SW Radio Africa (London)

Zimbabwe: Chisumbanje Villagers Remanded in Custody

Seventeen villagers from Chinyamukwakwa village in Chisumbanje appeared in a Chipinge court on Friday facing charges of unlawfully occupying land owned by controversial businessman Billy Rautenbach.

After the state presented its case, at which it also accused the villagers of interfering with the sugarcane crop that is used for the Ethanol plant, magistrate Waini Makamera remanded the villagers in custody to Saturday.

The magistrate told the court he would be in a position to make a ruling on the bail application after going through both the state and defence submissions.

However, the decision to remand the villagers in custody has been criticised by the MDC-T, who believe the farmers are being punished for fighting for their rights.

Pishai Muchauraya, the provincial spokesman in Manicaland, told SW Radio Africa that nationalists in pre-independence Zimbabwe went to war to fight whites who had confiscated their land.

'The same government that sacrificed the lives of so many fighters is now taking that land away from the black farmers and giving it to single white businessman. Rautenbach has gone further and illegally invaded land from the villagers which the government should look into urgently,' Muchauraya said.

The villagers were arrested in Chisumbanje following clashes with the police over the protracted land dispute. The villagers have since last week been trying to claim back their land, taken over by Macdom, the company running the multi-million dollar Ethanol plant.

This resulted in running battles with the police who ended up using tear gas and firing warning shots into the air to disperse the angry farmers.

Among the 17 in custody are two brothers Jameson and Samson Mlambo, who the police claim are the ringleaders in the villagers' quest to reclaim their land.

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