By A Correspondent| Several distressed villagers have asked Zimbabwean courts to intervene and stop a fresh wave of evictions being spearheaded by government across the country.
In Masvingo province, Phillip Shumba of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, on Monday 12 February 2024, filed an appeal at Masvingo Magistrates Court on behalf of the villagers, seeking to suspend an order for their eviction from their land.
The villagers were on Wednesday 7 February 2024 convicted of occupying gazetted land without lawful authority as defined in section 3(1) of the Gazetted Land (Consequential Provisions) Act by Masvingo Magistrate Ivy Jawona and sentenced to serve three months in prison, which was wholly suspended.
In addition, Magistrate Jawona ordered the villagers to vacate their land within seven days.
The villagers then engaged Shumba who asked the Masvingo Magistrates Court to stay their eviction pending the determination of their appeal against both conviction and sentence by the Masvingo High Court.
In the appeal, which was filed at Masvingo High Court on Friday 9 February 2024, the villagers argued that Magistrate Jawona erred and misdirected herself in convicting and sentencing them to serve jail terms for illegally occupying gazetted land as some of them have been in occupation of their land for more than 40 years and had effected tremendous improvements to their land.
The villagers want the High Court to overturn their conviction and set aside their sentence and refer their matter to the Constitutional Court for a determination of the constitutionality of their eviction.
The villagers argued that they were allocated land by council, which on its own, raised constitutional questions that ought to have moved the court to invoke the provisions of section 175(4) of the Constitution and refer the matter to the Constitutional Court.
They contended that section 3(5) of the Gazetted Land (Consequential Provisions) Act directly infringes their right to freedom from arbitrary eviction guaranteed in section 75 of the Constitution.
They also argued that Magistrate Jawona’s order for them to vacate the only homes they have ever known within seven days was grossly unreasonable.
In Chipinge in Manicaland province, Tariro Tazvitya of ZLHR is representing 327 villagers, who reside in Mahachi village, and are accused of illegally occupying Mahachi village.
Of the 327 villagers, 80 of them reside in Munyokowere village and are accused of illegally occupying Munyokowere village.
The villagers were brought to Chipinge Magistrates Court on 10 February 2024 for their initial remand appearance.
They were set free after their lawyer made representations to the National Prosecuting Authority arguing against putting them on remand on an incomplete docket as investigations by Zimbabwe Republic Police officers had not been complete.