Tuesday, 20 April 2021

EVICTED VILLAGERS RETURN TO ANGLICAN CHURCH FARM

OVER 100 families who were last week evicted from the Anglican Church-owned Cyrene Farm at Mcwazini area in Figtree, Matabeleland South Province, by the Sheriff of the High Court, have since returned to the property.

The villagers were in 2003 ordered by the High Court under case number HC2444/03 to vacate the property within seven days following an application by the Anglican Church.

The villagers were served with the eviction papers on Wednesday last week, two decades after they had occupied the farm at the height of the land reform programme in 2000.

According to the writ of ejectment, the eviction order followed a judgment by High Court Judge President Justice George Chiweshe directing the villagers who were represented by six members, to vacate the farm.

The order granted by Justice Chiweshe reads: “The respondents and any persons claiming through them as well as other persons presently in unlawful occupation of Cyrene Farm, Figtree, be and are hereby ordered to vacate Cyrene Farm together with all their property and possessions immediately upon service of this order, failure of which the Deputy Sheriff with the assistance of officer-in-charge Figtree are hereby authorised and directed to evict the respondents.”

The farm has been at the centre of a wrangle between the Anglican Diocese Church of Matabeleland and the villagers who argue that they were allowed to remain on the farm by the Government after it gazetted the property for land redistribution on November 14, 2014 under General Notice 467 of 2014.

When Chronicle visited the farm yesterday, most of the villagers had returned to the property insisting that their stay was within the confines of the law.

Mcwazini Village secretary Mr Lutha Maduna said tempers flared soon after villagers were served with the eviction order and anti-riot police had to intervene.

“We were busy conducting our routine chores when the Sheriff of the High Court accompanied by Anglican Church officials, a group of youths and police arrived at the farm. The Sheriff produced an eviction order and they started removing our properties,” he said.

“In some cases, tempers flared as villagers resisted the move and police had to intervene to save the situation from degenerating into chaos. This is not the first time that we have been evicted and what is shocking is that at one time the Minister of State for Matabeleland South Provincial Affairs visited the farm and assured us that no one would evict us.”

Mr Maduna said the latest evictions have left the villagers shocked and confused. Another villager Ms Lucky Bhebhe, a mother of six, said they were legally resettled by Government.

“The church is victimising us for no apparent reason. They came here last week and ordered us to vacate the farm as they removed our properties from our houses and dumped them along the Bulawayo-Plumtree highway,” she said.

“Some of my property such as my wardrobe was extensively damaged while being taken out of my bedroom. It was a sad scenario as we were being evicted and children were screaming while the elderly fainted as they watched helplessly as their goods were being thrown out of their huts.”

 Ms Bhebhe said since moving into Cyrene Farm in 2000, she has been surviving on farming.

“I also managed to take my children to school through farming and one of my children is now at university. It is shocking that today we are now being forced to move out of the farm yet Government gazetted the farm in 2014,” she said.

Ms Bhebhe said some angry villagers staged a protest as they waved placards denouncing the church as they vowed to stay put.

Mrs Catherine Ndlovu said the Anglican Church had no right to evict them as the land belonged to Government.

“This farm is now Government property and I don’t see the reason why the church is evicting us, particularly now that we are about to harvest. Where do they want us to take our livestock? We are asking Government to address this issue once and for all given that this is the third eviction,” she said.

Another villager, who declined to be named, said the latest evictions were motivated by alleged corrupt activities by some war veterans who allegedly resettled people near Cyrene High School in exchange for money. Anglican Diocese of Matabeleland secretary, Mr Lazarus Mwanza refused to comment on the matter.

In 2015, the Anglican Church-run Cyrene Mission’s administrators issued a statement, saying the gazetting of the institution’s farm for land redistribution was an “administrative error” by the Government.

The church said it had engaged the Government to get the land take-over reversed. Efforts to contact the Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement Minister Dr Anxious Masuka were fruitless as his phone continuously rang without being answered. Chronicle

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