Lumbidzani Dima, Chronicle Reporter
SEVEN families from Umguza Rural District’s Dunkirk Village on the outskirts of Bulawayo along Solusi Road have been left homeless after their homes were razed down alleged by council rangers in the presence of police details.
The homes were destroyed on January 5, leaving the families at the mercy of the rains.
Some of the families have had to seek temporary shelter at friends’ homes, while others have erected temporary structures using the destroyed asbestos sheets and other materials to protect themselves from weather elements.
The villagers claim that they were settled in the area by Chief Deli early last year.
When a Chronicle news crew visited the village, most villagers, whose homes had been demolished, were squatting in one home, traumatised and pondering their next moves.
The villagers’ representative, Mr Hezekiyeli Ndhlovu (60), narrated how they were caught by surprise just five days into the New Year.
“The group included some villagers from the area, rangers from Bulawayo City Council and the police. They said they were accompanying the Sheriff of the High Court, although we did not see him as he did not introduce himself to us.
“We were shocked to hear BCC rangers led by one Nkumenkume saying they had come to destroy our structures because they are illegal.
But we know the land to be under Umguza Rural District Council. We were allocated this area by the village head and Chief Deli. We even signed some forms with Umguza RDC,” he said.
Mr Ndhlovu said the leader of the rangers, who only identified as Nkumenkume, told them that the land is owned by someone under BCC, and was a pasture for his cattle.
He said Nkumenkume threatened to return with council police and auction their properties.
“How can they evict people without giving us an alternative? Our properties will be destroyed due to the rains. We couldn’t even ask for any evidence because they were threatening us.
They did not give us a chance, they just said remove your property from the houses or we are burning it,” said Mr Ndhlovu.
He said the land dispute spilled into court in July last year, and no one managed to produce evidence on the land ownership, hence they continued staying there.
“We got an eviction notice last year and we liaised with the chief, who assisted us to take the matter to court. The court ruled that we can stay until those who claim the land produced evidence,” said Mr Ndhlovu.
He said the rangers have been returning to intimidate them and this has now which has forced them to seek shelter at unaffected neighbours’ houses.
Reached for comment yesterday, Chief Deli confirmed that he had settled the affected families in Dunkirk as there was no one who owned the land.
“When they approached me saying there is free land, I said they can stay there because it’s not clear whose land it is. The conflicts are beginning just after the land has been occupied by people, but all along there were no claims.
It’s possible that those who demolished are giving themselves power over land that doesn’t even belong to them. We are still investigating the land ownership issue, we want the evidence,” he said.
Chief Deli said they will try to find ways of helping the affected villagers.
However, BCC corporate communication manager Mrs Nesisa Mpofu dismissed claims that BCC was involved in any land dispute in Dunkirk, saying council owns Subdivision A of Dunstal Farm, which is adjacent to Dunkirk Farm.
Mrs Mpofu said those evicted were on Dunstal Farm and it could well be that the villagers do not know the demarcation between the two farms.
She said Dunstal Farm is subdivided into 159 small plots averaging 2 hectares and leased to various tenants and those that were evicted were illegal settlers on Dunstal Farm.
“It was the Sheriff of Zimbabwe accompanied by police, who were enforcing a Court Order in favour of council. It was enforcement of a Court Order on illegal settlers.
The illegal settlers were advised well in advance in July 2021, but vowed not to leave hence a court order,” she said.
Efforts to get a comment from Umguza RDC were fruitless.