A bitter feud between locals, the local chief and a committee overseeing land matters in a resettlement scheme has led to the brutal arrest of a heavily pregnant 28-year-oldwoman of Riverside area in Ukwimi-A, Lusangazi district in Eastern province.
Daliwe Zulu, nine-months pregnant, is among a group of over 50 families threatened with eviction by the committee representing them on matters of land in the Department of Resettlement. The committee is accused of selling their farms to wealthy businessmen.
On Sunday January 8th, Zulu was detained by a police reserve officer following instructions from the Ukwimi Farmers Coordinating Committee (UFCC) Chairperson Davison Sakala, that she was illegally occupying a farm in the resettlement scheme.
She was picked from her farm at about 11 hrs, placed in a police cell and was only released at midnight of the same day after the in-charge at Ukwimi rural health centre intervened against keeping the pregnant woman in police cell.
“On Sunday, a person came to our farm and introduced himself as a police reserve officer and that he was sent by the UFCC Chairperson Sakala, locally known in the area as Bwetuke and the Chief (Sandwe) to detain me, because I’m refusing to vacate the farm,” narrated Zulu.
Village number 66, where Zulu stays with her husband and mother, was acquired by her brother, Moses Chirwa, after applying to the Eastern Province department of resettlement. The family has stayed at the farm for over 15 years, Zulu explained to MakanDay.
She alleged that the reserve officer also picked two of her children and refused to drop them at the maize grinding mill where her husband works, despite the promise do so before she was picked.
She said she was carried on a motorbike but when the officer reached a place called Sopa, he stopped to drink beer with his friends while she waited for him from about midday to 16 hrs, without eating any meal.
She further accused the officer of demanding money from her in order not to be placed in a cell at Ukwimi police post.
Ukwimi- from a refugee camp to a resettlement
Ukwimi resettlement, formerly a camp for refugees fleeing war in neighbouring Mozambique, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire), is now a resettlement scheme under the department of resettlement in the office of the vice president. Settlers are allowed to farm the land, with permission from the resettlement department.
The settlers, including Zulu, accuse UFCC chairperson Sakala of working with traditional leaders to grab their farms and sell them to some wealthy businessmen.
They say Sakala has been visiting their farms collecting occupancy offer letters under the pretense that they are needed at the provincial office to update the information. He later returns, asking them to leave the farms because they have settled there illegally without legal papers, said one of the settlers.
“Our farms are bordering customary land, the surveyor from the resettlement scheme came and said we have gone to make maps in Chipata,” said one of the settlers. “We then saw people in our fields, and when we asked, we were charged to pay goats to the chief.”
There are also unverified allegations that some farmers have given up their farms fearing the wrath of the committee, which refers them to Chief Sandwe, where they are meant to pay or be punished.
“When our father died, they grabbed our farm and chased us out,” said another settler. “As I speak, our farm was sold to other people who are now farming on the land we laboured to prepare.”
Another settler complained that his son was sent to prison for chasing the people who bought a parcel of land grabbed from his farm. He said he was told he could no town over 20 hectares of land.
“They told me I can only have five hectares and so they grabbed the other part of my land and sold it to other people,” he said. “It was at this point that my son was arrested for chasing the people who bought part of our farm.”
Contacted for comment over the allegations against him, Sakala countered that his actions were in line with the resettlement policy and his committee’s guidelines. He accused Zulu - the pregnant woman, of being a squatter who was told several times to vacate the farm but she refused.
“A squatter is a squatter, whether someone is pregnant or not but a squatter is as quatter,” he said. “The farm was repossessed from the rightful owner, because of some irregularities by the provincial resettlement office.”
He explained that the contested land was registered in Munyale Phiri’s name.
Sakala said the police were just carrying out instructions in line with the repossession letter from the resettlement scheme after he reported Zulu.
He blamed the lawlessness on the previous governing Patriotic Front which allowed its violent supporters to occupy the land illegally.
“You know there was rampant cardrerism during the previous regime and most people settled there illegally, so we were given instructions upon being ushered into office that whoever is in Ukwimi is there illegally,” he said.
Sakala also defended Chief Sandwe’s involvement in the resettlement land. He said the traditional leader has a farm in the scheme which “he bought using the proper procedure of acquiring land in the scheme”.
