More than 3,000 families in Zimbabwe’s southeastern Masvingo Province who accuse the government of forcibly resettling them to small plots of undeveloped land, are facing hardships including a lack of adequate food, shelter, health and education facilities.
The families had been staying at Chingwizi transit camp since torrential rains in early February caused water levels in the catchment area of the partially constructed Tokwe-Mukosi dam to reach dangerously high levels, flooding several villages that had been scheduled for relocation.
Villagers had initially been promised three- to four-hectare plots of land at Nuanetsi Ranch in Mwenezi District and compensation in return for leaving their homes to make way for the dam, but following the flooding, the government’s relocation offer was reduced to one-hectare plots with no compensation.
Most families who had lost their livestock and property due to the flooding refused the offer and continued to live at the crowded camp, despite the unsanitary conditions there.
In late July, tensions at the camp escalated following the closure of the camp’s only health clinic. Anti-riot police were called in to quell protests and several hundred residents of the camp were arrested in connection with the burning of two police vehicles.
Within days of the unrest, say villagers, heavily armed police and soldiers arrived at the camp and forced them to accept transport to the new plots at Nuanetsi Ranch, about 20km away.
“We were forcibly sent here,” said Margaret Dube, 33. “The government sent heavily armed police officers who beat up everyone who resisted. We were all rounded up and ordered to carry our belongings off to the one-hectare plots.”
She added that her husband was still nursing injuries he sustained from the police.
“He was part of a group that spearheaded resistance [to relocation],” she explained. “He is unable to take care of us.”
Dube said her family of six now lacked food and shelter. “We last received food from donors when we got here last month.”
The family lacked materials to build a shelter on the plot while the tent they were living in at Chingwizi had been torn down by the police.
Families also complained that the few available boreholes are not enough to cater for their daily water requirements and that their plots are too small to farm. They have yet to receive farming inputs from the government ahead of the rainy season when planting of crops will need to begin.
“My greatest worry is the rainy season as I haven’t built a decent home for my family,” said Learnmore Gore, 44. “The government has let us down and it doesn’t care about our plight at all.”
Masvingo Provincial Affairs Minister Kudakwashe Bhasikiti spoke of the relocation in a more positive light.
“We have actually succeeded in resettling the families and the exercise is still ongoing. The reason we removed them from the camp is that a disease outbreak was imminent considering that the rainy season is approaching,” he told IRIN.
He added that the government planned to provide the villagers with farming inputs before the start of the rainy season.
Most of the donors of food and other types of aid, mainly drawn from the private sector, stopped providing assistance to the displaced families after reports of looting of donated items by police officers and camp officials several months ago.
The Red Cross is still providing health and hygiene education at the new settlement as well as supplying some medicines to a government-run mobile clinic. However, Red Cross Public Relations Officer Takemore Mazuruse said the provision of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) to treat people living with HIV was the responsibility of government.
An HIV-positive woman who did not wish to be named told IRIN that ARVs were not available at the mobile clinic; she had last accessed ARVs in June when she was still living at the camp.
Effect on schoolchildren
With schools set to reopen in early September, concerns have also been raised about the lack of schools at the new settlement. Although the transit camp had four temporary schools housed in tents, the poor learning conditions and poverty afflicting camp residents meant that many children did not attend. According to a report published by the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) in July entitled Dilemma of Learning at Chingwizi, the high drop-out rate had resulted in many young girls at the camp becoming pregnant.
The resettlement site also lacks permanent structures, with pupils continuing to learn in tents.
PTUZ Secretary-General Raymond Majongwe condemned the government for neglecting the education of children displaced by the flooding.
“A high number of schoolchildren are now out of school,” he told IRIN. “What this means is that their future has been doomed and the authorities seem not to care.”
Community spokesperson Wilfred Mano said the displaced villagers are planning to take the Zimbabwean government to court for violating their rights. “We believe that the state has grossly violated the rights of our people. Firstly, the government promised to [give each household] four hectares of land as well as compensation, but now it hasn’t met any of the above.
People have been dumped in the bush with no adequate structures such as houses, clinics and food supplies. This is totally inhumane,” said Mano.
Harare-based human rights lawyer Christopher Mhike agreed that the government “has failed to respect and guarantee the fundamental human rights that are enshrined in the new constitution to the affected families.”
“The affected are living in squalid conditions and this is a gross violation of human rights,” said Mhike.