By Zwelihle Sukati | 2019-11-30
Thirty-five families have been given 10 days to vacate the land they have always known as home or their homesteads for over 50 years because these will be demolished as the farm has changed hands.
Residents of Murray Camp in Manzini are wanted out of portion 2 of farm 266.
The Saturday Observer has it in authority that a company trading as Moyamunye Investments claims ownership of the land. The company has instructed lawyers from Zonke Magagula and Company to attend to the eviction of families.
“Our client instructs that you are in illegal occupation of the farm. We have been instructed by our client to demand as we hereby do that you vacate the farm within 10 days of receipt of this letter, failing compliance herewith legal action for your eviction and demolition of any structure erected by you will be instituted and the costs thereof shall be for your account,” reads the letter from the law firm, dated November 11, 2019.
This letter from Zonke Magagula and Company follows numerous back and forth engagements and meetings with the residents, Municipal Council of Manzini and lawyers representing Moyamunye Investments over the farm.
The fear of having history repeating itself, wherein residents of Nokwane, Madonsa and Malkerns were forcibly evicted, saw the affected residents of Murray Camp seeking the intervention of the Human Rights Commission.
The threat of eviction has been going on since May when the committee representing the residents was called to a meeting at the law firm’s offices, it has been established. It is during that meeting where the residents were informed that the land they occupied had been sold to Moyamunye Investments who now wanted to develop it.
Shocked as they were, the residents were asked what their views to that were. Since that was news to them they requested time to engage and discuss on the latest developments. The following month, June 11, another meeting was convened.
Led by Member of Parliament Macford Sibandze, the residents said they requested to be briefed on what Moyamunye had in mind in terms of a resettlement plan.
This publication understands that a resettlement plan by Moyamunye Investments was presented to the Manzini Municipality. It is after the Manzini Municipality had approved the proposed plan could then the residents be notified of what has been approved.
It was then suggested in one of the residents’ meetings that they engaged the Human Rights Commission as they had reservations in the whole process. In their meeting with the Human Rights Commission on September 3, which was attended by Moyamunye Investments lawyers, a brief background to the matter was given.
According to Ward 5 Councillor Sandile Nyaweni, it is in that meeting where Moyamunye Investments disclosed that their proposed plan was to divide the land and have a portion demarcated into plots. These plots would then be sold, first preference to the affected residents at a much lower fee.
“The attorney said the layout proposal had already been submitted to the Manzini Municipality. He said they were waiting for the municipality’s response,” Nyaweni confirmed in an interview with this publication on their meeting with the Human Rights Commission.
“After that meeting I got a call from the attorneys that the municipality was not responding to their plan and that their client was left with no choice but to effect the evictions.”
This week, on Wednesday, the residents Asibemunye Murray Camp Community committee chairperson, James Dlamini, was served with a fresh eviction notice from Zonke Magagula and Company law firm.
“Our clients have re-iterated that there is no tangible solution to the matter and by the end of the 10-day period we should proceed to issue summons,” reads the letter dated November 25, 2019, titled ‘Eviction Notice’.
Human Rights Commission wants moratorium on all evictions
Like Amnesty International, the Human Rights Commission is calling for a nationwide moratorium on all evictions until adequate legal and procedural safeguards are in place to ensure that all evictions comply with international and regional human rights standards.
Sabelo Masuku, the Human Rights Commissioner, confirmed that the commission was aware of the issue of Murray Camp. However, he said to their knowledge negotiations were still ongoing.
“It is true that the farm in question was sold by a Shabalala family to Moyamunye Investments and the issue was that of a squatter invasion,” Masuku said.
He said Moyamunye was found to be very cooperative in the negotiations as compared to other similar cases the commission had dealt with. “Indeed, we spoke to the owner (Moyamunye Investments) and the Manzini Municipality and found that the place is truly a farm. However, a national big indaba is what is needed to root out and find a lasting solution on these matters of farm dwellers and evictions.”
‘Forced evictions a gross violation of human rights’
“By failing to put in place adequate safeguards against forced evictions as required by Eswatini’s international legal obligations, the government has violated the human rights of all those affected.”
This was the conclusion of Amnesty International in their report on the Nokwane and Malkerns evictions.
It said the underlying structural causes which generate insecurity of tenure, including the opaque land governance and tenure systems, and the disconnect between policy and practice, must be addressed to put an end to forced evictions.
“Until then, people living in Eswatini continue to live at risk of forced evictions,” a quote from the 2018 report, titled, ‘They don’t see us as people,’ reads.
One key recommendation was that the prime minister declares a nationwide moratorium on all evictions until adequate legal procedural safeguards are put in place to ensure that all evictions comply with international and regional human rights standards.
“This should include a public announcement and immediate measures that the government should take to ensure that those under threat of eviction are protected,” reads one of the key recommendations.
‘Sishaywa ngemfe lebolile’
Chairperson of Asibemunye Murray Camp Community committee wonders how Moyamunye Investments attained ownership of Farm 266 portion 2 at Murray Camp without the knowledge of its current occupants.
