Villagers threaten more sugar estate invasions

Strife at the sugar estates in Chiredzi is increasing as war veterans and villagers vow to acquire more land despite some ringleaders being arrested. They claim they were robbed of their ancestral land by Tongaat Hullett, the sugar producing company.

Provincial Affairs minister Kudakwashe Bhasikiti
Provincial Affairs minister Kudakwashe Bhasikiti

The situation remained tense this week with government officials trying to down play the invasions ignited by the state’s failure to give people plots after they were issued with offer letters.

"This is just a tip of the iceberg," said Masvingo Provincial war veterans chairman Francis Nando. "We are going to mobilise people in rural Chiredzi and make sure that we invade all the farms we feel Tongaat is not fully utilising. We will not be deterred by the arrests. In fact we have become more determined to claim this land which we feel is ours.”

The invasions have raised serious concerns over the security of foreign companies operating in the country, but Tongaat Hulett has said that operations at its Triangle and Hippo Valley mills have not been affected by the disturbances.

"This land belongs to us the Shangani people," said Malachia Njalavani, a villager. "We were quiet for a long time when several people including government ministers were dishing out sugar cane plots amongst themselves forgetting us the custodians of this land. Now is our time to reclaim our land," he added.

Government officials have been giving conflicting statements over the issuance of offer letters. Provincial Affairs minister Kudakwashe Bhasikiti says the letters were fraudulently issued by his predecessor Titus Maluleke, while Lands Minister Douglas Mombeshora has insisted that all those with offer letters should get plots.

It has emerged that during the run up to the 2013 polls Maluleke dished out offer letters as a campaign gimmick. Zanu (PF) has condemned the invasions, with Provincial Chairman, Retired Brigadier General Callisto Gwanetsa saying "We will never allow people to resettle themselves just where they want to. We are calling all party supporters to immediately stop the invasions.”

Bhasikiti told The Zimbabwean that the Masvingo political leadership has applied for about 10,000 hectares of land, owned by Tongaat Hulett, to allocate to people who want to enter the lucrative sugar cane growing industry. "We are still awaiting a response and people should just be patient with us," he said.

Tongaat Hulett is one of the largest employers in the country, with about 19,000 workers.

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