VILLAGERS from Maphisa in Matopo district have clashed with the Agriculture Rural Development Authority (Arda) over reports that a new company is interested in investing at Antelope Estate, raising fears of a round of evictions to accommodate the irrigation scheme.
Antelope Estate is owned by Arda and there has hardly been any production at the farm for a while, amid revelations by the outgrowers that it has been turned into a national park.
Arda engaged Trek Petroleum against the villagers’ wishes and the firm has already secured an investor from South Africa, Midnight Feast Properties, to fund agriculture projects.
Speaking at a meeting held at Antelope Estate last week, village head Phanuel Ndlovu said Arda stabbed them in the back and permitted the entry of the petroleum company, which was unaware of the villagers’ grievances.
“We realised that Arda was failing and we sought to engage an investor to help us develop our irrigation, which was on the verge of collapse and Arda was complaining that it had no money,” he said.
“The company came here and toured that village and spoke to other villagers on their grievances, but today Arda has told the company to invest in other estates and has brought us a stranger.”
Ndlovu said some villagers were to be displaced to pave way for Trek investments and accused Arda of corruption.
“We are really bitter at this company because they never engaged the community and they are now talking about evicting people to pave way for their activities,” he said.
“During the 1980s people were displaced to pave way for the irrigation scheme, but they never benefited in any way and now they are talking about displacement, which we will never allow as we have already suffered.
“They have now turned down the offer by the company which wants to develop our land and they bring us a stranger who wants nothing but destruction just because of money.”
According to a letter written by the South African investor to Arda, the company visited four villages that will be affected by the development.
“We visited the community and held discussions with them about their aspirations and vision regarding use of the scheme to develop the villages around it,” reads the letter.
“There are four villages directly affected by the scheme, as they share fences with it and these are Mahetshe, Matankeni, Silawa and Zweyamba.”
The investor said it wanted to work with the community to build schools, clinics and a library.
“Currently we saw that the outgrowers’ part of the irrigation scheme is struggling and the soils need treatment, otherwise they would never be viable,” reads part of the letter.
Ndlovu asked President Robert Mugabe and all responsible authorities to intervene, as the new development threatened food security in the district.
Pastor Anglistone Sibanda blamed Arda for not consulting locals.
“It’s high time people saw that in Matobo there are people and not animals,” he said.
“The community should be consulted. Our silence does not mean we are stupid.
“We want investment that is meaningful, but when you take our means of production we will never keep quiet.
“The natives of Matobo should benefit from the local resources.”
Arda Antelope Estate manager Alec Chitsiyo defended himself saying the decisions were being made by their headquarters in Harare.
“If I am here, I am the manager, but all the decisions are made in Harare and the residents are not being forced to comply,” he said.
“I assure you, my hands are clean.
“But all the irrigation (schemes) are dead, why are you blaming me on making things miserable for you.
“I am now at the centre and don’t know what to do.”
Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko reportedly slammed Arda for sabotaging the farming sector and that the Arda board was undermining the legacy of revolutionaries like the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo and Mugabe.