By Dumisani Nyoni
Matobo, September 26, 2016 – MDC-T senator for Matabeleland South, Sithembile Mlotshwa and 40 Matobo district villagers were arrested on Friday while 26 were later granted free bail a day after for staging a demonstration against the seizure and demolishing of their homes by two companies operating in the area.
Mlotshwa and 40 villagers from Zwehamba, Matankeni and Mahetshe areas in Matobo had staged a protest against Trek Petroleum, and Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (ARDA) over a farming project that they claim was interfering with their ancestral lands.
According to Abameli Human Rights Lawyers, police arrested Mlotshwa and 40 others and were all detained at Maphisa Police Station for engaging in what police claimed was an illegal demonstration.
The lawyers group said only 26, including the MP, were released on free bail on Saturday, out of 41 who were arrested.
“All 26 villagers from Matobo who were arrested during the protest against ARDA and TREK were released on Saturday,” the organisation said in a Monday statement.
The freed villagers were remanded to October 20, 2016 for trial, according to Abameli.
ARDA has been expanding its agricultural land by demolishing homes of villagers who have been staying there for more than 60 years, going as far as moving graves.
Before the demonstration, police reportedly tried to block the villagers from staging a protest but without giving any substantial reasons, forcing angry villagers to seek the help from lawyers.
The protest, however, went ahead on Friday following the intervention of human rights lawyers.
The ARDA joint farming venture with Trek Petroleum at its Maphisa Estates has not gone down well with villagers, who allege the project has encroached into their grazing, farming and ancestral lands.
The villagers were represented by Kucaca Phulu of Phulu, Ncube Legal Practitioners and Kholwani Ngwenya of Mabhikwa, Hikwa Legal Practitioners, who are both members of Abammeli Human Rights Lawyers.