By Beven Takunda
Chisumbanje, September 4, 2013 – Zimbabwean police have ordered the arrest of at least 50 villagers in Chisumbanje’s Chinyamukwakwa village in Manicaland province for allegedly undermining peace in the area.
The villagers are victims of a land dispute by Macdom Investments, an ethanol producing company in the area.
According to members of the Chisumbanje Ethanol Plant Implementation Committee who declined to be named for fear of victimisation, the order to arrest the villagers was given by Chipinge district officer commanding Chief Superintendent Patrick Wasara at the end of last week.
This was after the police had clashed with the villagers over the almost decade long land dispute between Chisumbanje villagers and Macdom Investments.
The battle resumed recently after the Macdom Investments resumed ethanol production in the area which will be used to blend with petrol.
The re-opening of the company had given hope to the villagers who are keen to finalise the land dispute which arose after Macdom Investments got vast tracts of land from the government without engaging the local community.
“Mr Wasara who was chairing the meeting which was attended by some members of the Zimbabwe National Army, Zimbabwe Prison Service and the Central Intelligence Organisation was clear on his message, as he said they are in the process of identifying those whom they are going to arrest anytime,” said one committee member who asked not to be identified.
Never Muyambo Chibode, a villager residing in the area told Radio VOP that the villagers were committed to serve jail in defence of the occupation of their land by Macdom Investments.
“We received the information to the effect that the police were planning to arrest us. We are saying they have in fact delayed to take us to jail. We are ready to die for our land. We want them to know that as villagers we are prepared to be arrested and we are not even afraid,” said Chibode.
Claris Madhuku, the leader of Platform for Youth Development, a Chipinge based community representative organisation and a member of the Ethanol Plant Implementation Committee, which was set up to promote co-existence between the ethanol firm and the villagers confirmed fears that villagers could be harassed.
“The instruction was simply to inform us as representatives of the community to go and inform our constituency. So at the meeting we asked for some time to go and address the community before the police come. We did this deliberately as we did not want the police to just come and interact with villagers because we know that the issues within the community are very sensitive. But today as we are speaking they have not yet enforced on that, “said Madhuku.
In January, the police arrested some members of the same village in connection with the same land boundary dispute with Macdom Investments. The villagers were later warned and released without being charged.
The villagers are also being accused of threatening the police with weapons. However, another villager Munorwei Mamutse denied the accusations.
“Those machetes and knives and axes which they say we were armed with are our farming equipments. We carry them every day for sugar cane harvesting and when they meet us carrying them they say we want to fight them. But one thing which we want the nation to know is that we are prepared to die for our land. As long as they do not respect the land boundaries and continue turning a deaf ear to the compensation issue we will not rest, “said the angry looking Mamutse.
It also emerged from the villagers that Macdom Investments was starting to invade fresh land which the villagers were occupying for farming purposes.
“Now they are continuing invading our land. We know that they are doing this because Zanu PF is now in-charge of the country’s political affairs. We say so because during the inclusive government era they had stopped fresh invasions, “said another villager.
Last year, outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara pleaded with Chisumbanje villagers to accept that the parceling out of land the ethanol producing firm. Mutambara urged the two feuding parties to negotiate the issue of compensation and discouraged the Macdom Investments from further taking other land portions without engaging the villagers.
Efforts to get a comment from Macdom Investments were fruitless as the company’s spokesperson Lillian Muungani did not respond to calls from Radio VOP.