Robert Zulu was once Chief Jumbe of Mambwe district, in Eastern Province. But now that the chief is dead, a wrangle regarding his successor has resulted in 30 farmers losing their land in Mphomwa area. The farmers bought the land from one of the royal families involved in the wrangles.

The chieftaincy dispute involves three Mchacha clan families - Chisankhu, Chisekeni and Estele, all of the Kunda ethnicity.

The leader of the Mchacha clan is Kaundula Mbawo, said to be the King maker. Mbawo, Nebart Mzenga Phiri and Nedson Jere are alleged to have sold land to the farmers. But Mbawo has denied the accusation.

The farmers claim they bought parcels of traditional land from the trio. Meanwhile, the installation of Ozwel Zimba as new Chief Jumbe has been challenged in court by the trio, with Nebart Mzenga Phiri, claiming to be the rightful owner of the Jumbe chieftaincy.

In May 2020, High Court Judge Elita Phiri Mwikisa nullified the installation of Zimba as Chief Jumbe because of the flawed selection process.

The absence of a substantive chief seems to have given power to the Mchacha family to begin selling land.

The land seekers claim they paid different amounts of money to the royal family.

At the same time, the same land is also alleged to have been sold to a Chipata-based businessman identified only as Yusouf.

Yusouf is alleged to have bought the land in 2013 before the death of the previous chief.

Last year, Yusouf reclaimed his land and informed all the families that had settled on it to vacate so as to pave way for investment.

Letters of eviction seen by MakanDay show that the farmers should have left the land by 30 June this year.

The farmers wondered why the land they claim to have occupied for more than eight years is owned by another person.

Masauso Zulu, one of the farmers complained of harassment from one of Yusouf’s workers.

“We are now living in fear, because the workers for this man are threatening to poison our water, so that we vacate this place,” he said. “We did not just come here on our own, we bought this land and we have the documents,” he said, even though the documents were not availed to MakanDay.

He said police at Mambwe Police Station were informed of the threats from Yusouf’s workers.

Another farmer, Dominic Kaoma wants a quick solution to settle the land dispute.

“Where was this man all these years, and why is he coming now when we have invested so much on the land?” He asked. “He is now putting up the beacons on the land which is already occupied by other people. Where are we going to go if we are evicted from this land.”
“We’re asking the chief to protect us on this land because they (Yusouf) are now putting the beacons on our farms, but we settled here a long time ago,” said Allyness Tembo.

Some farmers have accused the Mchacha family of “playing double dealing” by selling land to an investor and to them.

But Mbao, the head of the Mchacha clan, denied the accusation that he collected money from Yusouf.

“The issue of me and other family members receiving money from Yusouf is a lie, we’re not the ones who sold the land to Yusouf, so what I can assure you, is that no one will be evicted from this land,” he said.

A homestead for Yusouf's workers at the disputed land

Yusouf is yet to respond to MakanDay’s request for a comment.

Chief Jumbe’s retainer, identified as Yorum, accused the farmers of buying land from the Mchacha clan illegally. Yorum, who said the farmers should comply with the eviction notice, is one of those leading the campaign to remove the farmers.

“We did not give anyone land, because that place was reserved for game management,” he revealed.

William Banda, District Commissioner for Mambwe, said his office is aware of the matter, but that government can’t move in because of the chieftaincy wrangles.

“It is very difficult for us to intervene in this matter because of the chieftaincy wrangles in the area so, I don’t know which side we should take as government,” he said.

“But I’m aware that last year these people were told by the current chief that they should move to another designated area which thechief has prepared for them. For this reason, it is only the chief who can explain.”

The farmers, given 30 June as the deadline to vacate the land, are placing their hopes on the outcome of the meeting between senior Chief Nsefu and the Jumbe families.