LAST week government gazetted Statutory Instrument 50 of 2021 to designate 12 940 hectares of communal land in Chilonga, Chiredzi, for Lucerne grass farming for Dendairy milk production purposes.
The unprecedented move effectively dispossess thousands of Shangaan families from their ancestral lands where they survive from farming sorghum, rearing cattle and goats in the arid ecological region five area at the south-eastern border of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa.
Government says the Lucerne farming project is aimed at promoting dairy production to reach a 200 million litres of milk target by 2030 up from 76,7 million litres in 2020.
At its height of milk production, Zimbabwe had 120 000 dairy cows in 1990 but things nose-dived in post-2000 following the chaotic land reform programme.
In 2020, Zimbabwe had a paltry 12 000 dairy cows which produced an average of 14 litres per day per cow.
To rescue the ailing dairy industry, government is seeking to clear large tracts of land to farm Lucerne also known as alfalfa — a drought resistant perennial legume used as dairy cow forage.
Thus S1 50 of 2021 is a legal instrument to create that space.
But there is a widespread outcry from affected communities under Headman Chilonga over the imminent land displacements of the minority Shangaan from their ancestral lands. A trace of the Chilonga people shows that it is not the first time they are battling evictions.
They were forcibly removed from their inhabitations close to the Gonarezhou National Park to pave way for sugarcane plantations in the 1960s.
The Ian Smith colonial regime — just like the President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration — was also armed with laws to effectively alienate black people from their lands.
Pieces of colonial legislation that quickly come to mind include the Land Apportionment Act which empowered the then government to push black people to “reserves” with infertile soils, like Chilonga.
While government’s plan to boost milk production is plausible, there should be a balance between attracting investment for the big corporates and the interests of the ordinary person.
It seems our rulers have little regard for human rights as there have been a number of displacements before, without any form of compensation.
Chisumbanje villagers were relocated to make way for Green Fuel’s ethanol plant while Chiadzwa people also faced the same fate.
Some people in Chilonga actually survived a recent displacement when they were pushed away to make room for the Tugwi-Mukosi dam and irrigation project.
The problem at hand is that in previous displacements, poor peasants lost their land and cultural identity links as big capital grabbed land. Promises of decent compensation of new houses and better schools and clinics remain a pipe dream.
The livelihoods of those in Chisumbanje and Chiadzwa have worsened while vast wealth is being drawn from their communities. The roads are poor, schools distantly located and the soils for farming are eroded, resulting in poor production.
The plight of the poor peasantry has deteriorated. Is the government forgetting the very same peasants who immensely contributed to the liberation struggle as various classes of peasants, according to peasant differentiation thesis, played key roles in fighting for independence?
What government needs to do is to respect the Chilonga people and look for alternative land in underutilised farms.
Dendairy is a Kwekwe based company and are there no underutilised farms in the Midlands. Not to stoke ethnicity and regionalism flames but the point is the State should allocate land that is lying idle in other areas apart from Chilonga where thousands of villagers have vehemently resisted the government move.
The land question in other jurisdiction like South Africa and Namibia is not as chaotic as is in Zimbabwe. Therefore, why can’t the Zanu PF government learn from its sister liberation movements and respect property rights and the values and wishes of the people it governs?
We, thus, urge government to balance interests of big capital and poor peasants to avoid unnecessary clashes and policy inconsistencies.