Samuel Kadungure and Luthando Mapepa
AN estimated 600 squatters at Smithfield Farm in Chipinge have clashed with the police as they resist eviction, claiming entitlement over the land. The families are also demanding compensation in a move that has derailed the smooth flow of a blitz aimed at flushing out more than 7 000 illegal settlers from resettlements, farms and plantations in Manicaland.
The families were illegally resettled by traditional leaders. It is alleged that they had been religiously paying for the land since the inception of the land reform programme. According to Government policy, land can only be parcelled out by the Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement. When The Manica Post visited Smithfield Farm this week, villagers were up in arms against the police who are leading the National Taskforce on Illegal Settlers, refusing to be forced off the property demanding compensation.
One of the squatters, Mr Painos Chiriga, said: “It is a sad development that we are being chased from this farm without being given alternative land to stay, yet we have been here since the inception of the land reform programme.
“This farm was gazetted for resettlement and we are being sacrificed for the sake of one man who was recently given an offer letter by the Ministry of Lands. We want justice to prevail. It is either they give us alternative land and compensation or we remain here.”
Another villager, Mr Trymore Mapungwana, said: “Over the years we have been paying subscription fees to the local traditional leadership for these plots. All hell broke loose early this year when we were told this farm was bought by a top official.”
On Monday, some of the villagers – Christopher Chipadza (40), Aaron Mubhumbo (32), Daniel Mucharemba (45), Florence Mtisi (28), Linda Shonhiwa (37), Lucia Sithole (30), Chipo Svikepi (26), Beauty Sithole (27) and Hilda Sithole (20) – were hauled before senior Chipinge magistrate, Mr Noah Gwatidzo, facing contempt of court charges as defined in Section 182 (2) (e) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, Chapter 9:23.
The eight were served with an order by Mr Gwatidzo on February 6, 2017, prohibiting them from carrying out any farming or other activities, operations and illegal structures at the farm. They reoccupied the plots, leading to their arrest on November 3 on contempt of court charges. Provincial Administrator, Mr Edgars Seenza, confirmed the blitz and blamed some politicians and traditional leaders for illegally settling people in plantations, vleis, waterways, mountains and pastures.
“It is true and that programme is on and is being led by police. Government policy states that land can only be issued through the Ministry of Lands, Resettlement and Rural Development, but we have some people who are outside Government who are distributing land to people illegally. It is such anomalies that the blitz is out to reverse and rectify,” said Mr Seenza. Provincial Lands Officer, Mr Clifford Mukoyi, said the blitz started a fortnight ago in Makoni, Mutasa, Chipinge, Mutare, Chimanimani and Nyanga.
“Government is flushing out all squatters and the blitz is being implemented in six districts. In Makoni, we started with Yorkshire Farm, where we evicted 40 squatters, while in Chipinge we pounced on at Smithfield Farm which has hundreds of squatters.
In Chimanimani, 24 squatters were evicted at Gwendingwe,” said Mr Mukoyi. A recent report from the provincial lands committee says more than 1 077 illegal settlers invaded plantations in Chimanimani, while 2 000 had invaded farms and resettlements in Nyanga, 1 500 in Makoni, 1 142 in Mutare and 2 289 in Mutasa. The bulky of the squatters comprise of former farm workers, politicians and traditional leaders among other individuals who do not have lawful authority like permit, offer letters or 99-year lease to own a piece of land.