Peasant villagers from the Msuna area in Hwange District have literally been caught between the horns of a dillemma after they were ordered to vacate their homesteads by Zimbabwe authorities to allegedly pave way for ‘some white’ entrepreneurs who intend to keep hippopotamuses in the area.

The impending mass evictions are set to adversely impact on an estimated number of 400 families that were recently issued with $500 tickets by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) and ordered to leave their homesteads or risk being arrested for defying authoritative orders.

Albeit claims by the affected families that Government was placing more value on the hippos than its people, authorities contend that the environmental destruction emanating from the stream bank cultivation practised on the basin was reason for them to vacate.

The villagers have adamantly stayed put and despite the threats of punitive legal consequences, they are, instead, wary of poorly evidenced claims that EMA has also threatened to destroy their yet-to-be-harvested crops.

In their defiance to vacate from the now predominantly agrarian area, the villagers argue that they inherited the ‘ancestral’ place from their forefathers who, around the 1920s, settled in the area- a fishing island with eight villages around Msuna Hills, Kancheza and Dambwamkulu.

Villagers interviewed by the state media allege that the Government intends to create an ‘island of hippos’ in their area, citing this as the reason which has seen them being forced to vacate.

With 21 lodges and a number of tourism activities, the area has proved to be agriculturally productive for the peasantry communities growing crops on the basin which boasts of wet conditions, even during the dry season.

In the past, the villagers used to annually abandon their homesteads during the dry season and temporarily settle on the flood plain to grow crops, albeit the environmental consequences associated with that practice.

The villagers would then return to their homesteads on the onset of the rainy season after they would have harvested their crops on the flood plains.
However, with time and due to recurrent years of drought, the families have now permanently settled in the basin where conditions for crop production are viable.

This has now resulted in environmental authorities pushing for the immediate eviction of the adamant families.

Commenting on the latest developments, the soon-to-be evicted villagers said it was worrisome that their maize crop, now nearing maturity, could be slashed as the eviction disaster continues to loom large.

One villager, a Pretty Ncube claimed in an interview that the environmental regulatory EMA has even threatened to slash their crops and this could culminate in instant famine.

“Six villages are affected,” Ncube was quoted as saying.

“We know there are some tour operators who have influenced the decision so that they have the island for their hippos. Right now people have been fined $500 each by EMA who have threatened to slash the maize crop which is nearing maturity,” she said.

Another villager claimed that they had been given until this week to vacate their homesteads- located along the flood basin.


tears, sweat and blood… A villager takes reporters into her maize field in the Zambezi basin (Photo Credit: Zimpapers)

“We have been growing crops on that island for many years and now they want us to leave because white operators don’t want Tonga huts near the river saying we make noise for their hippos. If the motive is genuine, they should start in Hwange and evict everyone who settled along Deka River where similar activities are happening. EMA has issued everyone tickets and people were given until this week to vacate,” said the villager.

According to the provincial manager for EMA in Matabeleland North, Chipo Mpofu-Zuze, they would decide on the next move to be taken basing their decisions on the outcome of the forthcoming visit to the area by officers from the agency.

She also urged citizens to refrain from the environmentally catastrophic practice of stream bank cultivation.

“Our officers have to go back and assess then we can know how to proceed,” said Mpofu-Zuze.

A village head, Rosemary Shoko said their major concern was the purpotedly envisaged slashing of their crops.

“People have been cultivating on that area for many decades. They want the land for their hippos which is not right. Now people’s crops are almost mature and they want to slash them. What will people eat?” Shoko lamented.

In his confirmation of the looming mass evictions, Hwange District Development Coordinator Simon Muleya said it was not true that the eviction was meant to benefit some people who intend to keep hippos in the area.

“The reason for eviction is because they are ploughing near the river which is causing land degradation and siltation,” indicated Muleya.

“Meetings have been held with them but they insist that the place belonged to their ancestors who lived there doing stream bank cultivation. It’s not true that they are being evicted to pave way for some whites,” he said.

The current developments come as President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his ruling Zanu PF party have come under vicious condemnation for failing to provide decent living conditions for its hard-pressed citizens who are in dire need of food aid.

This, however, is despite the fact that the landlocked southern African country was at one time revered as the breadbasket of the region with a stable economy.

The country’s economic fortunes wanned when Mnangagwa’s predecessor, the late Robert Mugabe, introduced a controversial land policy which drove former white commercial farmers off large tracts of productive farms and replaced them with the landless blacks.

state media
Additional Reporting: Zwnews