Gregory Gondwe, Malawi Best Blogger 2014

Friday, 16 January 2009

Sugarcane Company Chases Villagers from their Land

Over three hundred people in Malawi’s lakeshore area of Dwangwa in Nkhotakota District have no where to go since the Malawi Police Service officers hired by Dwangwa Cane Growers Limited demolished their houses, beat them up and destroyed their crops from their garden in November last year.

The people some claiming to have constructed makeshift shacks along river banks while others have sought refugees in their relatives’ homes claim that all their efforts to get assistance from authorities including the District Commissioner’s office has borne no fruits.

Nkhotakota District Commissioner Charles Thombodzi refused to grant audience to this journalist.

Close to the place where the people were displaced are over 130 men and 90 women some with small babies looking desperate others with blank hopeless faces living in shacks.

The people who said have been struggling to keep their land for the last four years, finally lost the battle on the night of November 13th last year when bull dozers and police officers descended on a number of villages and started demolishing their houses before they went to their gardens where they also destroyed their crops.

The people claim that Dwangwa Cane Growers Limited has been using Traditional Authority Kanyenda of the area and government institutions like the police and the office of the District assembly to victimize them as well as blocking them to seek justice.

Although the High Court made a ruling on December 3, 2007 on the issue, where Judge Justice Twea ordered that the people should be left to make use of the land since the legal position is that when one is allotted customary land, one has the right to user for the surface only.

Based on this ruling and other investigations, the then District Commissioner Mr. Khumbo Tchongwe wrote Dwangwa Cane Growers Limited in May last year ordering them to compensate people whose crops the company damaged and that the land on which the company has now grown sugarcane without the consent of the land owners be given back to the owners immediately.

However, instead of the police working on the matter they were hired by the company to guard workers on the land who are still under threat of attack from the people who were displaced.

Traditional Authority Kanyenda said the houses and crops had to be destroyed.

“These people were resisting development just like was the case with the Kayerekera Uranium Project,” he said.

He claimed that the late Hasting Kamuzu Banda Malawi’s first President declared the land a protected area when he was President of this country and this was all they followed.

However, Village Headman Mzwale who together with three other village Headmen were affected claim that they have been turned into refugees in their own hand because the Traditional Chief does not have the welfare of his subjects at heart.

The Church and Society Programme of the CCAP Livingstonia Synod which has now taken up the issue as a monitoring arm of the Malawi Human Rights Commission said the issue borders on the abuse of human rights and contempt of court and they will soon take an action to assist the people.

“The situation was pathetic and it is unfathomable that government institutions have not moved in to assist the people who are suffering from the inhuman action taken by the cane company,” said Jane Makina acting Executive Director of the Programme.

There is still tension around the land which the company has now started cultivating and there is a ten-man strong police team that is now guarding activities as well as the place for 24 hours.

However, the displaced villagers attacked the place on Tuesday and burnt some sugarcane in a desperate attempt to force the company out of the land.

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