ON February 26, Statutory Instrument (S)I 50 was published instructing thousands of people, living on about 12 940 hectares of Chilonga communal land in Chiredzi, to leave the area immediately to make way for a lucerne grass growing project for dairy cattle.
Shangaan communities have a history of being evicted by government and this latest threat in the Chilonga area has been met with strong public resistance and legal challenges.
Alongside Chilonga community members, civic society organisations Macrad and Zela took the case to Masvingo Magistrates Court early this month.
On March 18, government repealed SI 50/2021 and issued SI 72A/2021, which removed the clause forcing the over 2 258 families who live there to move.
This is the most significant in a series of alterations on what has been found to be unconstitutional with SI 50.
The repeal of SI 50 is a big win in that it demonstrates that public pushback can have an influence on policy.
But SI 51/2021, which converted the 12 940 hactares of Chiredzi communal land into State land remains a threat to the Chilonga community and a procedurally correct eviction order could still follow.
The President and his minister have vast powers over communal land through the Communal Land Act (CLA), which was kept similar to the Tribal Trust Land Act for this reason.
While the CLA allows for abuse of power, the Constitution provides a way to hold the President to account.
Here, communal land is not included under agricultural land (section 72), and instead falls under property rights (section 71).
While the Chilonga community does not have ownership rights to the land, it “cannot be deprived of its property rights unless the constitutional conditions set out in section 71 (of which there are many) are satisfied”.