Chilonga evictions: State capture at play

March 8, 2021

You would have hoped that the post-Mugabe establishment could—at least—get one or two things right. But, ouch, this so-called “new dispensation” is as crude, primitive and self-serving as such regimes ever come.

Tawanda Majoni

Just recently, the government gazetted Statutory Instrument 50/2021 that is being used to evict some 2200 families—translating to an estimated 14000 people—from the Chilonga area in Chiredzi that is dominated by the Changani ethnic group. You might want to know that the population in this area has no major qualms with polygamy, so 14000 is a modest figure.

Note the following. The people are being displaced to make way for a Lucerne grass project to feed dairy cows. Dendairy, a consortium comprising Pick’n Pay and the Meikles group, is the beneficiary. This makes it a grass-and-cow-versus-poor-people project.

Despite whatever subsequent official propaganda, the evictions are being done without providing just and fair options for the affected families as is required by our constitution. No substantial consultations were done with the local community, again as the constitution requires. So the affected people are angry, very angry.

They just don’t understand how government could be so cruel to them. Their kith and kin, and them, have been moved on at least three other instances to make way for big capitalist projects. Talk about Tongaat Hullett and its sugary expansion in Chiredzi. The tipsy Chibuku, Ingwebu projects. Then the threadbare Cottco investment that’s not putting any clothes on the poor people.

Ezra Chadzamira, the state minister for Masvingo province where the grass project will be located, fibbed a lot under one breath when he called a media conference to talk on the matter. He blamed the political opposition for spreading fake information about the project.

The first time most of us heard about the real evictions was through the media. And the media is not the political opposition. But then, the media was just reporting that the government had gazetted SI50/2021. Even if Chadzamira dreamt 24/7 about it, there was no lie in the media reporting on what government had done indeed.

So, do you see what Chadzamira was trying to do? He tried to divert our attention by shifting his government’s problem to the opposition. It’s possibly true that the opposition in the area mobilised people against the grass-and-cow project. But there’s nothing wrong with that. The role of the opposition is to watchdog.

Two, Chadzamira said people had been consulted. He must go back to school about “people”. Granted, there were gatherings involving the district development coordinator, provincial development coordinator and some handpicked headmen, together with the area MP.

You don’t call this motley crowd the people. If you know your district coordinators, provincial coordinators and rural headmen well, you will know that these chaps never have a voice or opinion. Things are imposed on them and they simply rubberstamp decisions. One headman, in fact, admitted to his people that he didn’t have a choice but to kowtow. The real people—the thousands that are now being evicted—didn’t have a single clue about what was happening.

Number three, Chadzamira mumbled something about people standing to benefit from the Lucerne project. This is hard to believe of course, especially as he didn’t specify how an arbitrary eviction ever helps villagers. These are the people whose children will drop from school for lack of alternatives. The people who will leave their forbearers’ graves behind, once again. The very people who will fail to grow food the best way they have always known. People who may not accept growing Lucerne as a modern farming practice because of their entrenched cultural beliefs.

But never mind. These base politicians will always find something to say about their roll-on even as they swim in a cesspool. The truth of the matter is that the recent eviction of the Changani people to make way for cows shows just how captured the Zimbabwean state is, post-Mugabe.

In essence, state capture is systematic political corruption that entails private interests influencing state decisions. This term gained currency around 2000 when the World Bank used it to reflect on Asian nations transitioning from Soviet communism. Then, organised groups or oligarchs were taking advantage of the confusion and untidiness that came with the political transitions to manipulate the new governments for their selfish gains.

Quite often, private entities and individuals use direct and indirect pressure on the government to make laws, change policies and promulgate regulations that benefit them.  So, legislation, policies and regulations become the main instruments that are used to bring gain to the private players.

The judiciary becomes a central player in all this, making sure that court judgments are made in favour of private interests and, of course, at the expense of the generality. Where state capture is concerned, the judiciary is part of what they call the power elite. This elite is led by powerful politicians, coming mostly from the executive arm of government.

State capture is widespread in fragile democracies like ours. Where democracy is fragile, the economy is also weak, as in our case. Here, you have politicians who get into power not to serve the people, but to mine gain from political incumbency that they would have achieved mainly due to support from private players.

How does this typography tally with what we are seeing in Chilonga, and also what we have seen elsewhere when people were displaced en masse like what happened in Chiadzwa back then when diamonds were “discovered”?

They had to use the law, SI50, to evict the thousands of people from Chilonga. This is manipulation and abuse of the law that is common where state capture happens. It is quite interesting that they used the Local Government ministry to promulgate this subsidiary law. The Agriculture ministry, under which dairy farming must fall, is nowhere near this statutory scam. And it’s not clear yet if proper procedure was followed in promulgating this piece of law. This question is critical in an era where the legislature is being sidelined by the executive in the making of laws.

The eviction, clearly, serves private interests. Forget Chadzamira’s mumbo jumbo on the local community standing to benefit. The Lucerne project is meant to benefit the Dendairy commercial interests. Dendairy, strictly speaking, is a multi-national venture comprising the South Africa-based Pick’n Pay and the commercially empiricist Meikles. 

There is something stubbornly shady about private commercial interests or oligopolies in a primitively capitalist set-up. They don’t care a hoot about the people. They only see money figures, never human faces. Have a look. Dendairy has huge tracts of land in the Midlands and elsewhere. Why didn’t it consider growing Lucerne on those plots, instead of getting people kicked off their land just like that?

It’s still vague, yet, what Dendairy actually did to get July Moyo, the Local Government minister, sweating to sponsor SI50. But that cynical and naughty outfit—if you are on the side of the power elite—Team Pachedu, has made a telling suggestion. The sniffing group says, actually, July Moyo was offered a 10% stake in Dendairy in those virgin years of the new millennium.

And Team Pachedu said something even naughtier, if not more dangerous. It said this past week that President Emmerson Mnangagwa, then a cabinet minister, was also offered a 10% share in Dendairy so that he could use his power elitism to fix foreign currency for the company. For the president, it doesn’t help that Dendairy is located in Kwekwe, his hometown. Public perception would always pin him down on that one, particularly as people consider Kwekwe his fiefdom.

If the Pachedu “expose” is true, it shows that private players, Dendairy, bribed the power elite so that it could make a law, SI50 that would benefit the capitalist sharks. This is what happens in state capture. It would demonstrates the role of the power elite in state capture. They get paid, they get things done for a few individuals with insatiable appetite for capital.

The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association has launched a court application to reverse the eviction of the Changani people in Chiredzi. They are likely to have good arguments in there. But who is celebrating this early? If our judiciary fits in the state capture matrix, there may not be a single thing to hope on. Because, you see, where there is state capture, the judiciary is used to rule in favour of private capital and interests, rather than the people and justice.

Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on

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