About 300 villagers from Munyokowere in ward 5 of Chipinge Rural District Council (RDC) have been summoned to appear at Chipinge Magistrates Court today for illegally occupying communal land, amid an ongoing land boundary dispute with the local authority.
The villagers under Chief Mutema, who are claiming that land is customary and belongs to their ancestors, were arrested on Friday and were released on bail. They were being represented by Lovemore Madhuku.
This development comes as a surprise to the community, given that another case regarding the same land is pending before the High Court.
Previously, the court instructed Chipinge RDC to follow the formal process of free, prior and informed consent if it wished to proceed with evicting the villagers for urbanisation purposes.
Chipinge RDC claims ownership of the approximately 1 000 hectares of land which it intends to convert to a residential area.
Posting on social media, Platform For Youth and Community Development (PYCD) Trust director Claris Madhuku shared his concerns highlighting the villagers' confusion regarding the charges and their opposition to the accusations.
“The villagers are not clear on the charges preferred against them with the police at Chipangayi alleging illegally occupation of a gazetted land, a charge they vehemently deny.
“Today the 10th of February 2024, the villagers have been called for deliberations with Chipangayi Police where the charges were laid as they signed warned and cautioned statements.
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“The villagers are bemused by this development since there is a case pending before the high court, where Chipinge RDC was instructed to go through the formal process of free, prior and informed consent, if they want the villagers evicted to pave way for urbanisation,”Madhuku said.
The PYCD in collaboration with various national civic society organisations has been working to defend and protect the rights of the affected villagers.
Land ownership wrangles have been common in the country, where the government of the late former President Robert Mugabe (1987 to 2017) in 2000 evicted about 4 000 white farmers from the land they had occupied since the colonial period.
Indigenous communities then began to informally occupy the fields.
Recently, Lands and Agriculture minister Anxious Masuka said individuals settling on State land without title deeds will not be granted regularisation by the government.
He said such individuals would face the wrath of the law.