TICK-TOCK goes the clock as villagers and small-scale gold miners in Manzou area in Mazowe wait with bated breath for police to effect a June 15 deadline to evict them to pave way for the expansion of the First Family’s business ventures.
The villagers are being evicted to allow for the expansion of Manzou Game Reserve, situated close to the recently established Amai Mugabe Junior School in Mashonaland Central, which also belongs to President Robert Mugabe’s family.
However, Mashonaland Central governor, Advocate Martin Dinha has denied claims the villagers are being relocated to expand the Mugabe family’s business ventures but says the evictions are being done to allow for the resuscitation of Manzou Game Reserve and the establishment of Nehanda National Monument.
He says the Department of National Museums and Monuments declared it a national heritage site in 2006.
But villagers and small-scale gold miners insist the looming eviction is meant to accommodate the Mugabes’ projects and testify to the ceaseless threats for them to vacate Mbuya Nehanda Farm, commonly referred to as Nehanda Village, about 20 kilometres outside Harare.
About a month ago, the remaining 69 villagers and about 30 small-scale miners were told to vacate the area by June 15.
The small-scale gold miners and villagers face a bleak future, as there is simply nowhere else to go.
In February last year, heartrending scenes were witnessed when another group of villagers was evicted from Mbuya Nehanda Farm, formerly Arnold Farm, in Manzou by police armed with truncheons and accompanied by dogs from their family plots, which they were allocated under the chaotic land reform programme.
The families were dumped at Lazy Farm and Blagdon Farm in Concession. The first wave of evictions was in 2009, when some of the families were ordered to vacate the farms to make way for Grace Mugabe’s orphanage.
The remaining families and small-scale miners have been resisting the evictions and some say they are not willing to relocate to Concession because of the poor soils at the two farms they are being moved to.
What worries the residents is the area they are being relocated to has not been serviced. It has no roads, no toilets or running water –– a recipe for an outbreak of diseases during the rainy reason.
Enock Mandaza, whose family was among the 98 households forced to relocate to Lazy Farm last year, bemoaned the appalling living conditions, which they have had to endure during the past year. The Mandaza family was forced to abandon its comfortable dwellings to live in shacks at Lazy Farm.
Mandaza said: “My family was forced to move last year in June to Lazy 7 farm along the Concession Road between Ceasar Mine and Concession. We are a large family of 17 kids; this includes my siblings and orphaned cousins.
“For two months between June and August we slept in the open. But now we live in plastic shacks. Imagine how cold we were during this winter, which saw temperatures dropping at night.”
Mandaza added: “We were not even compensated. We had built huts and two-roomed homes. We lost all that. We lost our land and now we have to do with 20/40 metres plots where we were moved to. What do you do on such a small piece of land?”
Grace Mugabe had reportedly initially promised to compensate the villagers but has since passed the responsibility to the Mazowe Rural Council, which has no money and has pledged to pay the evictees through land.
Mandaza said it would be difficult for them to build new houses if they were not compensated financially. Mandaza is among the 30 miners working for the two small-scale mining companies in the area whose future looks bleak if they are evicted from the area.
When Zimbabwe Independent visited one of the small-scale gold mines, for a second the miners thought the news crew had come to evict them. While most of them were in the underground shaft, a few could be seen pounding stones and “rocking” to select the gold.
Pondai Murungweni said if the mines are closed, he would be forced to go back to Domboshava where he worked as a gardener.
“This for me is now my source of living and I am able to feed my family from the little that I get. But if they take this away, I will have no choice but to go back to gardening,” he said.
On a good week, the miners earn about US$50 each and US$3 or nothing on a bad one.
Twenty three-year old Norman Nyamvura said: “I have six brothers and sisters, two of whom are going to primary school. I am the breadwinner in the family. I feed the kids and my parents. I also pay their school fees. If they move us from here, I don’t know what I am going to do. I can’t go back to Mt Darwin and just sit at home while the family starves.”
Tawanda Munemo, who is married with two kids, said: “Besides my family I also have to look after my mother. Even though it is tough living out here, I at least make some money to feed my family and now they want to take it all away.
“We are trying to earn an honest living mining gold legally, not going into illegal gold panning. We do underground mining, as is recommended by EMA (Environment Management Agency). Why can’t they just let us be? Do you think we enjoy living like this? We are just trying to make a living for our families.”
The Mugabe family has been linked to several farms in the country that were grabbed from white commercial farmers during the chaotic land reform programme.
In 2008, High Court Judge Justice Ben Hlatshwayo lost a farm to the Mugabes before he was compensated with another one. Former Standard Chartered Bank chief executive Washington Matsaira also lost his Nyabira farm to Grace Mugabe.
The First Lady recently grabbed 1 500 hectares from Interfresh Holdings which housed the Mazowe Citrus Estate to expand her orphanage and further her development projects.
It has been widely reported that the Mugabe family and their relatives own more than 10 farms, something which taints the land reform progamme executed under the banner of decongesting rural areas and empowering the landless majority.
Most of the good and well-equipped farms were grabbed and given to senior Zanu PF leaders, including ministers, politburo and central committee members, and top civil servants as well as party supporters.