9 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Police Use Teargas to Disperse Angry Chisumbanje Villagers

It has emerged that police in Chisumbanje last week fired shots into the air and used teargas to disperse angry villagers demanding their land back from Macdom, the company running the Ethanol plant.

Two brothers, Jameson and Samson Mlambo, were arrested following the disturbances after police identified them as the ringleaders. They've been in police cells for over a week now.

The MP for Chipinge South, Meki Makuyana, said the situation in Chisumbanje needs an urgent dialogue between warring villagers and management from Macdom before 'the situation deteriorates further.'

The latest standoff was triggered last week when villagers went back to their land to till following the start of the rainy season. This followed an agreement reached in December last year between Macdom and a cabinet committee, appointed to resolve the land row, that allowed the farmers to work on their land until an agreement is reached over the dispute.

But when the farmers returned to their land, they were chased away by the police, prompting this latest spat between the villagers and Macdom.

Makuyana told SW Radio Africa's Hidden Story program on Wednesday that the situation is still highly volatile in Chisumbanje and government needs to move fast to avert a potentially 'deadly' confrontation between the farmers and the police.

'We have a situation where Macdom have enlisted the help and protection of the police who are apparently using unnecessary heavy handed methods of keeping the farmers away from the land in dispute,' Makuyana said.

He added: 'As I speak to you right now, there is a high presence of police details in Chisumbanje patrolling the farming land in question and beating up people venturing towards it.'

On Tuesday heavily armed police were summoned to arrest other villagers who had tried to claim back their land, taken over by the multi-million dollar Ethanol plant. Out of the 15 picked up on Tuesday, five remain in custody.

'In total we have seven people in custody including the Mlambo brothers and we are currently running around to engage lawyers to represent them,' the MP said.

Makuyana said it was disappointing to note that instead of trying to engage the villagers and come up with some sort of understanding; Macdom officials have instead launched counter-accusations of theft against some of the farmers.

'I have been to the police and met the officer-in-charge and he informed me that those in cells are facing charges of stealing sugarcane from the Macdom fields. I want us to be rational in dealing with this highly sensitive issue, so I'm making frantic efforts to contact deputy Prime Minister Mutambara and his cabinet committee to deal with this issue urgently before it spirals out of control,' Makuyana said.

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