By Itai Muzondo
BIKITA, October 21, 2015 – A bitter wrangle has erupted in Masvingo’s Bikita District as a man, Engineer Vhitori has allegedly set resettled farmers’ homesteads at Mungezi River Range on fire saying that they are refusing to vacate land which is legally his as offered by the government.
Speaking to Radio VOP, a farmers’ representative who came to report the ongoing dispute to the Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement Provincial offices, Isiah Muchafa said they are having sleepless nights as Vhitori is always threatening to take much stiffer but unspecified action against them unless they vacate the land he claims is officially his.
“Vhitori has given us sleepless nights. We have slept at the Provincial Lands office for the past three nights and we will do so until the office has provided a solution to our problem. We were given this land during the fourth Chimurenga as the nation went through the land reform programme. It however came as a surprise to me and my fellow villagers that Vhitori emerged from nowhere forcing us to evict the farm.
“We are now living in fear as Vhitori has continued threatening to use stiffer measures than fire to evict us from the farm. He once came with a messenger of court saying he has a court order that gives him ultimate ownership of the land and ordered people to vacate but we rejected as we were allocated this land by government and it is only government that can make us move from this land.
If we are to be moved, we also want compensation as we had already set structures on the land in question. We will also not accept being vacated unless we are offered an alternative resettlement area,” said Muchafa.
“We have been staying on this land for almost a decade and we had made a livelihood through our agricultural practices. Though droughts had hit most parts of the country, I believe we were better.
“Vhitori has however emerged as our main worry as he has continuously ordered us to vacate the land. If he had done this in a peaceful manner it would have been better, but he has resorted to set our homesteads on fire without notice. He does not even care whether there are occupants in the house, he just sets the houses ablaze. We are even losing our precious belongings from the continuous fire attacks,” lamented a villager, Eustina Masikati.
“I do not think what Vhitori is doing is above board. Government made it clear that there is no going back in the land reform which he is trying to reverse. I personally think the guy (Vhitori) is an agent of the whites who once owned this land and trying to use him to reclaim the property. We will not let him do that, never,” said Kemson Nyama who identified himself as a war veteran.
Having reportedly gutted down more than fifty homesteads in fire in a resettlement which is currently housing more than 200 villagers, Vhitori denied having burnt the villager’s houses saying the resettled famers burnt their own houses trying to create a case for him.
“I am human and will never opt for such a decision. All they are trying to do is give me a bad image since I never set anyone’s homestead on fire. I have asked the villagers to vacate the land peacefully through a court order but they have refused to do so.
“They even threatened to beat up the messenger of court who came to give them a vacation order. I am actually clueless as of now on how I can get my land back but I will continue persevering through the courts so that I retrieve what is legally mine,” Vhitori, a school teacher at Bikita Minerals Primary School said.
Masvingo Province Chief Lands Officer Fortune Chimbishi said the issue has not yet reached his desk and denied further comment amid Muchafa’s word that they have been sleeping at his offices for the past three night awaiting his response.
“I have not yet received such an issue, so I cannot provide any comment,” Chimbishi said.
Meanwhile, the eviction wave is spreading across the district as the Bikita Rural District Council is currently at a legal battle with Vhovha villagers whom they allege are illegally settled in an area which belongs to them and is meant to facilitate Bikita Growth Point expansion program.