FOURTEEN villagers in Chisumbanje, Manicaland, appeared in court on Saturday facing allegations of attempting to cause public violence following clashes with authorities at the ethanol plant in the area over land ownership.
The villagers appeared before Chipinge magistrate Waini Makamera and pleaded not guilty to charges of participating in a public gathering with the intention to promote public violence.
The long standing land clashes between villagers and Green Fuel turned nasty on December 28 last year when villagers attempted to bulldoze their way and plough on the land under dispute, prompting the intervention of Chisumbanje police.
Charges against the 14 are that they were leading a group of villagers who were planting maize on the land in question in Chinyamukwakwa area.
The villagers are claiming the land belongs to them, while the ethanol-producing company also claims the land is lawfully theirs. According to the State, led by Last Gore, police were called in to disperse the crowd that had gathered on the land in question intending to do their farming and the villagers refused to leave.
After the clashes, the villagers are said to have returned to the land and continued with their farming activities.
The State submitted that the villagers had no right to invade the land belonging to the company and to attempt attacking a Green Fuel security officer.
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The lawyer representing the 14, Langton Mhungu, however, challenged the refusal of bail on the basis of violence against the security officer and disputed the claim that he was assaulted.
A medical report produced in court confirmed that there were no injuries on the security officer.
They were remanded to January 21 on $20 bail.
Mhungu described the prosecution of the 14 as malicious and abuse of the justice system.
“It will appear to me that the allegations are meant to silence the villagers from claiming their land. This company (Green Fuel) is trying to use the criminal justice system to claim that the land belongs to them. This is an abuse of the justice system,” he said. This comes at a time when a Cabinet task force headed by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara is trying to break the land impasse in Chisumbanje.