The Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (CDEDI) is not bulging in its crusade to reclaim the land from British-owned conglomerate companies so that the same should be distributed to landless people in Thyolo and Mulanje.
Having received a blind eye and deaf ear from President Lazarus Chakwera on his prayer to the Head of State to address land issues in the two districts, CDEDI has now directed this appeal to the British High Commissioner to Malawi, David Beer.
The organization’s executive director Sylvester Namiwa has written the United Kingdom (UK) Embassy in Malawi, seeking its immediate intervention to jumpstart a healing process of what Namiwa describes as a wound that was inflicted by the British government during the colonial era.
“On behalf of the landless people of Thyolo and Mulanje districts, CDEDI has put the following options on the table for the Commission’s consideration: partitioning of all the land in question; surrendering of the land by the estate owners to the locals; and compensation of the badly affected landless families. Your Excellency, considering the length of time the landless people of Thyolo and Mulanje have waited for justice over this matter, CDEDI is giving you seven (7) days to intervene. I submit on behalf of CDEDI,” reads part of the letter dated March 19, 2021.
However, Namiwa points out at the outset that CDEDI wrote the letter on behalf of the people considering that, up to now, Britain remains the ultimate beneficiary of the land issue since it has the largest shareholding in a conglomerate known as the Camellia Group which owns the Eastern Produce Malawi (EMP), one of its subsidiaries that has vast land in the two districts.
The same conglomerate also has shares in the sugar company, ILLOVO, previously known as LONRHO.
“The land issue in the said two districts has been a contentious and an outstanding thorn in the flesh that dates back to the late 1859-1863, following the arrival of Dr. David Livingstone and later the British settlers. The saddest part of this very long story is that the British settlers started acquiring land from the traditional chiefs in exchange for ‘gifts’ such as salt, shoes, clothes and guns for hunting. They later made the chiefs powerless over land issues by declaring the Queen of England as the owner of all the land in Nyasaland then, now Malawi,” Namiwa seems to be taking the High Commissioner through the memory lane.
He says as a result, Malawians across the country are facing problems to acquire and own land since legally, the land still belongs to the Queen of England, unless Britain comes out very clearly with proper documentation indicating that the powers over the land in Malawi were given back to the traditional chiefs.
Namiwa has challenged the embassy to produce evidence to authenticate claims that the white settlers paid for the land they acquired that time.
He said people under Traditional Authorities (T/As) Bvumbwe, Boyidi, Nchilamwela and Kapichi and Sub T/ A Maganiza in Thyolo district; and T/As Njema, Mabuka and Sunganinzeru in Mulanje district are the most affected by what CDEDI believes was ‘land grab’.
“These people, the High Commission may wish to know even further, have tried to seek help from individuals and institutions alike, but have unsuccessfully failed to reclaim their only ancestral principal inheritance, or to at least see justice being done on the matter. The citizens in these two districts 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 says in the letter.
“Just to give a picture of the situation about these two districts, 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 Km. 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. In Mulanje, the situation is not better either. The 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 are clinging to 14, 847 hectares of land out of the total cultivatable land of 152, 393 hectares,” adds Namiwa.
The CDEDI boss further quotes information from agricultural experts, which indicates that 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, 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. 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. For instance, Thyolo has an HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 11.8 percent, with life expectancy of 46.5 years. 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,” he says.
Namiwa says it is against this background that CDEDI decided to submit the appeal to the UK Government to intervene before the situation gets out of hand.
“As you are reading this letter, you may wish to be informed that there is a lot of idle land in Thyolo and Mulanje which is in the hands of the Estate owners, when the rightful owners of the land are left destitute. Failure to correct this injustice is a recipe for civil strife in this area in not so long a distant future, since 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 the Commission to swiftly move in to diffuse this seemingly ticking bomb,” he urges.
There was no immediate response from the Bright High Commission on the matter.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :