Vincent Wandale and his two accomplicesaccused of unauthorised use of land, criminal trespassing and threatening violence in Thyolo points to feelings that many people in Mulanje and Thyolohave harboured: to reclaim some land that their forefathers lost to white settlers during the colonial era. Huge tracks of land were lost to white farmers for tea plantation.
Since 1994 the people of Thyolo and Mulanje have been let down by successive governments who have paid very little attention to the land problems in the two districts which are among the most populated in the country. Government fears that any attempt to forcibly take land awayfrom whites or convert it to leasehold will inevitably attract backlash not only from the land owners farming, but the international community.
However, with the growing need for the community to access to idle land, government cannot ignore their demand. People may not have read between the lines the statement Senior Chief Ngolongoliwa of Thyolomade at the Blantyre Magistrate Court where he was paraded by the state as the fifth witness at the Blantyre Magistrate in the land seizure case.
While condemning the approach his subjects took when distributing land at Conforzi Plantation, he conceded that people in Thyolo have serious land problems and said the government ought to liaise with estate owners to share some land with the people of Thyolo and Mulanje.”
By mincing no words to urge government to do something about the landlessness, Ngolongoliwais indirectly telling government that the land issue has become so desperate that government cannot take laissez faire approach. The people of the two districts have taken the land distribution issue very seriously to the extent that they formed a group advocating for secession of the two districts because government is not doing anything to their plight.
The response from government is not encouraging enough, judging by the statement from Public Relations Officer in the Ministry of Lands Charles Vintura. Government cannot bank on estate owners to willingly release land. It has not worked anywhere in the world. In South Africa they tried the willing-buyer and willing-seller policy to distribute land to the majority black people at the dawn of democracy. But 20 years down the line, whites are not willing to sell their land.
While it is true that “government cannot force estate owners to release land because it will be unconstitutional,” this should not be used as an excuse not to discuss with estate owners to give back some land to the people of Thyolo and Mulanje. Governmentshould take the initiative to discuss (on behalf of the people) with estate owners to give back idle land. Sothe constitution should not be used to avoid solving the problem. It should be remembered and appreciated that white settlers used force to grab the land from the indigenous blacks and have used the law to safeguard their capitalist interests at the expense of the majority blacks.
With the huge population in Thyolo and Mulanje, it is only natural that government should step in to discuss with estate owners to share the land. Government should not run away from responsibility. The people are just too weak to influence landowners to share the land.
Unless the issue is resolved, land grabbing and tension between estate owners and some people of Thyolo and Mulanje will be the order the day. As things are, some people in Mulanje and Thyoloare determined to take back the land forcibly taken from their ancestors whether by hook or crook.