Masvingo Magistrate Acquits 66 Villagers Arrested For Occupying State Land
23 February 2024
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Masvingo Provincial Magistrate Farai Gwitima has acquitted 66 villagers, who had been on trial for illegally occupying state land without authority.

The 66 villagers had been on trial at Masvingo Magistrates Court after they were arrested on 22 January 2024 by Zimbabwe Republic Police officers and charged for occupying gazetted land without lawful authority as defined in section 3(1) of the Gazetted Land (Consequential Provisions) Act.

During trial, prosecutors alleged that the 66 villagers, who include some aged over 70 years, unlawfully held, used or occupied part of Great Zimbabwe University in Masvingo province, which is deemed to be state land.

The prosecutors, who stated that the complainant in the matter was Charity Mumera, the Deputy Director in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Fisheries and Rural Development, claimed that the villagers illegally occupied pieces of state land from 2000 to date in contravention of section 3(1) of the Gazetted Land (Consequential Provisions) Act.

But the 66 villagers were on Thursday 22 February 2024 found not guilty and acquitted at the close of the prosecution case by Magistrate Gwitima, who ruled that prosecutors had failed to prove the existence of a government gazette entitling government to ownership of the pieces of the land allegedly occupied by the rural dwellers, which is an essential element of the alleged offence.

The 66 villagers, who were out of prison custody on bail, were represented by Frank Chirairo of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.

They had initially been charged for settling within a prohibited dam basin as defined in section 56(20) of the Water Act, wherein prosecutors alleged that they had unlawfully held, used or occupied Lake Mutirikwi basin, which is a prohibited dam basin.

The charges were later amended to contravening section 3(1) of the Gazetted Land (Consequential Provisions) Act.