HUMAN Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the Zimbabwean government of threatening to deny food aid to about 20 000 people displaced by the Tokwe-Mukosi floods “apparently to force them into sugarcane farming at a ruling party ethanol project”.
The organisation, which defends the rights of people worldwide, made the allegations in a report titled Zimbabwe: 20 000 Relocated to Ruling Party Farm: Flood Victims Face Loss of Food Aid Unless They Grow Sugarcane.
Around 3 000 families were relocated by government from the flooded Tokwe-Mukosi dam basin to Chingwizi transit camp in Nuanetsi Ranch, Masvingo, in February.
Last week, 10 ministers accompanied by police visited the camp and tried to convince the victims to move to new one-hectare plots, but they vigorously resisted government’s pleas demanding promised compensation and bigger plots. HRW claims that they were told to “grow sugarcane or lose food aid”.
The organisation alleged the flood victims were relocated to Chingwizi camp so that they could grow sugarcane for an ethanol project jointly owned by Zanu PF and businessman Billy Rautenbach.
The organisation also claims that displaced residents and dam project workers believe the floods were artificially induced so as to forcibly move people, an allegation strongly disputed by Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister Kudakwashe Bhasikiti.
“That is the most mischievous and ridiculous comment you can get from Human Rights Watch. Even the whole world would laugh at them. Flooding was not only experienced in Zimbabwe, but even in the UK, Canada and even in South Africa. The floods were real,” he said.
“Billy Rauntenbach is not in any way associated with our party. His projects, just like the ethanol project in Chisumbanje, are completely a corporate private enterprise.”
He said the flood victims would grow crops of their choice and not sugarcane as alleged by HRW.
However, Southern Africa director at HRW Tiseke Kasambala said: “These 3 000 families have been displaced under questionable circumstances and dumped at a place where their only alternative is to be cheap labour for Zimbabwe’s ruling party. These families have a right to compensation for their property and to voluntary resettlement elsewhere in the country; to earn a living as they see fit.”
According to the human rights organisation, the displaced people were not consulted about the relocation site as required under international standards and are now being forced from the transit camp onto one-hectare plots where they can only grow sugarcane for the ethanol project.
The organisation said the humanitarian situation at the camp was grave.
“The camp is severely overcrowded, with each family allocated a one-room tent regardless of the number of family members. Although international agencies are providing potable water, aid workers told HRW that there was not enough water for the entire Chingwizi population, raising serious health concerns,” said HRW.
The organisation said thousands of schoolchildren at Chingwizi have had their schooling disrupted or no longer have access to education.