CHIREDZI -The eviction drama that unfolded between villagers in #Chilonga village, situated in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo province and the Government of Zimbabwe in the past weeks has exposed Zimbabwe’s land policy deficiencies. On February 26,2021, the Zimbabwe government published a legal notice (Statutory Instrument 50 of 2021) approving the immediate eviction of 13,840 indigenous Shangani people from their communal land to pave way for a US$60 million lucerne grass project by Dendairy Company.
The grass project would be on 12 940 hectares of land in #Chilonga village, the notice confirmed. This move attracted international condemnation after a Chilonga community leader told Human Rights Watch that contrary to the consultative narrative to the decision being peddled by a member of parliament for Chiredzi West constituency – Farai Musikavanhu, the people of #Chilonga had rejected the lucerne farming plans.
This revelation attracted support from global humanitarian watchdogs, with the corporate brand in question receiving a barrage of criticism from citizens and netizens across the world. On March 9,2021, government issued another notice (Statutory Instrument 163A of 2021), changing the purpose of acquiring the land from #Chilonga villagers from a Dendairy lucerne grass project to the establishment of an irrigation scheme.
As this happened, the public outcry was gaining momentum, leading to a Parliamentary debate on the import of prioritizing a lucerne grass project at the expense of over 13,000 #Chilonga villagers. A week later on March 16,2021, the government-issued another notice (Statutory instrument 172A of 2021) repealing the initial legal notice and removing the clause forcing the #Chilonga villagers to depart permanently from their land.
For a country in need of investments, both local and international, the #Chilonga drama exposed Zimbabwe’s land policy deficiencies, humanitarian deficiencies, and community engagement deficiencies. Moving forward, the country must pay attention to these investor attractiveness indicators, especially as the world becomes one global village with a fast converging environmental, social and governance rule book.
To foster sustainable rural development, a position that will leapfrog Zimbabwe towards its envisaged upper middle income economy status, the constitutionality of the Communal Land Act should be challenged to ensure that rural dwellers can invest in their land in confidence, and attract investment capital from their urban peers. It is prudent for Zimbabwe to amend the Act and ensure that the power to declare that land has seized to be communal land does not rest with one person.
Currently, a Zimbabwean president can make that call unilaterally, which brings us to our concluding poser – is the #Chilonga victory marking an end to enforced communal land evictions in Zimbabwe, or it is only the beginning?