Govt has stepped back on immediate Chilonga evictions, but little else has changed for Dendairy project

Local Govt Minister July Moyo

The government will no longer immediately evict villagers to make way for a controversial Lucerne project in Chilonga, but the Lucerne grass irrigation scheme will still go ahead and the land is no longer communal.

A new Statutory Instrument has been issued, repealing an earlier order that would have forced families in the area, covering 12,940 hectares, to leave the land immediately. However, despite the changes, the land is no longer under the Chiredzi Communal Land, and the project itself remains.

Keeping up with the SIs

On February 26, government issued 50 of 2021. This designated the land for Lucerne grass for dairy production. It also ordered the immediate eviction of locals, many of whom have opposed the project.

It said: “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, 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 or occupation to the said land in terms of section (9)(1) of the Communal Land Act.”

A week later, another order, SI63A/2021, was issued. This one said SI50 “contained errors”. It then made changes; the clause saying the land was for the “purpose of Lucerne production” was dropped, for a new one that said the land was for “establishing an irrigation scheme”. However, this SI retained the clause ordering the Chilonga community to relocate.

Another SI was then issued. SI51 of 2021 said: “The area of land described hereunder in terms of the schedule shall cease to be part of the Chiredzi Communal Land”.

The latest SI72A was issued on March 16. It repeals SI50, the one that initially called for the immediate eviction of people. However, the latest decree still sets aside the land for irrigation. More importantly, the order that the land is no longer communal land remains.

“The area of land shall be set aside with effect from the date of publication of this notice for the purpose of establishing an irrigation scheme,” says the latest SI.

This means that, where needed, government can still relocate people from the area to make way for the irrigation scheme. SI51, which gazetted the land for the irrigation project and decrees that it is no longer communal land, still stands.

A total of 2,258 families from five villages may be displaced, according to Local Government Minister July Moyo. These villagers, he says, may still have to be relocated to make way for canals and other irrigation infrastructure.

The Dendairy project

Despite the controversy, Government insists that the project must go ahead, saying it will help Zimbabwe rebuild the dairy industry. Moyo says Chilonga is part of a broader blueprint to turn the dry Lowveld into an irrigated green-belt.

Lucerne grass is prize fodder for dairy cows, and will also feed livestock in the dry Chikombedzi, Majijimba and Malisanga areas of Chiredzi, where livestock has been decimated by drought and lack of pastures.

The project is to be run by Dendairy. Daryl Archibald, the company’s MD, says part of the plan involves building support infrastructure for the community and the project. This includes water canals to irrigate at least 300 hectares for the community and local grass outgrowers, plus a communal Lucerne feedlot for community livestock.

A member of the Chilonga community protests during a meeting with VP Chiwenga, June 2020 (pic: TellZim)

However, critics of the project on the other hand accused the government of favouring Dendairy in a project that will unfairly displace thousands of already disadvantaged families from their ancestral land. Community leaders says no agreement was reached in consultations that have gone on for over two years.

A Masvingo magistrate earlier this month issued an interim order suspending any evictions from Chilonga, after an application by two rights groups.

Some local leaders opposed to the project fear similar displacement to that suffered by communities at Chisumbanje, displaced by the Green Fuel ethanol project, and Mukosi villagers resettled at arid Chingwizi to make way for the Tugwi-Mukosi dam.

ALSO READ: The grass vs the people: Chiredzi villagers ordered off their land to make way for major dairy project