“The chief followed the proper procedure to acquire the land where he is farming in the scheme area, not those squatters,” he said.
“So anyone who wants to have land in the scheme must follow the right procedure and guidelines,” he added.
In response to questions by MakanDay, Chief Sandwe denied being involved in the illegal grabbing from land from the settlers. He said at no time has he fined anyone for refusing to give up land in the resettlement.
“No, I’m not involved, unless, it is involving witchcraft, yes,” he explained. “By design, that is my area. Any issue involving the scheme, I’m not part of that and I cannot direct anyone from the scheme (committee) to grab land from the people, those are my people.”
MakanDay asked the chief why his name has been mentioned several times in interviews with some of the aggrieved settlers.
“That one I don’t know, but what I can tell you is that the scheme was giving out farms to individuals, I applied for that land, and they gave me,” he said in response to an accusation that he is cultivating on a farm that belongs to one of the settlers. “I don’t know how it came to me, but they gave me a piece of land, they said come, we will show you a piece of land that we have given to you and that is the farm I’m farming.”
Mounting accusations against Zulu
But Dickson Nkhoma, a farmer from Sinda district confirmed paying money to Zulu and his committee for the land which has not yet been obtained. Nkhoma told MakanDay from his base in Sinda, that he was offered to buy Zulu’s land at K16,500 and a K10,000 installment was already paid.
“I asked the chairman why he was giving me the land where there are people already, but he told me that the mother of a pregnant woman (Zulu) was caught as a witch and she was told to leave and her children have also been told to follow her,” said Nkhoma.
He added that he refused to take up the farm because it is occupied and has since asked for his K10,000 to be refunded.
Government inaction worsens the problem.
It is unclear why government has not acted on the settlers' allegations, but MakanDay has seen a 12th December 2022 letter, from the scheme manager to Nason Banda, one of the buyers, which show that the scheme administration is aware of the illegal sale of land in the resettlement.
“We are in receipt of reports that you purchased seven (7) farms from the following people: Manda Tembo, Davison Mwale… and that you will be using different people to purchase the mentioned farms,” said Eneya Phiri, the scheme manager.
Phiri threatened to stop the sale as it was against resettlement regulations to purchase land in the scheme before the titled deed is obtained, “unless signed by his office”.
The church condemns the police’s action
Caritas Zambia, the development arm of the Catholic Church, has described the arrest of a pregnant woman as “clear violation of human rights” and condemned land grabbers.
Caritas Chipata good governance coordinator John Mthaziko Zulu (no relationship with the pregnant woman), who met other aggrieved farmers, said Caritas is disappointed with the committee and called for its dissolution.
“There is a lot of confusion between what is supposed to be state land and customary land. What we have seen is that the committee is mixing the two,” he said. “Unfortunately, our police in Ukwimi seem to be the police for the committee and the traditional leadership.”
Ukwimi’s St. Charles Lwaanga Catholic Parish Priest Fr. Daniel Phiri has asked government to investigate and resolve the issue of land in Ukwimi because it isa “time bomb”.
“My appeal to the state is that it must investigate what is happening in Riverside area, where people are complaining that their farms are being taken away even when they have stayed in this land for a long time,” said Fr. Phiri.
Empty threats from government officials
Both Eastern Province Deputy Permanent Secretary and Lusangazi District Commissioner, Beauty Undi-Phiri and Mike Tembo respectively, condemned the police actions against Zulu.
Tembo labeled Sakala and his committee as “selfish and greedy individuals who are hungry and only interested in getting the proceeds from the sale of the farms”.
“He is awrong guy, he is a hungry guy, he is a greedy guy and he is not doing the correct thing there,” he said. “I will deal with him because what he did was wrong.”
Undi-Phiri said the matter will be thoroughly investigated and that those who will be found taking advantage of the poor farmers with the aim of making quick money by displacing people from their farms will be arrested.
Allegations of land grabbing, especially by members of the ruling party are not new. During the disastrously corrupt rule of former President Edgar Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF) party, when such reports were given to the police or local authorities, they were not able to act effectively, fearing the consequences. It seems that culture has continued even under President Hakainde Hichilema's "new daw" government.
READ MORE ON THE INCREASING LAND WRANGLES IN ZAMBIA:
Chieftaincy succession wrangles spark land disputes in Mambwe
Suspected land grabbers invade school land