BY GARIKAI MAFIRAKUREVA
VICE-President Constantino Chiwenga was last week forced to abort a trip to Chilonga communal lands, where over
12 000 villagers are facing eviction, after angry traditional leaders told Masvingo provincial leaders they wanted offer letters first before meeting him.
The land offer letters would give the villagers security against land grabs by the government to make way for big corporates. Chiwenga then met headmen and chiefs at a closed door meeting at Gibbo Stadium in Triangle, several kilometres away from Chilonga.
His visit was aimed at calming tempers that were raging since the government threatened to immediately displace villagers to pave way for a Lucerne grass project by Kwekwe-based dairy firm, Dendairy. The project is set to cover
12 940 hectares.
But even the traditional leaders gave Chiwenga a tough time. They plainly demanded offer letters from the government, according to sources who attended the meeting.
The advance team led by Masvingo provincial affairs minister Ezra Chadzamira went to Chilonga three days prior to Chiwenga’s visit.
“They, however, met resistance and immediately rescheduled Chiwenga’s visit for last Sunday at Gibbo Stadium in Triangle. Only traditional leaders were invited to the meeting,” a source told the Zimbabwe Independent this week.
A representative of Chilonga village head Vhelemu Livison Chikutu said they were demanding offer letters from government.
The traditional leaders reportedly turned down verbal promises.
“If you are saying we are no longer going to be moved and we are going to be beneficiaries of the grass project, then we want offer letters. You are not going to be our minister of state forever. You might be fired or you may die tomorrow and your successor will simply ask for the agreement we had with the government not with Chadzamira as a person,” Chikutu told Chadzamira during a meeting which was a precursor to Chiwenga’s visit.
“As villagers of Chilonga we are worried that you are misleading the nation that there were proper consultations. We are totally opposed to the government decision to forcibly move us from our land. We are also worried that you are using Chief Tshovani as the leader whose area of jurisdiction is affected yet it belongs to Chief Sengwe who is not here. We feel you are trying to mislead the world that our traditional leader is in support with whatever is happening,” Chikutu said.
The meeting ended in a stalemate which led the team to shift the venue from Chilonga to Gibbo Stadium after they realised that the environment was hostile. Later, only traditional leaders were allowed to meet Chiwenga.
The traditional leaders told Chiwenga that they could not make a final decision as it rests with affected villagers.
According to impeccable sources that attended the meeting, Chiwenga tried to be diplomatic after traditional leaders told him they were sidelined in the allocation of land in the Kilimanjaro project.
Chiwenga admitted that allocation of land in the Kilimanjaro project was wrongly done and should be revisited.
Kilimanjaro is a sugarcane growing project on land developed by agro-processing giant, Tongaat Hullets in Hippo Valley for distribution to villagers through its corporate social responsibility initiatives.
The Chilonga contentious issue was not discussed in depth as the traditional leaders asked for more time to consult their people.
On February 26, 2021, Local Government minister, July Moyo, published a legal notice ordering thousands of people occupying approximately 12 940 hectares of Chilonga communal lands to leave immediately unless they acquired rights of use or occupation.
This sparked a global outcry resulting in government somersaulting and changing the statutory instruments that were used to grab land from the villagers. Court challenges also gave relief to the villagers.