Dragnet Arrest: 180 Gwanda villagers accused of illegal land occupation

One hundred and eighty Gwanda villagers who were displaced from their homesteads appeared in court on Friday, facing a charge of illegal occupation of State land.

The villagers are being represented by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) lawyer, Jabulani Mhlanga.

Police conducted a dragnet arrest on the villagers on February 7, 2024, alleging that they were illegally occupying Hollins Block Estate in Gwanda.

The court split them into two separate groups. Sixty-one appeared before Magistrate Talent Phiri, and the other 119 appeared before Magistrate Nyathi.

Magistrate Phiri remanded the 61 to March 26, 2024, for a possible trial, while Magistrate Nyathi placed the rest off remand.

Mhlanga argued to the court that the prosecutor did not have adequate evidence that the land occupied by the villagers belonged to the State, hence the villagers were not supposed to be placed on remand.

In a statement released after the court case, ZLHR noted that the villagers were being charged with occupying state-gazetted land without lawful authority as defined in Section 3(1)(4), as read with Section 5 of the Gazetted Land Consequential Provisions.

“The 180 villagers, who include a nonagenarian, octogenarian, septuagenarians, sexagenarians, and youths, were apprehended by Zimbabwe Republic Police officers on February 7, 2024, during a dragnet arrest and summarily charged with occupying gazetted land without lawful authority as defined in Section 3(1)(4), as read with Section 5 of the Gazetted Land Consequential Provisions,” ZLHR noted.

“Prosecutors alleged that the 180 villagers, who reside in Nyandeni community in Gwanda North in Matabeleland South province, unlawfully held, used, or occupied land at Hollins Block Estate in Gwanda, which is gazetted land and without lawful authority.”

ZLHR said upon their arrest on February 7, 2024, the 180 villagers endured two nights in police detention and were only set free on February 9, 2024, after prosecutors declined to prosecute them when their lawyers challenged how their arrest had been effected.

Meanwhile, the villagers faced challenges in travelling to court for their appearance, and they received assistance from Masakhaneni Trust.

Masakhaneni Trust Director, Paul Themba Nyathi, told CITE in an interview that they received information that the villagers did not have the means to go to the court, and some had resorted to walking over 35 kilometres to the court.

“We received information that they were struggling to acquire transport to the court. Some who still had strength had opted to walk overnight to court, but we considered that there were the elderly among them. We got them transport to take them to court and back. We also provided them with breakfast, but unfortunately, we had not budgeted for their lunch. We did not anticipate that the court session would take as much time as it did. The session took long; they finished just after 5 PM,” he said.”

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