He said their investigations could not come with the identity of the seller of the land and a detailed transaction process.
“We had always known that the land belonged to the Shabalala family.
However, we are now being forced out and have been given 10 days to vacate even though many questions have been left unanswered,” said James Dlamini, the committee chairperson.
“In all the engagements and meetings we have had with regards to the matter. Kuyacaca kutsi sidliswa luhlata, sishaywa ngemfe lebolile,” he said, meaning it is all a dodgy deal.
Manzini Ward 5 Councillor Nyaweni said the reason he walked out of the meeting at the Manzini municipality chambers last week was that it allegedly became apparent that the residents were being taken for a ride in the matter. “kuchashatwa lesive, sidliwa luhlata mosi,” Nyaweni said in vernacular.
Tempers flare during meeting at municipality
Lawyer Zonke Magagula had to be excused as tempers flared in one meeting with the affected which was held at the Manzini municipality chambers. This is captured in minutes of this brief meeting.
The renowned attorney is representing the said owners who have purchased the land in question, Moyamunye Investments.
The meeting was at the request of the residents after having gotten information that the Moyamunye Investments and the Manzini municipality were allegedly failing to reach common ground on the resettlement of the affected farm dwellers. The meeting is reported to have been held last week.
The Human Rights Commission was also present in that meeting on invitation by the residents. Also present were officers from the Manzini municipality planning department.
“It was during that meeting where it came out clear that there were a lot of flaws in the whole process,” Manzini Ward 5 Councillor Sandile Nyaweni disclosed. It is during that meeting where it was revealed that the Manzini municipality and Moyamunye Investments were in disagreement.
The argument between residents and the Moyamunye Investments’ legal representatives saw the chairman allowing the latter to be excused from the meeting, while they continued with deliberations.
“How could we then continue with the meeting when the owners of the said land have been excused? We were so much irked by this such that I personally also requested to be excused from the meeting as tempers almost reached boiling point,” Nyaweni said.
Money is the solution
The bible in Ecclesiastics 10: 19 says that money has a solution for everything, so is the situation with the 35 Murray Camp families who are faced with a forced eviction.
Moyamunye Investments and Manzini Municipality are in full cooperation and have one desire in common, which is to avoid anyone being evicted from the farm, so they make the families understand.
However, according to an impeccable source privy to all details, is that the only obstacle standing in the way to save the situation is money.
“Moyamunye approached the municipality for a hand to assist on how the residents can be helped in the situation because their stay there is not protected even by law. That area was a case of a squatter invasion and they know that,” this publication was told.
It is said when the municipality was engaged on that by Moyamunye, they were told the council’s hands were tight.
“The owner of the farm even offered to sub-divide the land to have a separate site with plots to be sold to the residents. However, that is another area which needs funding to finance costs associated with surveying.
The residents, in one of the meetings, declared that they cannot afford those costs.”
Therefore, according to our informant, funds for costs to pay a surveyor in developing the area for the residents to buy and own plots in that rateable property there remains the only obstacle, failing which Moyamunye will have no other option but to force them out of the property.
“Those who say Moyamunye and the Manzini municipality hold different views or have some disagreement in the Murray Camp saga are misinformed.”
‘We are working on the matter, want everyone accommodated’
Zonke Magagula, the attorney representing Moyamunye Investments, says they are trying everything possible to accommodate everyone in the matter.
“It is true that I represent Moyamunye Investments as our client. Negotiations are on-going as we are still negotiating on the matter and we are trying as much as possible to accommodate everyone,” Magagula said.
He said this was despite the fact that in this particular case the occupants cannot even be protected by law.
On another note, still on the issue of illegal farm dwellers, Amnesty International noted in their report on the forced evictions that took place in Nokwane and Malkerns, that Eswatini has a complex land governance system, inextricably tied to the history and political economy of the country.
“Delays in legal and policy reform have meant that Eswatini government is yet to take the necessary steps to ensure security of tenure and protection of right to adequate housing, thus leaving hundreds of people vulnerable to forced evictions.
Efforts to draw comment from Manzini Municipal Council Public Relations Officer Mathokoza Thwala hit a snag as his mobile phone was not available on the network by the time of compiling this report yesterday.
Could history repeat itself?
In April 2018 at least 60 people, more than half of them children, were forcibly evicted and their homesteads demolished by armed police and bulldozers in a farming area in the Malkerns town.
This came after at least 180 people were forcibly evicted from Nokwane in 2014 to make way for a government-led development initiative.
Amnesty International, a global movement of more than seven million people who campaign for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all, detailed in their report in these two incidents when they arrived to assess the situation in Malkerns a week later.
“One week after the homestead demolitions of 9 April 2018, children’s shoes, school books, wires from mattresses, shattered glass and window frames were strewn about. Some of the affected families were still rummaging through the rubble, uncovering the doors to the homes they once knew,” reads an extract of the report titled ‘They do see us as people’.
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