Govt sets record straight on Chilonga lucerne project
Harare (New Ziana) – The envisaged lucerne grass irrigation scheme in the Chilonga area of Chiredzi in Masvingo Province is part of government’s thrust to promote expanded land use while empowering local communities through out-grower schemes, Deputy Chief Secretary in the office of the President and Cabinet George Charamba has said.
His comments follow a misinformation campaign on social media by opposition activists that government was forcefully evicting 12 000 families in Chilonga.
Last week, government issued Statutory Instrument 50 of 2021 gazetting about 12 500 hectares of communal land for lucerne production, which is used for making hay or animal fodder.
“The area of land described hereunder in terms of this schedule shall be set aside with effect from the date of publication of this notice for the purpose of lucerne production. Any person occupying or using the land specified in the schedule, otherwise than by virtue of a right held in terms of the Mines and Minerals Act (Chapter 21,05), is ordered to depart permanently with all of his or her property from the said land by the date of publication of this notice, unless he or she acquires rights of use of occupation to the said land in terms of section (9) (1) of the Communal Land Act (Chapter (20,04),” read part of the notice.
But Charamba set the record straight, highlighting that on top of providing the community with income generating projects, the massive scheme would also help improve rural housing.
“This morning I attended a high-level meeting on Chilonga irrigation project following the hue and cry on this terribly misunderstood and much maligned community irrigation project which is one of several planned by government this year on communal land,” he tweeted.
“Chilonga project runs contemporaneously with the Bulawayo Kraal already quietly underway, Kanyemba which is at land clearance stage, Gwaai/Shangani which is still on the drawing board as dam construction resumes for completion by year-end and Marovanyati where land clearance continues with targeted establishment of maiden crop coming this winter.
“The primary law, Communal Lands Act, does not permit displacement of communities for purposes of establishing a crop. What it provides for is re-organisation and re-planning of communal human settlements to allow for irrigated land use. This is central to understanding what is set to happen in all the projects itemized above. Re-organisation and or re-planning is not the same as eviction or displacement which, quite apart from not being provided for under the relevant law, is not in accord with government policy.”
Charamba added: “Facts on the ground show very few households stand to be affected by this new thrust, (as) huge swathes of land fall within unutilized zones. The few households which may be affected only get so affected in the sense of being re-sited as already indicated.
“All at government expense and for improved rural housing the lucerne project which there has been so much noise supports the new expanded land use by and for those communal residents.”
He said the project would not in any way disenfranchise villagers in Chilonga.
“Should the programme generate excess fodder, or decide to embark on commercial lucerne production as an out-grower initiative those options need not undermine title or security of tenure for our communal land citizens,” he said.