Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance (MDC-Alliance) vice president Tendai Biti led a tour of Chilonga where the community is threatened with eviction to make way for a lucerne grass growing project.

By Tendai Biti

WE SPENT a few days in the Chilonga area of Chiredzi, visiting and listening to compatriots in Chiredzi South and East constituencies. We met with ordinary citizens, community leaders and traditional leaders.

We travelled huge distances to places such as Chikombedzi, Malipati, Boli and Gonarezhou. We saw and heard from a tortured, insecure and angry citizen in the Shangaan communities so dominant in this part of the Lowveld.

This is a community that has suffered displacements twice before. In the 1960s, they were removed from the Hippo Valley area to make way for sugar estates.

They were then ejected to pave way for huge wildlife reserves – Gonarezhou National Park and Malilangwe Reserve. They subsequently rebuilt their lives in the south eastern Lowveld in areas mulcted by tsetse fly, high temperatures, wild animals, poverty and infrastructure deficits.

Years of alienation, isolation, exclusion and reification make these communities feel like outsiders. Without access in some cases to Zimbabwean services such as radio, mobile phone networks, gas stations – never mind jobs, hospitals and schools – there is greater connection with Mozambique and South Africa.

The displacement of these populations planned by the regime to make way for a Dendairy project to grow animal fodder – lucerne – is thus the ultimate invasion and insult to these communities.

They have been told 12,500 people will be ejected and 9,000 hectares taken under Phase One. When Phase 2 and 3 are completed, a massive 21,000 hectares of their land would have been confiscated.

Resistance … A Chilonga villager holds a placard in opposition to their planned displacement to make way for Dendairy which plans to grow lucerne in the area

Solidarity tour … Tendai Biti led MDC Alliance delegation which went on fact finding mission to Shilonga, in Chiredzi, where thousands of people are threatened with eviction.

For a community that participated in the liberation struggle that brought independence in 1980, they don’t understand why they should be ejected for only their land to be given to one white man and his company.

They already do contract farming for Delta and Ingwebu, so they can’t understand why they can’t contract farm lucerne for the white man, a pal of the ruling elites.

In view of massive pieces of underutilised agricultural land dotted in their region, they don’t understand why the same land is not being used for the lucerne project. They don’t understand why cattle grass has become more important than people or the small grains they produce.

They strongly feel that that they are victims, not just of greed and avarice but also of tribal rejection as an ethnic minority.

The Shangaan people of Chiredzi know that the regime has, in 41 years, been cruel and extractive against ethnic minorities. They have suffered displacements, genocide and exclusion.

Author is MDC Alliance vice president