of their relocation is now water under the bridge because there was need to secure substantial funding for the relocation exercise and also to identify suitable land to resettle them.

“We failed to secure both the funds and land to resettle them, so they are not going anywhere,” Maluleke is quoted as having said.

Maluleke also told NewsDay recently that Masvingo Province had run out of land for resettlement purposes.

The survival of families in the national park had been hanging in the balance after it emerged their continued existence there hampered anti-poaching efforts and aided desertification which drove wild animals away.

Commenting on the increased wildlife-human conflicts around sanctuaries, National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority director general Vitalis Chadenga told NewsDay recently that some of the settlement practices had to be revisited as some people invaded wildlife areas.

“Some people settled themselves illegally where they are practising peasant farming that is incompatible with the land use. They settled in wildlife corridors and are therefore prone to wildlife-human conflict.”

Recently, two settlers in Gonarezhou who traded farming for poaching were jailed after they were sold off by a hat they dropped at a scene where they allegedly de-horned a rhino.

Over the years, Zanu PF politicians have been accused of manipulating families’ continued occupation of parks for political expediency and as a trump card during elections, as candidates would assure them that they would not be evicted if they voted “wisely”.