Editorial Comment: Why these heartless farm evictions?

Editorial Comment

AS much as we would like to whole-heartedly support our government in its endeavours to make things right again in this country, at times we find it very difficult to understand why the government of the people and for the people, keeps physically and psychologically tormenting its own citizens.

Yesterday, we carried a story where government has threatened to evict 390 villagers in Manicaland province’s Mutasa district, a province which is currently still trying to come to terms with the devastating effects of the mid-March Cyclone Idai floods. And today we have yet another story from the same area where Manicaland Provincial Affairs minister Ellen Gwaradzimba is being accused of allegedly using her political muscle to drive out more than 350 families from Zengeni Farm in Mutasa South. We understand that the minister occupies part of the farm and now she is reportedly eyeing to extend her hectarage by encroaching into other farmers’ small portions of land.

These strange activities in Manicaland have prompted us to ask: What, in God’s name, is happening in our motherland?

While we are aware that ever since the lawless takeover of farms, beginning in 2000, people have been occupying farmlands wily-nilly with complete disregard to the rule of law, but for government to then brazenly evict these people without considering the socio- and physiological impact of its actions makes us wonder whether our leaders ever feel what is called empathy. And coincidentally the villagers we are talking about were allowed to settle there by traditional leaders, who we have all along understood to be custodians of some of these lands under their purview.

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, who have come to the aid of the hapless villagers at Chadazema Farm, sum up the crux of our major concern. “They (villagers) have built houses and they have minor children who cannot soldier the harsh winter. The State despite demand of request for offer letters has either failed or neglected to provide them with security of tenure … That our clients have nowhere to go, they do not have an alternative accommodation (and) as such the move by the Ministry (of Lands) would reduce them to vagrants which we submit is against the spirit of the new Constitution,” the ZLHR said.

And if we throw in the case of the minister’s seemingly selfish manoeuvres, we are left with very little choice but to take our government to task over these unfolding events, which we understand are actually not only confined to Manicaland, but evident in other parts of the country where people are now being thrown off land they have been occupying for more than 10 years.

Our government seems to be completely unaware of the fact that despite it having resettled more than 300 000 people during the chaotic 2000 land reform programme, there is still massive hunger for land in the country, which we believe must have led to those people settling at the Mutasa farms. And we cannot then have a whole minister now intent on occupying an entire farm, when thousands are hungry for just a very small piece of land.

We would have thought that if our government was cognisant of this fact, they would have at least given the villagers an alternative place to settle. Driving all these people off that land in the wake of an approaching winter is heartless, to say the least.

Given that winter in the Eastern Highlands is harsh, and to drive out those villagers in this brazen manner in a province that is in bereavement after hundreds died in floods and thousands more displaced is not only unfeeling, but would be politically naïve on the part of the government of the day. For those who may have been wondering why the human rights abuse spectre keeps haunting us, this is exactly a perfect example of why.

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