This has resulted in a humanitarian crisis in Baruka Village 1, about 15km out of Chinhoyi along the Harare-Chirundu Road near what is now known as the “Diesel Mountain”, and in Long Valley and Gambara settlements in Mhangura and Makonde.
The destruction of the properties was done through the District Administrator (DA)’s office, which said the occupants were staying illegally as they did not have offer letters for settlement.
The villagers, however, denied the claim, arguing that the land was “taken from white farmers” for them to settle as part of the land re-distribution exercise.
Reached for comment, Mashonaland West Provincial Administrator Christopher Shumba said he could not give details on the operation but confirmed that it was a process being undertaken in the province.
“This is a process to make sure that people live in the area legally, according to the law. Why don’t you call the (Mashonaland West) governor, he will be the rightful person to comment,” he said.
Mashonaland West Governor Faber Chidarikire confirmed to the Zimbabwe Independent that his province for the past two weeks has been forcibly removing illegal settlers.
“Those people are squatters from Muzarabani, Gokwe and some Midlands areas who illegally settled themselves in the areas and are disturbing resident villagers,” Chidarikire said. “They have been told well in advance to return to their homes and that if they wanted to stay in the province they should follow set out procedures. Some complied and left, but others were big-headed thus had to be removed.”
When the Independent visited the areas on Tuesday, members of the evicted families sat hopelessly in the open fields close to their burnt homes.
Rubble from destroyed huts and granaries were scattered around. Blankets, pots, cups and clothes were packed in plastic bags, while at some burnt homesteads abandoned donkeys, goats, chickens and guinea fowls could be seen around the yards.
The families, especially young children who constitute a huge number of the evicted, were traumatised and faced many risks staying in the open fields.
With the rains starting to fall, fears were growing among the villagers that they will be exposed to waterborne diseases.
“I still can’t believe how some people can be so cruel as to destroy our homes and leave us with nowhere to go,” said 45-year-old Merenia Bvumba whose seven huts and a granary were destroyed and is now living in the open with 10 family members, eight of them children.
“It was two weeks ago when six men from the DA’s office came and instructed us to put all our property outside because they said we did not have offer letters. We did that and spent a week staying outside before they came back.”
In a manner reminiscent of the 2005 Operation Murambatsvina, the officers from the DA’s office forced the villagers to destroy their own homes and return to their former villages.
Bvumba’s family moved to the settlement three years ago from Siakobvu – Nyami Nyami in Kariba (300km from Chinhoyi) after being told “there was land taken from the whites that was being redistributed”.
“We are not squatters, we also deserve to be on this land,” Bvumba said. “We have tried to get these offer letters but each time we go to the DA they would tell us they were coming to “peg” (sic) the land. Now they just remove us like this with nowhere to go.”
Thomson Chandendema, who witnessed the destruction of some of the homes in Long Valley area, described the move as sad.
“About 20 families’ huts were destroyed and by people who said they were from the lands office. The families were accused of staying in the area illegally. They were left with nowhere to go. Some were taken in by some families who felt sorry for them while others are staying at the banks of Munwa River,” said Chandendema.
Hunger is already stalking the villagers and some children are not going to school following the disturbances.
A tearful Otilia Mandimo narrated how she had struggled to
look after her seven-year old daughter and three-year old granddaughter who have not had a decent meal in weeks following the destruction.
The children were eating wilted raw sweet potatoes with water.
“We were told that we were not allowed to stay here thus we had to leave. They did not offer us any alternatives or transport to ferry us back to our original homes. I come from Chivhu and it is very far,” said Mandimo.
“We are stranded and I cannot even think properly. My child and granddaughter look at me failing to understand what’s going in, this has really disturbed them. I can only look back at them helplessly. Julie (daughter) is currently not going to school because of the disturbances.”