Umvutsha Farm Crisis: 200 Settlers Face Eviction Amid Land Dispute

Legal Battle Intensifies Over Land Rights in Matabeleland North

by Ikeoluwa Ogungbangbe

In a developing story that encapsulates the complexities of land ownership and resettlement in Zimbabwe, approximately 200 settlers at Umvutsha farm, located in Umguza, Matabeleland North province, are confronting the threat of eviction. This situation, unfolding over a decade since their initial allocation of land on the property, raises critical questions about land rights, state authority, and the plight of resettled farmers in Zimbabwe.

The genesis of this issue dates back to over a decade ago when these individuals were allocated pieces of land at Umvutsha farm. However, in 2019, they faced eviction but soon reoccupied the property, leading to the current standoff. The case came to light at the Bulawayo Magistrates’ Court, where Ernest Buseti, the chairperson of the resettled farmers, faced charges of unlawfully occupying state land. Buseti, who appeared before Bulawayo magistrate Shepherd Munjanja, is now remanded in custody until the next court hearing.

The court proceedings revealed that Buseti led a group of Zanu PF supporters to occupy the property without official offer letters. This action contravenes the state’s claim to the land and has led to a legal battle over its rightful occupancy. The state, asserting its ownership of the land, has issued several warnings to the settlers to vacate, which have been ignored.

The defense, represented by lawyer Bartholomew Mhandire, argued that the charges against the settlers for illegal occupation were unjust. He cited that the settlers had been given offer letters by the Ministry of Lands. Furthermore, their eviction was challenged in higher courts, with the Supreme Court ruling that the 2008 and subsequent hearings by the High Court were nullities since no court has jurisdiction once land is gazetted.

This legal backdrop has made the situation at Umvutsha farm more complex. The settlers, who have been on the farm since 2008, were evicted in 2019 despite having erected structures and consistently paying taxes. The initial gazetting of the farm occurred in 2000, followed by another General Notice in 2008, which included the remaining pieces of land held by Michael Fletcher not captured in the initial gazette. The Fletcher family, owners of Umvutcha farm, are known for their agricultural contributions, particularly in vegetable production for various supermarkets in Bulawayo.

This ongoing legal and social saga underscores the challenges facing resettlement and land reform in Zimbabwe. The case of the Umvutsha farm settlers is emblematic of broader issues regarding land redistribution, the rights of settlers versus the rights of original landowners, and the role of the state in mediating these conflicts.

The settlers’ plight highlights the precarious nature of land tenure and the uncertainties faced by many who have been resettled under Zimbabwe’s land reform program. The complexities of legal jurisdiction over gazetted lands, the validity of offer letters, and the enforcement of eviction notices illustrate the intricate web of legal, social, and political factors at play.

As the case proceeds in the Bulawayo Magistrates’ Court, it serves as a microcosm of the land reform challenges in Zimbabwe. The outcome of this case could set a precedent for how similar cases are handled in the future, potentially impacting thousands of resettled farmers across the country. The situation at Umvutsha farm is not just a legal dispute; it is a reflection of the ongoing struggle to balance the rights and needs of various stakeholders in Zimbabwe’s complex and often contentious land reform landscape.

The eviction threat faced by the Umvutsha farm settlers is more than just a legal battle; it is a test of the principles and practices of land reform in Zimbabwe. As the country continues to grapple with the legacy of land redistribution and the challenges of economic and social development, the story of these settlers offers valuable insights into the realities on the ground. Their struggle for land and livelihood, set against the backdrop of legal and political maneuvering, encapsulates the broader narrative of land reform in Zimbabwe – a narrative that continues to evolve with each court hearing and each farmer’s story.

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