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Monday, 25 June 2018 11:18

Ex-tenants to get land after MHRC recommendation

Written by  Vincent Khonje

 

Kasungu, June 23, 2018: After years of a land wrangle between Press Agriculture Limited (PAL)and its former landless tenants in Kasungu, the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has recommended that the tenants be given the land.

MHRC’s commissioner Bertha Sefu made the recommendations Friday after a public hearing involving both parties.

“As MHRC, we recommend that the landless ex tenants be given land. The lands office, district commissioner, Office of the President and Cabinet and Cabinet and Press Agriculture should sit down and work on how the tenants can get the land,” Sefu said.

The ex-tenants and some children of former tenants of the once vibrant tobacco growing company have been complaining of having no land to stay and farm.

Most of these people said they are being forced out from settling in some land around idle estates on accusations of encroachment.

A self-acclaimed human rights activists named Reverend Friday Somanje, who runs an organization called Millennium Information and Resource Centre (MIRECE), has been the representative of these landless people.

Through Somanje, the ex-tenants have often lodged complaints to the district commissioner (DC) and PAL but nothing worked to the extent that they started staying in camps.

During the public hearing, some of the tenants and Rev Somanje raised their concerns about the land issue.

Shadreck Kaifa told the commission that he was only five when he went to Kasungu with his father who was tenant in one of the estates.

“I grew up there, got employed as a tenant here. This is the only place I can call home,” Kaifa said.

He added that when PAL stopped growing tobacco, most tenants we laid off and given some money for us to go back home.

“But since I came here as a child, I could not trace my home so I decided to stay behind,” he said.

Another complainant Lezina Chimzeka said: “I came in 2001 but after working for few years, we were laid off. We were given some idle land by chiefs after we decided to stay. But later, we were told that we had encroached in some private land and our houses were demolished after a court order.”

The land wrangle has had a few dramas of its own with some sections accusing Rev. Somanje of flouting some procedures and giving false information to the Office of the President and cabinet (OPC).

Somanje had been accused of hijacking the process by presenting himself as the defender of the ex-tenants’ interest with the aim of making money for himself.

But the Reverend, who said he cycled to State House in Lilongwe at one point to present a petition to State President, played down the accusations.

“The things I was doing came out of my passion, sympathy and anger after observing that the complainants were not being helped,” Somanje said.

During the presentation of MHRC recommendation, Commissioner Sefu stated that Rev. Somanje should step aside and give way to relevant stakeholders to handle the issue from there on.

Press Agriculture Limited has already given five estates to Malawi government. The total land size of the estates was not readily available.

About 800 individuals are part of the landless complainants and Commissioner Sefu said the process of giving them land provided by PAL should start immediately.

From 1970, PAL was growing barley and flue cured tobacco and had to get workers from the southern region. But in 1993 and 2010, it stopped growing the two types respectively rand laid off its workers.

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