By Fr. Christopher Wusiku CCJP – Gokwe Coordinator
“Settlers say they paid chiefs cows to get land”
Hundreds of people who were living in Mapfungautsi Forest in Gokwe under Chief Njelele and Chief Nemangwe (Headman Ndlalambi) were evicted from their homes by soldiers and riot police on April 11, 2019, for illegal occupation.
These people had moved into the area in 2012. The affected places include Chamagora farms, Rage, Sibusiso, Sikombela, Mapfumo, Gwehava and Zanda.
While the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) Gokwe Diocese does not justify the settling of people illegally in the reserved forestry areas, it condemns the method of evicting these illegal settlers.
A short history on these settlers may help to support our condemnation of these evacuations.
When the soldiers came to expel these settlers they told them the government did not know that they were living in the area. The soldiers also claimed that the people had settled themselves without the necessary authority.
Chiefs get cows to allocate land
Sadly, many of the settlers alleged they had paid fees to local chiefs and headmen to be allowed to take up residence there.
Mr. Ndlovu of Sibusiso shopping centre, which was left in ruins on the evictions, said:
“Isu hatibvi pano nekuti takaibvisa mombe inotsika kuna Mambo Njelele kuti tiwane minda nemastand muno, saka ngavadzose mombe dzedu isuwo tozobuda muno.”
This, means that most, if not all settlers in these area paid at least a cow per family, or its equivalent to the chief to get a field or a stand in the area.
The people did not settle themselves; the chief knew and allocated them the stands.\
Secondly there are many centres in this area, namely Zanda business centre, Forestry business centre, Sikombela business, Sibusiso business centre and Kiosk, at a bus stop called paBhuru along Gokwe-Kwekwe highway.
Another victim, Mrs Dube, spoke with tears running down her cheeks: “Amastand ezitholo lawa sawaphiwa yicouncili eGokwe, aabecouncili babebuya every three or four months bezothatha emthelo.” (We were given these business stands buy the council in Gokwe and they were coming after every three or four months to collect their rentals. Cheziya Rural Council (Gokwe South) knew that there were people living in these areas.”)
People feel used and discarded after elections
Our third argument is that in the Harmonised Elections of July 2018 there were more them five polling stations in these so-called illegal settlements. More than 4,000 people voted in these polling stations. The Deputy Minister of Defence, Mr. Victor Matemadanda, won resoundingly in these settlements.
Can the government set up polling stations in places where they do not know that there are people? “Masoja akauaya akati bvisai zvinhu zvenyu mumba, buritsa izvozvi. Apedza kuburitsa ndobva vatungidza dzimba dzose dzeuswa zvese nedura. Imbai yamazenge iyo vakabvisa voga mazenge vakaputsa mawindow ose.
CCJP spoke to a 72-year-old man who now lives along the road with his two wives and eight children.
The method which was used to evacuate these settlers is abusive. No prior warning was given before the military was deployed to evict the settlers.
The people were left without shelter and open to rain and cold. It rained on the 16th and 17th of April after the evictions.
With winter approaching, many are going to suffer the cold weather.
If the government intends to move or relocate people from any place they should give them advance and adequate notice and should never leave citizens in a desperate situation, without shelter or food.
The evictions must be carried out humanely, not to leave people to stay during the election period so that they serve political interests and become dispensable soon after.
There can be no justification for evicting people in without notice, in bad weather and open to disease and attack by animals.
Lastly, people must be given time to move their valuables: food, livestock and property to avoid destruction and loss.