By Jeffrey Moyo
Mwenezi, March 16, 2016 – EMERGING from his pole and dagga hut, with his palm capping his brow against the scorching El-Nino-induced heat, 73-year old Tobias Mugumba from Mwenezi signals this reporter to sit on a home-made stool just nearby.
Mwenezi is a rural district in Masvingo province located 144 kilometres South-West of the provincial capital, a district that has been home to Mugumba since birth.
But now Mugumba and hundreds other families have ceased being owners of the land.
He (Mugumba) now lives in Chomutsvairo, a village in the same district, about 70 kilometres west of his former home in Chitanga, where together with hundreds other families, they were evicted by indigenous gold miners after rumours that gold deposits had been detected in the area.
Found in region five, the hottest part of the country commonly meant for cattle ranching, Mwenezi geologically fell on the country’s gems map in the 1990s after diamond deposits were detected.
Geological surveyors from the Mines Ministry here say there have never been any gold deposits found in the district.
“We have never at any official level found any reports of gold deposits here and surely we are yet to find out if the so-called gold panners that have pounced on certain areas here are really up to gold scouting or other things,” a top government geologist said on condition of anonymity for professional reasons.
Despite government geologists expressing ignorance about whether or not gold exists in Mwenezi, not even the law could save the evicted villagers after falling prey to the alleged indigenous gold miners.
“We took our matter to court challenging our displacement, but to this day nothing has happened and even the media has been seemingly unaware of our plight although it was found that those who invaded our village land under the guise of being miners had no legal rights of occupancy, and a court eviction process was issued, but it has not been effected to this day,” said one of the disgruntled villagers.
Even after challenging and winning their case at High Court, ward seven councillor of Mwenezi district, Adious Ngulube said they have not returned to their land.
Police here tried to force out the gold miners, but were met with resistance, with claims that the miners are linked to the country’s dreaded politicians in government, this according to Ngulube.
“All options have been exhausted to set our native land free from the intruders, but as I speak now, the so-called miners have dug up huge mounds of soils, reportedly prospecting for gold, telling us they are the bonafide owners of the land, brandishing ownership papers allegedly from the Mines Ministry,” Ngulube said.
According to the local authority in this impoverished district, an estimated 180 families were in 2012 displaced from their native land around Chitanga area after people who posed as licensed gold miners evicted them claiming the land had been designated to them.
For Mugumba together with his extended family, life has never been the same, together with many other families.
“Building a new home is not an easy task, worse after leaving the only home we had known for our entire lives,” Mugumba said.
One of the village headmen in Chitanga, Agrippa Musevenzo, claimed they were many suspected artisanal miners that started streaming into their homeland since last year.
“These panners came wielding what looked like title deeds to the land occupied by villagers here, some carried papers that also looked like they had acquired gold claims here. Each artisanal miner had a different story,” Musevenzo said.
Dereck Bhiza, one of the artisanal miners claimed to have obtained an offer letter from the Ministry of Mines to get a gold claim in this part of the district.
“I was given a government offer letter to commence mining gold here while proper paper work is being processed,” Bhiza claimed.
Eight other indigenous gold miners: Isaac Mbiza, Misheck Ncube, Benard Gapi, Reason Mhofu, Leonard Zimbwa, Tinago Mvete, Edwin Nzou and Mike Makopa, produced title deeds to various land spaces from which they evicted scores of families.
Based on records gleaned at the deeds office here, the land seized by the aforementioned indigenous miners belongs to the state and their title deeds do not exist, according to the national deeds office.
Nevertheless, the villagers displaced here have been thrown into a worse humanitarian crisis than before.
A snap survey carried out by this reporter at the new place the evicted families now live showed an array of shanty pole and dagga thatched small huts which apparently looked much poorer than their abandoned homes around Chitanga.
“We neither have boreholes, schools nor clinics now and this means our lives have been put in danger,” Meagan Zindove, one of the displaced villagers, a single mother of eight, said.
Constitutionally, every rural piece of land in Zimbabwe belongs to the state.
But Section 72, subsection 7 of the Zimbabwean Constitution states that under colonial domination, the people here were unjustifiably dispossessed of their land and other resources without compensation.
This is a similar situation that has hit many villagers like Mugumba to whom history seems to be repeating itself in this Southern African nation to which research organisations here testify.
According to the University of Zimbabwe’s Institute of Mining Research, each year more than 110 families from across Zimbabwe lose their native lands through displacements, more often at the instigation of indigenous miners.
A top official speaking on the condition of anonymity from Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Mines said: “We have collectively come to the conclusion that illegal and unscrupulous miners are evicting poor villagers in isolated areas around the country without the knowledge of the government, throwing villagers into landlessness and poverty.”
True to the official’s remarks, the families duped of their native land in Mwenezi have slithered further into poverty.
“We have lost what we used to call our own and have turned into vagabonds in our own country,” Pegina Msipa, one of the evictees, said.
The mounting plight of the evicted villagers here has not escaped the attention of human rights activist.
“Considering the bond that the unfortunate villagers have had to their land from which they were thrown off, it should be noted that resettlement of communities is a highly sophisticated process requiring consideration of economic, social and cultural issues,” Terry Mutsvanga, an award winning rights activist, said.
“The land that communities have been made to occupy may appear similar, but differences in soil fertility, water availability, access to roads and markets and a variety of other factors can have serious implications for the community’s wellbeing,” added Mutsvanga.
For hordes of displaced families here, the future apparently looks bleak.
The Centre for Natural Resource Governance director, Farai Maguwu equated the villagers’ woes to the ones that befell the villagers in Marange over 10 years ago when the diamonds were discovered in the area.
“The future of these Mwenezi villagers is doomed and theirs is a repetition of an old plight that over a decade ago also hit the Marange villagers after the discovery of diamonds there turned out to be a curse for them,” said Maguwu.
And the government has not responded directly either to the crisis facing the ill-fated Mwenezi villagers.
“Until we are done with our own findings of whether or not there are any mineral deposits around the place from which the villagers claim they were displaced, as government then we would start involving ourselves directly,” an official from the Permanent Secretary’s office in the Ministry of Mines in Zimbabwe said.
For many villagers like Mugumba, now in the twilight of his life, their resettlement could have been better if they had seen the direct involvement of authorities from the outset.