By Nomalanga Moyo
SW Radio Africa
15 July 2014
Fuming Chisumbanje villagers have threatened “war” on ethanol plant investor Billy Rautenbach whom they accuse of taking their land without compensation.
Since it was established the plant has been the site of serious tensions between the Chisumbanje community and British tycoon Rautenbach who has strong links with the ZANU PF leadership.
The villagers say they have lost land, livestock and livelihoods as a result of the plant, while others say they have faced violence and intimidation.
On Friday, MPs who sit on the Indigenisation portfolio committee held a meeting with the community, including chiefs and war vets, to discuss their concerns.
During the meeting the war vets threatened to “return to war” saying they will not stand by and watch “this white man abuse our people and take their land for free”.
“He is now trying to recolonise us but after waging a bitter war against his fellow whites, we will not allow that to happen. We know that he is employing whites who lost land during the liberation struggle.
“If people who lost their land to the project are not compensated now, soon there will be war at the processing plant,” ex-fighter James Maphosa told the meeting.
MDC-T MP for Nkulumane Thamsanqa Mahlangu, who was part of the fact finding delegation to Chisumbanje, described the meeting as tense and highly-charged.
However Mahlangu said the ex-combatants’ threats to “spill blood” if their concerns are not addressed were just an emotional outburst meant to capture the level of anger and frustration within the community.
“The villagers also feel that the ethanol project has been implemented in a way that disempowers them and which is also contrary to the indigenisation policy.
“Rautenbach owns 90% of the ethanol investment while ARDA owns the remainder. Villagers are wondering how this is so if the law stipulates a 49%-51% share ownership between locals and foreigners,” Mahlangu said.
The villagers also accuse the indigenisation ministry, local MP Enock Porusingazi and some chiefs, of colluding with Rautenbach and refusing to hold the investor to his initial promise of compensation.
“It would appear from what we heard that there is a minority that is benefiting from the ethanol project while ordinary villagers who are the majority, are not.
“The divisions we noted within the traditional leadership suggest that some are getting something out of the project while others are not. We will be presenting a report to parliament so that MPs can debate and suggest a way forward to Cabinet,” Mahlangu added.
In 2009 ZANU PF Minister Didymus Mutasa controversially gave Rautenbach permission to take over 5,000 hectares of land at the Chisumbanje Estate to grow sugarcane and to set up his Green Fuel ethanol plant.
At the time the Chisumbanje Estate was owned by ARDA. Of the 1,800 villagers who were displaced to make way for the ethanol project less than a third have been resettled.
Villagers will have been emboldened to issue their stern challenge to Rautenbach by President Robert Mugabe’s call for the remaining whites to be kicked off the land. But it is doubtful that Mugabe’s call extends also to his party’s close ally and financier Rautenbach.