Violent clashes involving the police and villagers erupted in southern Zimbabwe after the latter invaded a conservancy, sparking fears of renewed farm invasions despite calls by President Robert Mugabe that there should be no more property invasions in the country.
The villagers have threatened to engage in fresh farm invasions, arguing that they did not benefit from the government-sanctioned land-reform progamme.
Villagers from the country’s semi-arid region of Mwenezi district last week trooped into Bubiana conservancy, owned by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, barely a month after looting property and setting alight an assortment of goods and vehicles at a nearby ranch. Up to two police officers were injured while dozens of villagers have been arrested.
Police in riot gear sealed off the entrance to the conservancy after fighting the villagers, who were armed.
The lodge at the property has since closed as the villagers threatened to vandalise part of it during the violent clashes.
“We have deployed more police officers in the affected area and the situation is under control. The arrested villagers will be charged with unlawful entry, public violence and malicious injury to property,” said police spokesperson Charity Mazula.
Bubiana conservancy is home to several wild animals including rhinos, elephants and a variety of birds.
The villagers, armed with machetes and axes, cut the security fence and entered the property.
As the villagers were busy clearing the land, police in riot gear arrived.
According to workers at the conservancy, the villagers were angered by the government’s failure to resettle them at the nearby Mujingwe conservancy.
“The villagers were angered by the government’s failure to resettle them in these conservancies, which they claim belong to them,” said Lameck Munoda.
“We are calling on the government to deploy more officers in this area, because last month there were similar clashes in the nearby property."
Some of the villagers have vowed to continue invading properties in the area.
“We are not going to be intimidated by the police because we feel we deserve land like anyone else,” said Antony Dhlamini.
“We have been asking government to resettle us in some of these properties over the years, but nothing has happened and therefore we are going to take it upon ourselves to get land.
“The issue is all about land and therefore we are going to mobilise more villagers and take the land we feel belongs to us,” Dhlamini added.
The invasion of Bubiana Ranch came barely a month after the villagers from the same district invaded the nearby Mujingwe ranch, before looting property and setting alight goods and vehicles.
At Mujingwe ranch, the villagers had cleared 10 000 hectares of land before they were evicted from the sanctuary by police.
Property worth $100 000 had been destroyed as the villagers indiscriminately set alight property and other valuables.
Those arrested following disturbances at Mujingwe ranch have since appeared in court and are awaiting trial.
Thousands of Zimbabweans in 2000 invaded white-owned commercial farms in what was to be named the country’s land-reform programme.
The farm seizures were led by the country’s former liberation war fighters. At least 4 000 white farmers were violently forced off their land with the tacit support of Mugabe.
However, Mugabe has since ordered that there should be no more farm invasions.
Since the land-reform programme, the country has become a net importer of food, as agricultural production has taken a nosedive over the years.