The threat of forced eviction puts thousands of people at risk across southern Africa amid the pandemic, Amnesty International said today. The organization has highlighted two cases, in Eswatini and Zimbabwe, where the authorities are trying to remove people from their homes to make room for business interests, without following procedural guarantees and without offering them alternative accommodation.
In the town of Madonsa in Eswatini, more than 100 people have been living under the threat of forced eviction for years, to make way for the National Provident Fund of Eswatini, a national pension fund administrator. Residents are anxious and have nowhere to go after receiving legal notice from the Fund asking them to vacate their accommodation by March 5. Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, more than 12,000 people belonging to the indigenous Shangani minority remain at risk of being evicted from their ancestral lands in Chilonga and said they have been intimidated and harassed by authorities following a court order. of March 6 aimed at temporarily blocking the eviction.
“Zimbabwe and Eswatini have dark histories of failing to follow due process when evicting people, including failing to consult communities or offering alternative accommodation during evictions. It is particularly appalling that these governments are trying to make people homeless during a pandemic. These evictions must be immediately stopped and legal safeguards must be put in place to guarantee the rights of people living in affected communities. “
In Eswatini, an estimated 106 people are at risk of eviction in Madonsa after the Eswatini National Provident Fund filed a formal notice on February 16 that their properties be evicted from the territory by March 5, 2021.
In a 2018 report, Amnesty International found that many Swazis are vulnerable to forced evictions because they lack security of tenure, due to the country’s deeply flawed land governance system. Most of the land in the country is Swazi nation land, held in “trust” by the king who has the power to allocate it to individuals or families through his chiefs. The rest of the land is title deed land owned by private entities or the government.
The people of Madonsa argue that they obtained land through the traditional process of kukhonta, in which allegiance is offered to the chief who in turn admits that individual into his chiefdom and allots land to him.
The threat of eviction started in 2012, and since then thousands of people have been evicted and live in desperately poor conditions. Despite this, more and more people continued to build houses on Madonsa land on the grounds that they felt safe following the allocation of land by the chief.
The residents of Madonsa were not adequately consulted or offered them alternative accommodation. Despite this, some people have already started to dismantle their homes to avoid brutal forced evictions. These forced evictions violate Eswatini’s international and regional human rights obligations.
In Zimbabwe, more than 12,000 people from the indigenous Shangani community, who live in Chilonga in Chiredzi, face homelessness. On February 26, the Ministry of Local Government, Urban and Rural Development issued a legal notice urging thousands of people to immediately leave their land.
According to Statutory Instrument 50 of 2021, a government decree, the villagers of Chilonga are evicted in order to reserve land for alfalfa production – to grow grass for animal feed, for a dairy business.
In demanding an immediate eviction, the advice provided by the Zimbabwean government was totally inadequate and this was further compounded by the lack of adequate compensation or alternative accommodation being offered. The evictions are therefore in violation of regional and international human rights law ratified by Zimbabwe which prohibits forced evictions in all circumstances.
On March 6, the Masvingo Magistrates’ Court issued an interim ban prohibiting the arbitrary eviction of the villagers. The Court reaffirmed that no one can simply decide to evict people from their place of residence without following the law. The villagers are devastated and continue to live in fear due to the history of intimidation of those who resist the eviction.