Crackdown on land barons…155 arrests in Matabeleland North Zihwabeni business centre

Raymond Jaravaza/Thandeka Moyo–NdlovuChronicle Writers 

IN a  decisive move against illegal land sales and occupations, police in Matabeleland North province have apprehended 155 land barons and illegal settlers. 

The crackdown, which spans hotspots in Umguza, Bubi, Lupane, and Hwange, aims to restore order and uphold lawful land allocation processes. 

Matabeleland North Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution, Richard Moyo emphasised that politicians, traditional leaders, and government employees lack the authority to allocate land arbitrarily.

“The Government under the leadership of President Mnangagwa condemns the parcelling, sale and occupation of state land without lawful authority. All individuals or entities that wish to be allocated or to purchase land in Matabeleland North Province are advised to follow the laid down processes of acquiring land. 

“For the avoidance of doubt, state land in the country can only be allocated with permission of the President, His Excellency, Dr Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa or delegated authorities that include the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development and local authorities in the various districts of the province.

“Individuals or entities who are in occupation of agricultural land that includes communal land, state land, peri-urban land, local authority land and resettlement land, without legal authorisation are hereby advised to vacate the said land with immediate effect,” stated Cde Moyo. 

The operation, initiated on January 10 nationwide intends to restore order in land allocation.

 Cde Moyo underscored that those found culpable, regardless of their status or affiliation, will face legal consequences.

“In Matabeleland North, in the period between 10 January and 09 February 2024, a total of 75 land barons and 80 illegal settlers have been arrested bringing a total number of arrests to 155 arrests so far. Amongst these we have political leadership, traditional leadership as well as Government employees that are participating in the parcelling out of land illegally,” said Cde Moyo. 

“All those found on the wrong side of the law will not be spared by the wrath of the law, regardless of the party that they belong to or their position in society.

Meanwhile, a land dispute in Bulilima could spell doom for more than 15 businesses that operate in Ward 18. The businesses, which include grocery shops, butcheries, hardware, a restaurant, tshisa nyama and a grinding mill, are facing demolition as they were built on land that was sold illegally by a village head.

The village head, Kelepi Nsimbi Khanye, is accused of being a land baron who has been parcelling out land to unsuspecting individuals since 2020. He claims that the land is his private property and that he has the right to sell it to anyone who wants to set up a business.

The land in question is located on the Tsholotsho/Solusi Road, about 40 kilometres from Bulawayo. The road is lined with a mix of completed and unfinished buildings that form the Zihwabeni business centre. The centre is bustling with activity and customers, but it is also illegal.

Bulilima RDC chief executive officer (CEO) Billiat Mlauzi confirmed that none of the structures at Zihwabeni have the local authority’s approval and that they are operating without licenses.

“The first issue is that one cannot operate a shop in the jurisdiction of a rural district council without its approval and the shops at Zihwabeni are operating without the authority of the Bulilima Rural District Council. We are aware that there is an individual who is dishing out land in that area because he claims it is private land and we have engaged the Ministry of Lands,Agriculture, Fisheries, and Rural Development to get to the bottom of the issue but what remains is that those shops are operating illegally.

“The other issue is that we will be engaging the department of spatial planning to see if the area can be regularised if a proper layout plan for the business centre can be mapped out, but if that fails then it means all the buildings will have to be demolished. The Bulilima Rural District is not getting license fees from those illegal shops at Zihwabeni and we are saying for now people must desist from buying land from whoever in that area until all the outstanding issues are resolved,” said Mlauzi. 

The shop owners at Zihwabeni are shocked and dismayed by the situation. They said that they bought the land from Khanye in good faith and that he assured them that they could start building and operating their businesses without any problems. They said that they were unaware that they were breaking the law and that they had invested a lot of money and effort into their businesses.

One of the shop owners, who identified herself as MaDube, said that she bought the land in 2022 and started construction late last year. She said that she only realised that something was wrong when she went to apply for a license to run a restaurant in January this year and was told that her shop was not in the RDC’s records.

“I bought land at Zihwabeni business centre in 2022 from the village head uKhulu Khanye but only started construction late last year. When I bought the land he assured me that I could start building immediately and open the shop like all the other shop owners that were already operating as they had also bought land from him.

Alleged land baron Kelepi Nsimbi Khanye

“I didn’t see anything amiss since other shops were already operating but the problems started when I went to apply for a license to run a restaurant in January this year from the RDC where I was told that my shop was not in their records. In other words, the RDC was simply saying that my shop was illegal,” said the woman who preferred to be identified as MaDube.

She said that she did her investigations and found out that all the other shop owners were in the same predicament.

 She said that she feels cheated and betrayed by Khanye and that she hopes that the matter will be resolved amicably.

Bulilima Rural District Council chairman Land Ndebele said he held a meeting with aggrieved villagers last week, which was also attended by Bulilima Constituency Member of Parliament Cde Dingumuzi Phuti.

“There are a few grievances, chief among them the issue of land being sold illegally and we promised the villagers that we will engage the Ministry of Lands to find out who exactly owns that land,” said Ndebele. 

Khanye, however, defended his actions and said that he was the sole beneficiary of the land and that he had the right to sell it. He said that he sold the land for prices ranging from US$200 for a shop and US$50 for a homestead. He said that he did not see anything wrong with what he did and that he was helping people to start their businesses.

“The land belongs to a co-operative we formed in 1981 that had more than 400 members but as of today has about 133 and yes, I sold the land where the business centre is being built. I take the land buyers to the council in Plumtree so I don’t know why they (RDC) are now saying that the shops are illegal. The council is not being truthful,” said Khanye.

Asked why he is the sole beneficiary of the land sold at Zihwabeni business centre when the land is supposedly owned by a co-operative the village head said: “What happens is that if a member of the co-operative brings someone who wants land, he or she takes the money as the land belongs to all of us. Some of the children whose late parents were members of the cooperative have also benefitted from the land so it’s not only me who is benefiting.”

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