Local authority expansion threatens villagers

Villagers in Chief Chikwaka’s area, Goromonzi, are losing communal land they inherited from their forebears to the local authority without compensation, The Zimbabwean has learnt.

Mhembere’s hut bedroom which faces demolition as it stands in the way of council road.
Mhembere’s hut bedroom which faces demolition as it stands in the way of council road.

Yafeli and Takadiyi villages are gradually losing land to Goromonzi Rural District Council’s housing projects at Juru Growth Point. The council is allocating stands to prospective home seekers under an urban set-up without consulting villagers, many of whom have been given seven days’ notice to demolish their homes and vacate their land.

One of the victims, Charles Mhembere (59) of Yafeli Village, was recently ordered to leave his homestead as the council wanted to build a clinic where his houses were located. He was told that, according to council plan, a road would split his bedroom into two.

This followed an earlier loss of fields and pasture land by Mhembere and other villagers to a council small and medium density housing project in 2004.

“Council did not consult us before grabbing our land and did not provide affected villagers with alternative area for resettlement,” said a villager, who could not be identified as she feared victimisation.

Pointing to nearby family graves, villagers said it was unjust for council to evict them from the land inherited from their ancestors. The loss of land to the local authority has dogged the community since 2000.

Narrating her ordeal, the villager said in 2005 GRDC officials visited the Mhembere family and gave them a week’s notice to vacate the homestead and make way for the housing project and other social amenities.

The family was warned that should it fail to meet the deadline, council would hire a company to pull down the structures and charge them for it. The evictions were followed by a Zanu (PF) National Congress at Goromonzi High School, where the then MP, Hebert Murerwa, told President Robert Mugabe that local livelihoods and welfare were threatened by council projects.

Mugabe reportedly ordered that no villager should be unjustifiably evicted from the land. But nothing changed.

In May 2013 a council team arrived at the Mhembere homestead in marked truck, and advised them that they had instructions to peg the ground for a clinic. The team proceeded to survey the maize field after advising Mhembere to forward any queries to the local authority.

On July 1 council officials announced plans to drill a borehole in Mhembere’s yard. A drilling company identified as JCW, arrived at the village on July 23 and sunk the borehole as planned.

“The borehole project is a noble one but served no good purpose as it came at the expense of villagers’ shelter and livelihood,” said villager Rhodwell Muza. He suspects that the borehole is a fore-runner of more council projects that will squeeze out remaining villagers.

Mhembere confirmed the developments but refused to shed more light as he feared reprisals.

With no alternative land to settle on, villagers now crowd onto small pieces of land not yet grabbed by council. “We live in fear as council continues to sub-divide the remaining homesteads,” said another villager.

A GRDC management official, identified only as Zvobgo, refused to comment on the issue directing all questions to the chief executive officer who could not be reached at the time of going to print.

Zanu (PF) Senator for Goromonzi Herbert Murerwa referred all questions to the MP for Goromonzi North, Paddy Tendayi Zhanda, who told The Zimbabwean that he had sketchy details about the evictions and would contact the ward councillor for clarification.

“Though I do not have full information about what is transpiring, at law, council is required to consult the victims and provide them with alternative land to settle on,” said Zhanda.

Meanwhile, some villagers have vowed to resist any evictions without alternative settlements and compensation.

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