HomeLocal NewsGovt accused of placing floods victims on forced labour

Govt accused of placing floods victims on forced labour

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the government of using violence, harassment and the deliberate restriction of humanitarian aid to coerce an estimated 20 000 flood victims to resettle on tiny plots where it planned to establish a sugarcane plantation.

by Mkhululi Chimoio

“The Zimbabwean government has stopped at nothing to coerce 20 000 flood victims to accept a resettlement package that provides labour for a government project, but leaves the flood victims utterly destitute,” said Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa senior researcher at HRW.

In a 57-page report titled: Homeless, Landless, and Destitute: The Plight of Zimbabwe’s Tokwe-Mukosi Flood Victims, HRW documents human rights violations suffered by people forced to suddenly evacuate their homes due to massive flooding in the Tokwe-Mukosi dam basin in February 2014.

The victims were given no choice but to accept one-hectare plots of land on a farm earmarked for growing sugarcane that has close links to President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF .

Mavhinga challenged the government to compensate the victims as many had received no compensation for the loss of their land.

“Some of the flood victims were already slated for resettlement prior to the emergency, but had resisted moving without receiving fair compensation for their property.

“The government used violence and intimidation to quell protests, and excluded food distribution and health and education services from those who refused to accept government resettlement plans,” he said.

The report also states that flood victims opposed government’s plans and informed HRW that the plots were too small to support their families with basic kitchen gardens, that they had been promised five hectares, and that they are being given no choice but to grow sugarcane, which they have no experience cultivating.

Under the government’s plans, the flood victims are required to grow sugarcane on Nuanetsi Ranch in the Mwenezi district of Masvingo province to contribute to a government-owned ethanol project and they are not permitted to grow other crops.

The arrangement would leave victims with no livelihood until the scheme is fully operational in about seven years.

In the report, Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, told HRW that the flood victims would eventually benefit from the ethanol project and that families growing sugar cane would help the project achieve profitability more quickly than if they were permitted to grow crops of their choosing.

In the immediate aftermath of the flood, the Zimbabwean army relocated the 20 000 victims — or 3 300 families — to Chingwizi Camp on Nuanetsi Ranch, where they received assistance from the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies.

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