Vice-President Constantine Chiwenga on Wednesday told Chiredzi villagers that changes on their current settlement would be made after the COVID-19 crisis in a clear sign that government was determined to displace over 2 500 families for a grass farming project.
In his 10-minute address at Chilonga Irrigation Scheme in Chiredzi, Chiwenga also warned chiefs and headmen to work with new investors in a speech full of ambiguity that left the traditional leaders more confused.
Dendairy, a private milk producer, is said to be eyeing approximately 10 000 hectares of arable land for a lurcene production project meant for local and international markets.
Lurcene grass, also called alfalfa, is used for making hay or animal fodder. The project is set to displace over 2 500 families from their ancestral land.
“We need to create a better future for our grandchildren as we are not going to live forever. I heard Chilonga Irrigation Scheme last functioned in 2016, so we suggested it should be operational before Heroes’ Day in August,” Chiwenga said.
“We know that after the end of war or a major pandemic like COVID-19, it is usually followed by a nationwide famine. So we need to open up a huge piece of land to an investor who is coming, but that will be done in consultation with our community leaders.
“I want to come here next time and see a new green belt. You need to work with the new investors, government officials, your Provincial Affairs minister (Ezra Chadzamira), Finance minister (Mthuli Ncube) and agriculture minister.”
However, Innocent Ndibali, the president of Economic Freedom Fighters Zimbabwe (EFF Zim), who is championing the fight against displacement of the Chiredzi families, said there should be robust consultation with the community and a mutual agreement should be reached.
“The people of Chiredzi must not agree on anything unless it is in their best interest. The law is clear and the entire community must be safe and secure, not a few connected individuals,” he said.
Villagers are resisting the move, fearing they might fall victim to the same fate as 3 000 Chivi villagers displaced during the expansion of Tugwi-Mukosi Dam and dumped in Chingwizi in 2014.
The government has since neglected them, leaving them to live in squalor.
After enduring hardships at Chingwizi Transit Camp, the Tugwi-Mukosi flood victims were later allocated one-hectare plots on a portion of Nuanetsi Ranch in the arid Mwenezi district as part of compensation for the relocation.
The ranch is owned by Zimbabwe Bio-Energy, a company owned by millionaire businessman Billy Rautenbach.
Last year, the businessman threatened to kick the villagers out of his property.
He displaced several families in Chisumbanje to pave way for Green Fuel’s ethanol project nearly two decades ago.
Some of the displaced villagers are yet to receive compensation.
Chiwenga was accompanied by ministers Perrance Shiri (Agriculture), Fortune Chasi (Energy), Chadzamira, July Moyo (Local Government), John Mangwiro (Health deputy) and Clemence Chiduwa (Finance deputy).