By Nomalanga Moyo
SW radio Africa
15 May 2014
Senior ZANU PF officials, working with party financier Billy Rautenbach, are behind a plot to use the Tokwe-Mukosi flood victims as cheap farm labour, global lobby group Human Rights Watch has said.
In a report released Thursday the rights group suggests that the villagers were transported more than 150km from their original homes and deliberately settled on a sugarcane farm and ethanol project at Nuanetsi Ranch, which is co-owned by ZANU PF and Rautenbach.
In 2008 party officials formed the Zimbabwe Bio-Energy company to establish an ethanol and sugar cane growing project on the ranch, in partnership with Rautenbach.
When the villagers arrived at Chingwizi in February they were told that they would be allocated 4-hectare plots on which to settle permanently but has not happened.
The villagers continue to live in overcrowded, inhuman conditions and also complain of hunger as food distribution is erratic. Recently, the government said the villagers should take up the one-hectare plots which it was offering them.
The families however say they will not move and accuse the government of breaking its word.
Human Rights Watch says this could actually have been part of the plot, although the government may not have anticipated that the villagers would resist moving as they did last week.
“These 3,000 families have been displaced under questionable circumstances and dumped in a place where their only alternative is to be cheap labour for Zimbabwe’s ruling party,” Human Rights Watch southern Africa director Tiseke Kasambala said.
Speaking on SW Radio Africa’s Big Picture Programme onThursday, senior researcher at the rights group, Dewa Mavhinga, said when his team first visited Chingwizi their aim was to assess the plight of the families settled there and they were shocked at what they discovered.
“We gleaned a number of concerns from the displaced people themselves, which the media and the general public have not been covering or aware of.
“So our report is meant to bring these issues to the attention of the media, international community and the government itself so that they can be addressed urgently with a view to protecting the rights of these displaced families,” Mavhinga said.
Mavhinga added that if the villagers moved on to the one-hectare plots they were expected to grow sugarcane, which would mean they that they will not be able to feed themselves.
He said he hoped the American government, which recently removed Rautenbach from its targeted sanctions list, will reconsider its decision following these revelations.
“This clearly shows that this was an unwise and premature move because Rautenbach is embedded and involved in what is happening at Chingwizi.
“And in light of the much-publicised health risks at Chingwizi we are calling on the Zim government to disperse these people urgently, in line with the initial agreement,” Mavhinga added.
The report also alleges that Masvingo police and provincial officials responsible for distributing food, blankets, and clothing have diverted some of the aid to sell it for profit in the towns of Triangle and Chiredzi. Human Rights Watch said they visited the two towns and confirmed that goods meant for the displaced at Chingwizi were being sold.