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Inhumane Treatment of Matebeleland South Villagers At The Hands Of Police Condemned

Villagers from Matabeleland South province have bemoaned the inhumane treatment they experienced at the hands of the police following their arrest for illegal occupation of State land.

Government has embarked on a blitz to evict “illegal” settlers from State land amid accusations the exercise is meant to benefit a connected and powerful few.

The evictions have been carried out ruthlessly, with critics saying they mirror those conducted on locals by white settlers over a century ago.

Elizabeth Ndlovu (91), from Nyandeni village, said they were detained at a police camp overnight and denied access to food and water.

“I am not feeling well, I am staying with my grandchildren who are taking care of me through proceeds from artisanal mining. We were bundled into a police truck to Gwanda Police Station last week, where I slept on an empty stomach,” Ndlovu narrated.

“We appeared in court the following day, and we were remanded out of custody until February 23. We were called again for a meeting here at Nyandeni business centre by the police, we arrived at 8am and the police came in the afternoon.”

Zanu PF Nyandeni district chairperson Bongani Mlilo said they had occupied the land since 1998, adding that what was worrying him was that he was being treated like a second-class citizen in his country of birth.

He said police did not respect them on the fateful day after using food as bait before arresting them.

“People came in numbers following the announcement that there was a food distribution exercise. We were, however, told that we were under arrest for being illegal settlers. We have been paying taxes since 1998 for our land that we are occupying since then until 2016,” Mlilo said.

“We were told to stop paying taxes with the hope that our stay was going to be regularised by the lands officer in Gwanda, but to our surprise, he resurfaced last week after having disappeared for several years. He came with the police to arrest us because we have been deemed to be squatters on our own land.

“President Emmerson Mnangagwa is now being surrounded by the wrong people who are advising him wrong things. We are not happy with this eviction exercise. It is a way of destroying the party (Zanu PF).”

Mlilo said they were abandoned by Zanu PF provincial leaders, despite being members of the ruling party.

“We will be having our internal elections soon and some will be coming down to us to seek votes, we are in this alone save for a single member who came to visit us while we were languishing in the police station,’’ he said.

Mlilo asked why they should be victimised instead of being allocated another place to relocate to, adding that they were peace-loving villagers.

“We have written several letters petitioning the lands office to regularise our stay because we want peace, our parents are now old,” he said.

“We are the ones who are now taking care of them by utilising these pieces of land to be productive.

“We supply Gwanda town with vegetables and meat. Our children are at schools here, once we move out, all these schools will be closed.”

Female victims narrated how those in the menstrual period suffered while in police cells.

“It was as if we were in hell. We did not have sanitary pads and one of the villagers received a message that her child had been raped after she was left alone at home. Another one who runs a poultry project nearly lost more than 500 chickens because there was no one taking care of them since she was in custody,” one of the disgruntled victims said.

“There are some who have chronic diseases, but ended up defaulting treatment because they had left their daily dosages at home. We had several ECD [early childhood development] children who failed to go to school during the period as they were also detained. I had to seek the services of a lawyer to intervene in their situation.”

The victims’ lawyer Mitchel Chigova of TJ Mabhikwa and Partners Law Firm said some of the arrested villagers were not homeowners.

“The matter is not yet before any specific magistrate. The State proceeded by way of summons as the State papers were not in order. Villagers were called to meetings in their various villages and on arrival, they were loaded onto police trucks and taken to the station. Some of those arrested were not the homeowners, while others have some paperwork (albeit insufficient),” Chigova said.

“Villagers were summoned back to court on February 23, 26 to 29. Due to the large numbers of the accused persons, there was a need to reduce the numbers coming to court on any day. For instance, those arrested from Nyandeni were 180. Managing such a large number at once is challenging.”

Chigova said the affected villagers were from Insindi and Sherborne Farm in West Nicholson.

Acting provincial police spokesperson Assistant Inspector Bongani Mguni declined to comment on the matter.

Last week, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) intervened and stopped the eviction of villagers in Masvingo province who had been ordered to vacate their homesteads after their conviction for illegal occupation of State land.

The villagers’ lawyers Phillip Shumba of ZLHR filed an appeal at Masvingo Magistrates Court seeking to stay their evictions from their land pending the determination of their appeal against conviction and sentence which was filed at Masvingo High Court, ZLHR said in an update.

Magistrate Ivy Jawona granted the villagers application for stay of eviction pending the determination of their appeal at the Masvingo High Court. — NewsDay


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