Heavily armed police had to be summoned on Tuesday to arrest villagers in Chisumbanje who had tried to claim back their land, taken over by the multi-million dollar Ethanol plant.
The villagers are being detained at Chisumbanje police station, facing charges of invading private property. The land row between the villagers and Billy Rautenbach, who owns Macdom the company running Chisumbanje Ethanol plant, has been simmering since the start of the rainy season a few weeks ago.
The angry villagers are accusing Rautenbach of invading their land illegally after the initial agreement allowed him to use 5,100 hectares of land. There are reports the controversial businessman has illegally grabbed a substantial number of hectares, most of it from the villagers who are renowned cotton farmers.
Pishai Muchauraya, the spokesman for the MDC-T in Manicland province, confirmed that 15 villagers had been taken from the fields at gunpoint on Tuesday. He said the villagers had gone back to their land to till it, as instructed by a cabinet committee headed by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara.
Mutambara and his committee were at the plant towards the end of last year to diffuse the potentially explosive row that threatens to engulf the area. It was decided during a meeting, chaired by Mutambara, that Macdom should stop its expansion project until the issue of land for the villagers had been dealt with. The committee ruled that the villagers would meanwhile work on their fields until such a time as the land row had been resolved.
'The villagers simply went back to work on their fields as instructed by the cabinet committee, but some overzealous employees at Macdom are working against that. The villagers contend that Zimbabwe went to war for land but they are surprised the same land is being taken from the blacks and given to a white (Billy Rautenbach).
Most of the villagers have lost everything, including their livestock, as they no longer have the pastures or land to farm. Muchauraya said efforts are being made to convene a high level meeting to resolve this land dispute.