War vets wade into Chisumbanje land dispute

War veterans here have said they will fight to get back the land that they claim was taken by Billy Rautenbach without compensation.

Julias Musademba - How come we are evicted from the land that we fought for.
Julias Musademba – How come we are evicted from the land that we fought for.

With the blessings of Robert Mugabe’s Zanu (PF) party, Rautenbach was given permission to take over 5,000 hectares of land at the Chisumbanje Estate in 2009 to grow sugarcane and to set up his Green Fuel ethanol plant.

At the time the Chisumbanje Estate was owned by ARDA. Of the 1,800 villagers who were displaced to make way for the ethanol project, less than a third have been resettled.

There have been serious tensions between the war veterans and Rautenbach, who has strong links with the Zanu (PF) leadership.

One of the war veterans, Thomas Chikumbu, said they had lost their land to a British, saying it contradicted Mugabe’s calls for black empowerment.

Mugabe has billed the land reforms as a corrective to the injustices of colonialism, which left Zimbabwe’s land in the hands of a white minority.

The war veterans have been emboldened to issue their stern challenge to Rautenbach by Mugabe’s call for the remaining whites to be kicked off the land. But it is doubtful that Mugabe’s call extends to his party’s close ally and financier Rautenbach.

The war veterans said they were illegally evicted – a move that resulted in them losing livestock and livelihoods. Others say they have faced violence and intimidation.

The war veterans last week held a meeting with the chiefs to discuss their concerns.

One vocal vet, Julius Musademba, said: “We went to war for this land but how come we were evicted from our land that we fought for? “If it remains like this, then we can return to war. We will not stand by and watch this white man abuse our people and take our land for free.”

Joseph Humbe, another war veteran, said: “He (Rautenbach) is now trying to recolonise us, but after waging a bitter war against his fellow whites, we will not allow that to happen. We know that he is employing whites who lost land during the liberation struggle.”

He added: “If people who lost their land to the project are not compensated now, soon there will be war at the processing plant.”

The war veterans have also threatened to take action against the ministry of youth, indigenization and empowerment and some chiefs, who they say have colluded with Rautenbach and failed to hold the investor to his initial promise of compensation.

MDC-T MP for Nkulumane Thamsanqa Mahlangu, who sits on the indigenisation portfolio committee, said the war veterans’ threats to return to war if their concerns were not addressed were an emotional outburst meant to reflect the level of anger and frustration within the community.

“The villagers also feel that the ethanol project has been implemented in a way that disempowers them and which is also contrary to the indigenisation policy,” he said.

“It would appear from what we heard that there is a minority that is benefiting from the ethanol project while ordinary villagers, who are the majority, are not,” added Mahlangu.

“The divisions within the traditional leadership suggest that some are getting something out of the project while others are not. We will be presenting a report to parliament so that MPs can debate and suggest a way forward to the cabinet.”

Rautenbach owns 90 per cent of the ethanol investment and ARDA owns the remainder. The war veterans are wondering how this is, as they claim that the law stipulates at least 51 per cent of shares should be owned by Zimbabweans.

Rautenbach could not be reached for a comment.

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