At least 3000 villagers in Chipinge District have been served with eviction notices by the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement. These villagers are found in Checheche, Masimbe, Kondo, Munyokowere, Mucha, Siyekaye and Ndiyadzo villages. The eviction notices gave them seven days to vacate the land they have been occupying since the early 1990s. The eviction notices are said to be necessitated by a 2018 Cabinet resolution on illegal settlers. The cabinet resolved that all people found in farms without any offer letter, permit, lease or title deed are committing a crime in terms of the Lands Consequential Provisions Act Chapter 20:28
The Lands Consequential Provisions Act Chapter 20:28 neglected the ancestral rights of the villagers on the land they have a traditional claim. The law is now being used to revise and reshape culture whereas villagers believed that it should be used to reshape the repressive norms that characterized the colonial period.
“The government has to understand and interpret their laws in the context that the control of land is vested in an ancestry group and access is determined by social identity. Culture defines our social identity as a people and we cannot be denied that identity.” Headman Munyokowere is quoted as saying. He is one of the villagers served with a notice to vacate the land. In Chipinge district, culture is a framework through which individuals in society come to apprehend reality. Thus, it is understood to shape society from the inside out by providing the principal terms of social life that is largely natural, normal, cohesive and coherent. However, the law appears to displace these norms as it imposes legal requirements on right to land that are inconsistent with cultural values and norms.
Land in Chipinge District is a critical cultural, social and economic asset in terms of access and ownership. Customary tenure system in the district resonate with the Ndau cultural values of community cohesion. Customary land tenure is, nevertheless, characterized by its largely unwritten nature and is location specific. On the other hand, the Lands Consequential Provisions Act Chapter 20:28 in its written form attest to the idea that land rights are allocated and confirmed through the issuance of titles and/or other forms of registration of ownership. Therefore, the administration of the Lands Consequential Provisions Act Chapter 20:28, is viewed as the attempt to annihilate customary land tenure system.
It is important that communities that are defined by the consciousness of a form of cultural identity should be accorded protection and expression in appropriate legal and institutional framework. The affected villagers have a strong cultural, historical and emotional connections to the land in which they are being evicted. Without this land, the villagers will be unable to survive as cultural distinct entities. The government ought to respect and acknowledge the cultural context of the Ndau people and make the law reflect customary land rights. This is in accordance with the international human rights law doctrine that underscore the fact that culture is a “cluster of social and economic activities, which gives a community its sense of identity”. The affected villagers are not claiming just any land but the land that have a cultural importance to them.
“What they have done to the villagers is unjust and smacks of arbitrary authority from our government. The government must ensure that customary land rights are protected and leveraged against manipulation but instead it is exposing vulnerable communities.” Allan Murozvi said, a community activist working with the Platform for Youth and Community Development Trust (PYCD).
Legal distortions around customary ownership of land is the bedrock of the villagers’ dilemma. The law should recognize the rights of the rural communities to self-preservation.