Tempers are rising between tea estate owners and community members over land ownership issues.
Community members— led by such organisations as People’s Land Organisation, Concerned Landless Citizens of Thyolo and Mulanje and Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives— accuse plantation owners of having huge pieces of land, some of which has been staying idle.
Tea estate owners, on the other hand, have been faulting community members for encroaching into their land.
Ironically, the two parties have been writing Lands Minister Kezzie Msukwa, asking him to intervene in the issue. Msukwa toured Thyolo District over the weekend as one way of appreciating the extent of the problem at hand.
Speaking during the meeting with Msukwa, Harry Mikuwa of Concerned Landless Citizens of Thyolo and Mulanje said it was “unfortunate” that community members were being pushed into a corner by tea estate owners.
“Land is the source of everything. You cannot have a house. You cannot grow anything if you don’t have a piece of land. This land belonged to our ancestors yet they cannot share with us even portions they are not using,” he said.
Msukwa later had a roundtable with Tea Association (TA) leaders at Thyolo Sports Club.
Speaking during the meeting, TA Chairperson Sangwani Hara said encroachment was one of the challenges affecting their operations.
He said community members had encroached into 15 hectares of land in Makande Estate, adding that the same had happened to Camforzi Estate.
He also said most of the people claiming to be landless were businesspeople who encroach into a piece of land for a year and then sell the it to others.
“There are legal processes that are followed for you to own land. You can’t just own a piece of land and you can’t just come after 100 years and claim that your ancestors were there. They can’t even prove their ancestors were there. As far as I know, the families that were originally here moved to some other places in Mwanza and Balaka. These are the people who later came to work in the estates and are retiring,” he said.
Asked by the minister if they indeed have land they are not using, Hara asked for more time to check with TA members.
Speaking after the two meetings, Msukwa conceded that the estate owners had legal entitlement to the land in question.
He, however, said there was a need for the two sides, led by the government, to find an amicable solution to the problem.
“It is very important that the locals here have enough land for themselves but, in doing so, we will have to follow the laws of the land. The estate owners have legal title to the land so you can’t just repossess it.
“We, as the government, should be in the forefront when it comes to following the rule of law and we can solve the problem within the confines of the law,” Msukwa said.
On October 21 last year, President Lazarus Chakwera called for a review of land-related laws in response to rising cases of wrangles in the country.