Forced evictions of ordinary Zambians from their land have become rampant to pave way for development. Rights activists want to intervene and protect local people from land grabbers.
Due to Zambia’s open door investment policy that encourages foreign direct investment it has come under criticism from land activists. Government has courted foreign investors by offering land and large tax breaks as incentives, but this has led to displacement of local people. The lucky few have been paid peanuts as compensation.
Several villages such as Mugoto in Mazabuka District have already suffered the effects of such displacement. With a population of about three thousand people, Mugoto village, which is about 62 miles away from the capital Lusaka, has seen more than half of its population displaced to pave way for Munali Nickel mine. The villagers in this area say they have lived here for more than fifty years and practiced both commercial and subsistence farming that enabled them live decent lives.
Many rural Africans depend on agriculture for survival
“This house behind me, that is where my mother died in 1984. My mother had lived in this place since she was 10 years old. Since that time we have always lived here. It is the obligation of the government to intervene and see that Zambians are not chased out of their land. This is our heritage, this is our land,” lamented 70-year-old Gift Museli, one of the victims.
Since the establishment of the mining company, all this has changed for the worst. They say that each family was given only $3,374.40 USD as compensation. Another victim Joyce Hakaguba says she has nowhere to call home as her land was grabbed from her.
“We don’t have money, the land where we stay is our wealth and life,” she said.
Henry Machina, a land rights activist from the Zambia Land Alliance, a network of NGO’s focusing on land policy, is not happy with the eviction of local people in Mazabuka.
“This is a classical example of a case where poor people who are powerless end up losing their means of livelihood simply because the laws do not protect them. These families have lived here between ten to 80 years and now they have been told to move and they are not clear on where they should go,” Henry Machina told DW.
The Zambian government is aware of the problem and claims to have put in place measure to address the issue. The Deputy Minister for Labor Rayford Mbulu explains that “as government we are trying to be in conformity with the UN Decent Work Agenda.” But rights activists argue that unless government puts in place deliberate land policies to protect the welfare of local people from powerful foreign investors, land displacements will continue.
- Author Kathy Sikombe / jak