By Owen Dhliwayo and Refiloe Joala

Munyokowere villagers versus the State

In a recent court ruling, presided over by Justice Mwayera at the Mutare High Court on 24 July 2020, an interdict was granted to prevent the eviction of 750 households from their homes and agricultural land in Munyokowere village, Chipinge District in Manicaland Province, southeastern Zimbabwe. The interdict also prevented the demolishing of any occupied or unoccupied structures belonging to the Munyokowere villagers following threats from authorities to demolish structures in the area. The court ruling represents a significant victory in a long and bitter struggle endured by the community members of Munyokowere village.

The interim relief was granted, stating that;

“Pending determination of this matter, the applicant is granted the following relief;

  1. Respondents are hereby interdicted from evicting applicants and demolishing their homes in Munyokowere village.
  2. Respondents are hereby interdicted from threatening or harassing applicants.”

The judgement was made after an urgent application for an interdict was brought to the High Court by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) on behalf of the Platform for Youth and Community Development (PYCD) and the community of Munyokowere village. PYCD approached the ZLHR to challenge evictions in the court of law using the Zimbabwean Constitution, especially citing Section 74, which states: “No person may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances.”

PYCD was approached by the affected community to assist them in their ongoing struggle for their land and justice. Given its role in community mobilisation in the district, the organisation became instrumental in empowering the community through awareness building, advocacy and facilitating legal support for resisting arbitrary evictions and institutional intimidation.

The Munyokowere villagers struggle for their land and justice

On 29 April 2019, 750 households in Munyokowere village were issued eviction notice letters by the State, instructing them to vacate the area within seven working days. The letter reads, “You are occupying the said property without lawful authority. You are hereby given an eviction notice and notice to vacate the property on or before 8 May 2019.”

Citing Section 3 of the 2006 Gazetted Land (Consequential Provisions) Act, which outlines matters relating to the occupation of Gazetted land without lawful authority, as the basis for the eviction, the eviction letters were signed by a government official, Ringson. J. Chitsiko of the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement.  The travesty of the justice system here against the Munyokowere villagers lies in the fact that the cited section of the Land (Consequential Provisions) Act was formulated and adopted long after the Munyokowere villagers had been resettled in the area.

Equally important to note, the history of the Munyokowere village case dates back to the colonial era. In the 1950s, the Munyokowere villagers were forcibly evicted by the colonial government to pave a way for the commercialisation of Middle Sabi only to be resettled back in the area in the early 1990s. They were legitimately allocated the area by the then District Administrator, Mr Mufukare in 1992 as a representative of the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing.  Approximately 39 households were resettled at the time and the population of Munyokowere village has grown exponentially since then, with records showing there were 750 households in 2019.

The state’s legal steps to evict the Munyokowere villagers were unexpected and sudden because of the reassurance from local government authorities on tenure security concerns given the history they have endured. Therefore, by issuing eviction notices to households without any prior consultation, the State has failed to recognise the Munyokowere villagers’ historical claim to the land and deliberately neglected the land rights and entitlements of the community members in a clear pursuit of the interests of capital.

As the villagers from Munyokowere were contemplating engaging local authorities to question and challenge the eviction notice,  the community received an unannounced and impromptu visit from the Office of the District Development Coordinator and the Chipinge Rural District Council on 15 July 2020. During the visit, the government officials  verbally instructed the community members to adhere to the provisions of the eviction notices and vacate the area within seven days, even though the community had vehemently disregarded and rejected the terms of the eviction notice letters, which demanded them to vacate the area by 6 May 2020 .  This move by the government has been seen as amounting to a fully-fledged denial of justice for the rural community and in violation of Article 2.3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which obliges the State to ensure that individuals have access to effective remedy if their rights are violated and Section 74 of the Zimbabwean Constitution, which talks of “Freedom from arbitrary eviction,” and goes on to state that “no person may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances.”

zimbabwe landCommunity mobilisation in Chipenge District

In response to violations of the Constitution by the government and its role in unjust actions against the Munyokowere villagers, PYCD embarked on community land rights training. The training focused on defining land rights as well as looking at threats to land rights more broadly. Land rights are classified as rights to own land, rights to use land, rights to occupy/live on land and the right to inherit land. The main threats to land rights were identified as land grabs and forced evictions from land, conflict around land ownership and even boundary disputes including disputes about the right to access land.

PYCD strongly believes that while the need for capital to spur development in the area is very much possible and welcome, the manner in which government and local authorities are carrying out the evictions raises serious human rights concerns. The authorities are not following their own rules and procedures. The Munyokowere villagers were threatened with removal from their land against their will and without the provision of and access to appropriate forms of legal or other protection.  Section 68 of the Constitution, which speaks on Administrative Justice allows public administrators to give the other side (in this case the community members of Munyokowere village) an opportunity to be heard before an adverse decision is taken against them. Therefore, by issuing eviction notices, the State violated the Munyokowere villagers’ constitutional rights.

Unending land disputes

The granting of the interim judicial relief was a welcome development. However, land tenure insecurity concerns in Munyokowere village and Chipinge district should be addressed under the guidance and protection of the Constitution and the provision of the Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa.

Despite the court ruling, the Munyokowere villagers were issued with yet another notice of eviction by the Chipinge Rural District Council on 1 September 2020. This time, the eviction notice stated that the villagers were to vacate the area by 13 December 2020. These recent developments point to a clear sign of the government’s desire to use institutional intimidation in a situation where the Munyokowere community has little bargaining power to contest the actions of the authorities.