Zimbabwe: Compulsory land evictions threaten small-scale farmers

| May 23, 2016

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Farmers in the Midlands province of Zimbabwe are living in constant fear. Life on their land is becoming more uncertain every day that they face eviction by their government.

Between 2008 and 2013, 18,000 small-scale farmers settled in areas such as Kwekwe, Gweru, Mberengwa, Zvishavane, and Gokwe North and South in central Zimbabwe. But phony officials and traditional leaders had illegally distributed this land.

Brian Taika is a former school teacher who left his job in 2009 because he found land for farming through one of these traditional leaders. Now, he faces eviction.

Mr. Taika says he left his home to find good land for farming. He was disappointed to learn that he was resettled on land that belongs to the government. He explains: “I was desperate for land. Just because we looked for land later than the resettlement period, it became a case of ‘knowing someone who knew someone’ [who could help you find land quickly].” He paid $5,000 US for the new land.

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Photo: Brian Taika Credit: Vladmir Mzaca

Land has long been a controversial issue in Zimbabwe. Between 2000 and 2007, the Fast Track Land Reform program distributed about 14.5 million hectares of land. The program aimed to redistribute land from white landholders to black Zimbabweans, but the process was often violent and excluded many people.

Mr. Taika has developed six hectares of land in Shurugwi area, 100 kilometres north of his former home. He says that what hurts him most about the eviction is that he has invested in his new land, and the eviction will hinder his dream of becoming a successful potato farmer.

He says, “I hand-dug a borehole, and just last month I also dug contour bunds and infiltration pits in order to preserve water.”

Talent Ndlhovu is another farmer from the Shurugwi area. He inherited land when his father passed away last year. He says he first had problems with land officials in 2014 when his family was told that they were settled on grazing land. His family has received temporary reprieves until now, allowing them to stay on their farm.

But since the government issued the eviction notice, Mr. Ndlhovu has stopped investing in his land. He says, “We will just wait and see what the government will do for us. We wrote letters to the minister and that is how far we could go.”

Some of the officials responsible for illegally resettling farmers have been identified and charged for their crimes. Mr. Taika discovered that the person who sold land to him lied about being a village leader. The impostor admitted in court to illegally selling land. But Mr. Taika and other farmers still face the reality of losing their homes and businesses.

He says he will continue working on his land but on a smaller scale, just to pay the bills. Because he developed the land, he hopes the government will at least compensate willing farmers like himself. He adds, “I have a daughter who might be going to university next year, so for now I will just farm for subsistence—just to get by. I hope and trust somehow there will be a win-win solution for us.”