The struggle civil servant-cum-politician Vincent Wandale started in his desperate attempt to reclaim the land from estate owners Mulanje and Thyolo has resurfaced, but this time with the Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (CDEDI) leading the battle.
CDEDI executive director Sylvester Namiwa has given President Lazarus Chakwera 14 days to deal with the longstanding and contentious matter concerning land, which the natives claim was grabbed from their ancestors by white settlers at gunpoint many decades back.
Namiwa says as an economic governance and advocacy institution, CDEDI has been compelled to come in on this matter following an appeal from the landless people in Thyolo and Mulanje, who claim to have been receiving death threats and in worst cases jail terms, for seeking justice.
People from Traditional Authorities (T/As) Bvumbwe, Mchilamwela and Kapichi in Thyolo and Njema in Mulanje are said to have been greatly affected by the alleged land grap.
Namiwa says the natives have unsuccessfully tried to reclaim “their only ancestral principal inheritance, or to, at least, see justice being done on the matter”.
“The unfulfilled promises by your predecessors have now bred surging anger among these landless people, who feel isolated and being less of human beings since they do not have land which is one of the most fundamental natural resources available to man for social and economic development in the agro-based Malawi economy. These landless people, therefore, have been disenfranchised from their right to economic activities, and most importantly, they have been denied one of the basic human rights for decades, the right to food!” he points out.
Thyolo district covers a total area of 1,715 square kilometres with projected total population of about 666,894 giving a high population density of 343 persons per square kilometres.
The district is mostly hilly and sloppy, and the estates possess over half of the arable land comprising 14, 422 hectares, leaving the locals scrambling for 26, 380 hectares translating into 0.3 hectares per farming family.
On the other hand, Mulanje district has 2, 036 square kilometres of land, with a total population of about 587, 553 translating into a population density of about 286 persons per square Kilometre and 0.6 hectares of land per farming family.
The estates in Mulanje occupy up to 14, 847 hectares of land out of the total cultivatable land of 152, 393 hectares.
According to information from agricultural experts, a family of six (6) people requires a minimum of one (1) hectare to produce food that can last for the whole year.
“But as you can see, Sir, the affected families can barely produce food that can last even six (6) months, given the land they are currently possessing. This is the reason why Thyolo and Mulanje districts are perennial hunger-stricken districts. Your Excellency, as if this is not enough, the Estates in Thyolo and Mulanje have attracted people from surrounding districts, including some from beyond the borders of Malawi, who are seeking employment opportunities. This has also created pressure on the limited social amenities such as hospitals and schools,” Namiwa states.
He then takes Chakwera through the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, which now stand at 11.8 percent in Thyolo, with life expectancy of 46.5 years.
On the other hand, in Mulanje, the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is at 20.6 percent, with life expectancy at 51.7 years for males and 47.98 years for females.
Malawi’s life expectancy is currently at 63.5 years, while the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate stands at 8.8 percent.
Namiwa says having noted that their efforts to reclaim their land are not bearing any fruit, they pleaded with CDEDI to help liberate them.
“CDEDI has also been made aware that this is not the first communication on the matter to have been brought to your attention during your tenure of office, Sir, since these landless people of Thyolo and Mulanje also petitioned you over the same through a letter dated August 20, 2020. It was not surprising, therefore, when the petitioners got no response from your office, Sir, since you acted in a similar fashion just like the way your predecessors did, by sweeping the petition under the carpet,” he writes.
“Your Excellency, you may wish to know even further, that the Estates in Thyolo and Mulanje districts are flourishing at the expense of high population densities; high illiteracy levels due to school dropouts as a result of child labour in the Estates; early marriages; high HIV/AIDS prevalence rate; stunted growth due to underfeeding; high poverty levels and acute perennial hunger. We cannot, therefore, afford the status quo to remain as it is, hence CDEDI’s appeal to you Sir, to swiftly move in to diffuse this seemingly ticking bomb,” he adds.
CDEDI has also suggested that, in the event that land reclamation is impractical, the government should consider compensating and relocating the landless, partitioning of all the land in question and surrendering of the land by the estates to the locals.
“Considering the length of the time the communities have waited for justice over the matter, as well as the urgency of the matter, CDEDI is giving you fourteen (14) working days to intervene on the matter.
“If you choose to take the route your predecessors took by ignoring the plight of the landless people in these two districts, CDEDI will be left with no choice but to drag the Estate owners to court in the United Kingdom, through the UK human rights lawyers to sue on behalf of these neglected landless people in Thyolo and Mulanje districts. While pursuing the legal remedies, let it be also known to you Sir, that CDEDI will relentlessly be mobilizing the affected people to use all the legally and peaceful means available to push both the Malawi and the UK government to act the matter,” said Namiwa.
He warned that ignoring the matter will have far reaching consequences “since where there is no justice, there is no peace.”
Officials at the State House did not comment on the matter.
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