BY TATENDA CHITAGU
GOVERNMENT yesterday in a volte-face agreed to compensate Chilonga villagers in Chiredzi district set to be evicted to make way for an irrigation scheme.
This was revealed in Statutory Instrument (SI) 72A of 2021, which replaced SI 51 of 2021 and makes provision for compensation for the villagers.
The issue was confirmed yesterday by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela) lawyer Munya Vengesai of Mugiya and Movhami Law Chambers, who represented the more than 12 500 Chilonga villagers that were set to be evicted to make way for a Dendairy lucerne project.
Vengesai said the repeal of SI 50 of 2021 and its replacement with SI 72A of 2021, which states that the Chilonga area is earmarked for an irrigation scheme, means that government should compensate the villagers and also provide alternative land for their resettlement.
“Today (yesterday), we received an opposition from government at 1pm when we were going to court at 2pm. The issues they raised were purely(a) concession that they did not do proper consultation and that they will evict the villagers only after compensating them and providing alternative land,” Vengesai said.
“They also produced SI 72A of 2021 and also raised it as a point in limine. We decided we cannot continue with the case since SI 72A of 2021 said they are no longer going to evict the villagers (without compensation).”
SI 72A of 2021 reads: “Communal Land Setting Aside of Land (Chiredzi): The Minister of Local Government and Public Works, in terms of section 10 of the Communal Land Act (Chapter 20:04) hereby makes the following notice; this notice may be cited as the Communal Land (Setting Aside of Land (Chiredzi) Notice, 2021.
“The area described hereunder in terms of the schedule shall be set aside with effect from the date of publication of this notice for the purpose of establishing an irrigation scheme. The Communal Land (Setting Aside of Land) (Chiredzi) Notice, 2021, published in Statutory Instrument 50 of 2021, is repealed.”
The area of land is approximately 12 940 hectares in extent.
Vengesai said it was victory for the Shangaan tribe of Chilonga who were set to be forcibly evicted.
“We had said the eviction should not go ahead. They repealed the most important part in our case and we realised it was now water under the bridge. After consulting with my clients, we decided to remove the matter from the roll,” he said.
“For now, we do not know what the minister will do next, but It is victory for the people of Chilonga since government was forced to make three amendments in less than five days — amending SI 50 of 2021 with SI 63A of 2021, then now SI 72A of 2021, which repealed SI 50 of 2021.
“But if they do anything or issue another SI or law to evict the villagers, we are prepared to launch another recourse, or revive the case, that is why we did not withdraw the case or have it dismissed, but just removed it from the roll.”
Vengesai said he hoped government would live up to its word not to displace anyone as it goes ahead with its project.
SI 72A of 2021 was gazetted on Wednesday, a day before the High Court hearing which repealed SI 50 of 2021.
This was after Zela together with the Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG) challenged the constitutionality of SI 50 of 2021 seeking an interdict at the Masvingo Magistrates’ court to stop the evictions.
The CNRG was granted temporary relief by the Masvingo Magistrates Court a fortnight ago.
Gazetting of SI 50 of 2021 attracted local and international outcry, forcing government to amend it and to refashion it through SI 63A of 2021, which changed the land use from growing lucerne to an irrigation scheme.
Lawyer and vice-president of the MDC Alliance, Tendai Biti who, together with his party members visited Chilonga to institute their own investigations, said then that government could not amend an SI, but could repeal it.