There is no guarantee of compensation for victims of forced evictions as government has no constitutional obligation to do so, according to a senior government official.
The announcement comes against a flurry of forced displacements of villagers from their land, to make way for commercial projects that are being implemented mostly by Chinese investors, which are getting preferential treatment in deals widely seen as opaque and insensitive to the needs and interests of local communities.
In most of the cases, the thousands of rural victims have not been consulted nor given options of where to relocate.
Speaking at a recent workshop organised by Community Alliance for Human Settlement in Zimbabwe (CAHSZ) in Harare, the acting director of urban housing and rural settlements in the ministry of National Housing and Social Amenities, Pardon Gotora, said government could order arbitrary evictions as the state was the custodian of all the land.
And the state had no obligation to pay compensation because the Zimbabwean constitution did not make it mandatory for it to do so, added Gotora.
But he agreed that villagers must be consulted prior to displacements.
“The constitution of Zimbabwe says that all the land is owned by the government and its custodian is the president. There is no provision that, therefore, provides for compensation of land,” said Gotora.
Government may only evaluate the improvements on the land—particularly communal land, and decide whether or not to compensate, he added.
However, there are no records so far of the government evaluating rural improvements on land with the view to pay affected villagers.
According to Gotora, the government is still considering establishing a compensation and relocation framework despite the fact that forced evictions have been going on for decades.
Gotora’s statement regarding arbitrary evictions runs against Section 74 of the constitution. The section states: “No person may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court.”
In such areas as Mashonaland East, Masvingo and Matabeleland North, villagers have been forced off their ancestral land and homesteads or attempts were made to remove them without court orders.
Section 51 of the constitution also confers on Zimbabwean citizens and residents, the right to human dignity, but potential and actual evictees have complained that they have been treated brutally and disrespectfully all the time they were ordered off the communal land they have occupied for generations.
Observers have also said failing to pay compensation for assets and livelihoods lost due to forced displacements violates the right to human dignity.
Victims of forced evictions who attended the CAHSZ workshop who came from as far afield as Dinde in Hwange, Chilonga in Masvingo’s Chiredzi, Chiadzwa in Manicaland, Mutoko in Mashonaland East and Mazowe in Mashonaland Central complained that they were being treated inhumanly.
Thembelihle Dlamini, a villager from Dinde, said a coal project run by Beifa Investments, a Chinese company, had ruined the livelihoods of many people in the area.
“We do not oppose development by government but there must be consultations when forced evictions are carried out. In our case we just saw government officials and the Chinese coming to our area to say we must move. The Chinese are mining on graves that are dear to us,” she said.
The villagers fear that the project, which is facing stiff resistance from thousands of the villagers and is being reportedly set up without an environmental impact assessment, will cause massive air pollution in the area, in addition to desecrating land reserved for graves.
In Mazoe, villagers who were displaced by the former first lady, Grace Mugabe, are yet to be resettled properly and are using shacks as shelter. They have no access to clean water or sustainable livelihood opportunities. Many affected villagers are now resorting to illegal gold mining on the Mazowe River.
Robert Mugabe, the late ex-president, was removed from power through a soft coup in November 2017, a development that also put a halt to his wife’s projects in Mazowe.
“The politicians from Zanu PF in the area only want our votes. If you see the shacks we live in, you will be shocked. Clothes are kept in plastic bags and all is just not well,” said Danboy Chaparadza from the area.
Bruce Mundwa from Mutoko in Mashonaland East province said 1, 500 families whose descendants settled in the area in 1911 were being forced off their land to pave way for a black granite project being run by another Chinese company.
However, government recently ordered a stop to activities in Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe following outcries from the ruling Zanu PF’s supporters who threatened to vote the opposition in the next general elections set for 2023 when Heijin, a Chinese investor, threatened to displace hundreds of villagers in the area to make way for a coal project.
“We are in the middle of nowhere. Mutoko has good rains and we have been relying on agricultural projects. The intended displacement is a sign of bad governance,” he said.