HIGH Court Judge Justice Felistus Chatukuta on Friday 24 March 2017 ordered two ministers and Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri to allow some Mazowe villagers to occupy their plots at Arnold Farm and interdicted government authorities from harassing the villagers.
The villagers led by Nyatsambo Katsamudanga and Arnold Farm Residents Association were assisted by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) member Moses Nkomo to file an urgent chamber application in the High Court on Thursday 23 March 2017 seeking an order to interdict officials from the Ministries of Lands and Rural Resettlement and Home Affairs and ZRP officers from demolishing their homesteads and evicting them from Arnold Farm in Mazowe in Mashonaland Central province, which they have occupied for the past 17 years.
The villagers resorted to litigation after heavily armed ZRP officers together with officials from the Ministry of Lands and Rural
Resettlement on Wednesday 22 March 2017 began demolishing their homesteads at Arnold Farm without obtaining a court order and without complying with an earlier order issued by the High Court on 14 January 2015 barring them from demolishing homes or evicting them.
In the urgent chamber application, the villagers argued that they will suffer irreparable harm if the High Court does not intervene to save
them as they have been rendered homeless and their children’s education has been jeopardised by the respondents’ unlawful actions.
The villagers, who argued that they had been in undisturbed and peaceful possession of their pieces of land and property had also argued that their crops were at risk of being destroyed by animals or vandalised while their belongings and household properties which are in the open right now were at risk of suffering irreparable damage.
The applicants contended that their health was at risk since their shelter had been destroyed and they had nowhere to go and if they lose
their crops they would starve to death and their children would not be able to go to school because they rely on crops for food and income.
On Friday, Justice Chatukuta ordered Lands and Resettlement Minister Douglas Mombeshora, Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo and Chihuri to immediately restore possession of the villagers’ plots at Arnold Farm.
In a consent order, Justice Chatukuta barred and interdicted Mombeshora, Chombo and Chihuri from harassing the villagers at Arnold
Farm by demolishing their houses or purporting to evict them without a court order or alternatively without issuing them with offer letters in respect of other land for them to occupy.
The villagers had been apprehensive that since their children are in school, their eviction would literally destroy their education as some
of them are due to sit for their Grade Seven examinations later this year.
They had charged that they had regarded Anold Farm as their home since they were authorised to settle at the farm by the government in 2000 at the height of the government-backed fast track land reform programme.
The conduct of the ZRP officers and the officials from the Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement, the villagers argued, contravened several of their fundamental rights including freedom from arbitrary eviction as provided in Section 74 of the Constitution, the right to privacy guaranteed under Section 57 of the Constitution, the right to administrative justice as provided under Section 68 and the right to property as provided in Section 71 of the Constitution.
This is the second time that Zimbabwean authorities have been ordered by the High Court to stop harassing, demolishing homesteads and evicting the Mazowe villagers after the intervention of ZLHR.
In January 2015, ZLHR lawyers Tonderai Bhatasara and Gift Mtisi successfully barred Zimbabwean authorities from evicting the Mazowe villagers after their homesteads were demolished to pave way for the establishment of a game park.