Nkulumane residents, church in land wrangle

Vegetable farmers in one of the community gardens in Nkulumane suburb face eviction to pave way for the construction of an orphanage by a local church.

The farmers who have been operating from Ntabeni garden since 2009 are against eviction by Gospel Preaching Ministries (GPM), the owners of the land, arguing that the garden has been a source of livelihood for years.

When CITE visited the garden on Monday morning, the area had been fenced with a few women watering their vegetables, while others were removing their vegetable plants.

“We started farming in 2009 as different groups in ward 20, we could grow different vegetables for reselling to send our children to school,” narrated the Chairlady of the garden, Maria Moyo.

She said after two years of farming they started noticing a man who was constantly visiting the garden and taking pictures until he approached the former councillor and told him it is his land and he wants to open a facility for orphans.

“He disappeared for a while and resurfaced a year later, we tried to engage the caretaker councillor but he said he was not aware of the issue since he is a councillor of another ward. We went with him to the former councillor and we were told the man was the owner of the land,” she said.

“This is affecting us as many vulnerable groups were benefiting from this garden, we survive from this garden. More than a thousand households were benefiting from this borehole during water-shedding, we have lost, we don’t know where we are going to get vegetables.”

Thandiwe Marufu added that what irked them was that the owner of the land was not from Bulawayo.  

“We have someone from Harare coming to Bulawayo to evict us, we tried to reason with him to give us time to remove our plants which were still growing and he gave us two months,” said Marufu.

“We wish that the council could have told us to apply for this place because we think he got this place after we had started working on it.”

Another farmer said they are appealing for another garden.

Another farmer a Mrs Chikuse added the community was benefitting from a community borehole which was drilled on that land.

“This borehole was drilled by a donor for the whole community to get water during the water-shedding period. He told us that he is going to put a JoJo tank outside his premises for the community to get water,” said Chikuse.

Contacted for a comment, GPM leader, Pastor Francis William Sibanda said he was getting pressure from the council to develop the area.

“I went to the City Council sometime back and they told me that those people were farming because they didn’t know it belonged to someone,” said Pastor Sibanda.

“I told them not to worry and should continue farming, but now the Council is on my case asking about developments made on my stand and they advised me to put a fence to mark the area.

“Last week I had a meeting with the community and I told them again that I give them up to November to remove their plants. I told them the gate won’t be closed because water is for the residents, the donors drilled that for residents,” he said.

Pastor Sibanda added that the church will ensure that the community has full access to the borehole.

Ward 20 caretaker, Councillor Rodney Jele said the farmers had no claim over the land.

“The elders were not given this area; they did not even apply for it and apparently when I was doing some investigations it seems the church was given the place way before the community garden and the borehole was drilled,” said Cllr Jele.

“It seems the church was given the stand in 2008 while the residents started farming in 2009, but this place belongs to the church.”

Cllr Jele said he was in talks with the church leadership to ensure that the community has access to the borehole.  

“We are still trying to negotiate with the church because there are options we can agree on, it’s either they will drill the community borehole outside their premises or the second option which other churches do, is to equip the borehole with electricity and have a tap outside since others would want to lock their premises,” said the councillor.

Councillor Jele said he advised the farmers to look for another area to start their garden and apply for it.

“Council won’t look for another land for them because according to Council they are not recognized as they did not apply for that land thus why I advised them to look for another land and do the procedure formally and start paying rates because all along they were not doing that,” he said.

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