Land Dispossession and Legal Battles in Chipinge: A Call for Mediation to Restore Peace and Protect Livelihoods
13 February 2024
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By Owen Dhliwayo| Land dispossession and arbitrary arrests have cast a shadow over the tranquility of 16 out of the 30 rural wards in Chipinge district since the establishment of an ethanol plant in Chisumbanje village in 2008.

From that point onward, Chisumbanje and Chinyamukwakwa communities resisted a large-scale project that, while promising development, was built upon the widespread dispossession of rural people.

This unsettling trend has now extended its reach to other communities, including Mahachi, Kondo, Munyokowere, Ndiyadzo, and GreenValley. These communities find themselves entangled in a broader failure of tenure dualism, positioned as a central blueprint for modernizing land systems in the pursuit of development.

Recent events, specifically on the 9th and 12th of February 2024, saw close to 700 villagers from Mahachi and Munyokowere villages appearing before the Chipinge Magistrates court due to a land dispute with the Chipinge Rural District Council.

Charges were brought under “section 24(1) as read with section 24(4) of the Regional, Town and Community Planning Act Chapter 29:12,” citing the villagers’ involvement in “unlawful development without permission.”

The magistrate released the villagers on free bail, citing unclear charges improperly presented before the court.

Speculation is rife that Kondo and Maunganidze villagers may face similar charges in the coming week. In addressing this longstanding dispute, mediation emerges as a preferred approach, offering a comprehensive solution that encompasses issues of land ownership, resource management, community relations, and secure livelihoods.

Mediation fosters trust, cooperation, and peace, providing a platform to resolve land disputes and promote stability within affected communities.

Mediation, distinct from litigation, focuses on finding common ground rather than determining right or wrong in a dispute.

Given the potential for land disputes to escalate into violent confrontations linked to exclusion, social discrimination, and economic marginalization, supporting multi-stakeholder platforms becomes imperative.

These platforms facilitate discussions on sensitive policies and practices through mediation, promoting peace, securing land rights, improving livelihoods, and restoring social balance in affected communities.

Continued confrontation poses the risk of escalating violence and insecurity as communities struggle to defend their land rights. Families, like the one in Mahachi, face the harsh reality of relocation to neighboring countries, leading to an increase in landlessness and homelessness among the vulnerable and poor. The informal sector becomes a precarious lifeline for many, as they grapple with the inability to pay council lease and rentals.

Mediation emerges as a crucial avenue for dispute resolution, acknowledging the inherent risks of social tensions accompanying development interventions, particularly those related to land use.

The historical significance of land as a colonial bedrock, coupled with unaddressed social and economic inequalities in the decolonization process, amplifies tensions.

Mediation emphasizes the importance of broader community acceptance to generate consensus, recognizing that land, at the foundation of community and social life, demands careful consideration.

In Chipinge district, land stands as both a valuable resource and a source of tension, manifesting in displacement, loss of livelihoods, and human rights violations. The conflict arises from its integral role in community and social life.

For instance, in Mahachi, the local state’s use of urban development plans based on the 1982 National Transition Development Plan has led to the Gazetting of Checheche in 1982 with an initial land size of 1055 hectares.

However, the local state has expanded the land size to approximately 2203 hectares, necessitating the acquisition of adjacent communal land.