Reprieve for 100 Hwange villagers

Mashudu Netsianda, Deputy News Editor

A TOTAL of 100 villagers in Hwange District in Matabeleland North were reprieved following a High Court order blocking their eviction to pave way for the construction of a Formula One grade motor racing course. Formula One is the highest class of international racing for open-wheel single-seater formula racing cars sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l”Automobile.

The arbitrary eviction of the villagers followed a decision by the Hwange Rural District Council to grant a lease agreement to Stelix Civils (Pvt) Ltd, a local company, to establish a motor-racing course, which could have displaced the villagers from their ancestral land.

Already, Stelix Civils had fenced off the area covering 500 hectares in Chibode, Kachecheti and Nemananga wards, which the villagers used as grazing land for their livestock. Disgruntled with the development, the villagers, through their lawyer Mr Josphat Tshuma of Webb, Low and Barry Legal Practitioners, approached the High Court challenging their eviction.

The villagers, last year, filed an application for review of Hwange RDC’s decision to allocate 500 hectares of land to Stelix Civils. They argued that the proposed project was chewing up a larger chunk of their grazing area. In papers before the court, the applicants cited Local Government and Public Works Minister July Moyo, Hwange RDC and Stelix Civils (Pvt) Ltd, as respondents.

The villagers, led by Mr Mthembisi Moyo, argued that the construction of the race course had a negative impact on their livelihoods as it took up a large chunk of their grazing land. In his founding affidavit, Mr Moyo said Hwange  RDC acted in a manner that was unlawful, unreasonable and unfair hence they were seeking a review of that decision.


“This is an application for review brought in terms of section 4 (1) of the Administrative Justice Act wherein the applicants are seeking a review of the decision made by the second respondent (Hwange RDC) to allocate the communal land for the purposes of constructing a Formula One race course,” he said.

“Hwange RDC did not notify the applicants of their rights to review the decision and did not supply written reasons for the decisions they made within reasonable time.”

Mr Moyo said the local authority did not give them an opportunity to make adequate representations.

“Villagers in Chibode, Kachecheti and Nemananga wards have been living on the land for about 66 years now and this is the only home they have known. They rely on his land for their livelihoods through livestock rearing and subsistence farming,” he said. 

Mr Moyo said Hwange RDC approved the construction of the race course on a portion of land that is occupied and used by villagers.

“The villagers also use this land as their burial place. As such they have significant links to the land and vested interest when it comes to its allocation and use,” he said.

Mr Moyo said the villagers only became aware of the plans to establish the race course in September 2019 during a meeting.

“By the time we got to know of the project, the third respondent (Stelix Civils) had already fenced off 500 hectares of the land and our livestock have not able to gain entry to the grazing area,” he said.

“We are advised by our legal practitioners that the Communal Land Act mandates that any project for which a permit is granted must be in the best interests of the inhabitants. Hwange RDC acted outside their authority in granting the permit.”

Mr Moyo said there are over 1 500 cattle grazing in that piece of land. He said in granting the lease of agreement to Stelix Civils to construct the race course, council failed to even consider offering the villagers alternative grazing land or compensation for the loss. The villagers also argued that motor racing is noisy business which would have a negative effect on villagers, their livestock and wildlife in the vicinity.

“This noise pollution may result in displacement of people from their homes. Motor racing is a sport in which the rich participate and requires specialist resources,” said Mr Moyo.

“At best, the residents of the villages may be used as unskilled labour, which will not yield significant benefits for them. There is no indication as to what opportunities will be open for locals and how the proposed project will empower the communities.”

In opposing the application, both lawyers for Hwange RDC and Stelix Civils contended that the application was fatally defective for failing to comply with the peremptory provisions of the High Court Rules.They argued that since it is an application for review, rule 62 (1) and (2) of the High Court Rules 2021 should apply. 

“Moyo does not have authority to represent the 99 others and also lacks locus standi to institute the proceedings. The relief sought is therefore incompetent,” said the lawyers.

“No permit has been issued yet as the processes to be followed in terms of section 9 of the Communal Lands Act are within the purview of the first respondent (Minister Moyo). The council has merely approved a lease in favour of the construction of the race course.”

The two lawyers argued that application has been prematurely made and thus ought to be dismissed.

Stelix Civils was represented by Mr Kholwani Ngwenya of TJ Mabhikwa and Partners while Mr Emmanuel Mlalazi of Dube-Banda Nzarayapenga and Partners argued on behalf of Hwange RDC. There was no appearance for Minister Moyo during the court proceedings.

In her ruling, Bulawayo High Court judge Justice Evangelista Kabasa said the decision by Hwange RDC to grant Stelix Civils the lease to construct the race course was done without requisite authority.

“It is my considered view that everything else that followed the decision to grant the lease or that preceded that particular decision was done without requisite authority. A distinction ought to be made between the provisions of sections 9 and 10 of the Communal Land Act,” said the judge.

She said section 9 of the Communal Land Act allows Hwange RDC to first engage in those processes.

“I am consequently of the considered view that the applicant has made a case for the relief sought. The effect of this order allows Hwange RDC the opportunity to follow the law,” said Justice Kabasa. 

She noted that while the local authority’s actions were motivated by a desire to bring development to the area, the manner in which council went about was unlawful.“In the result, the decision of Hwange RDC to grant a lease agreement to Stelix Civils for the construction of a race course be and hereby set aside. Any actions and conduct that had been taken by council following the granting of the lease of agreement is hereby declared invalid,” ruled Justice Kabasa.

The judge ordered Hwange RDC to bear the costs of the lawsuit. — @mashnets

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