Business was disrupted yesterday at Raiply Malawi and Viphya Plantations when members of Timber Millers Union staged a demonstration protesting against what they called ill-treatment of the millers and demanding back 2,000 hectares of trees from Raiply Malawi.
A convoy of 22 vehicles was on the march from Chikangawa Trading Centre to Raiply. The members did not carry any document of their concerns which they were earlier advised to present to the Viphya Plantations Manager, Custom Nyirenda.
The members, who hired hundreds of youth doing piece work in the forest, were volatile when approaching Raiply company main gate which was heavily guarded by police.
The members who blocked the M1 Road and burnt tyres also started stoning the police, a development that led Police in Mzimba to deploy over 20 other officers to beef up security.
Police officers managed to remove burning tyres from the road. The members then marched to Chikangawa Forest Offices under the escort of heavy armed police while singing songs against Raiply boss Thomas Oomen.
Speaking in an interview with The Daily Timess, Timber Millers Union Chairperson Paul Nthambazale alleged that Raiply stole 2,000 hectares of blue gum trees from the union’s concession area and that the company was refusing to pay back.
Mthambazale also spoke against the engagement of Malawi Defence Force soldiers in the forest. He claimed that the Raiply boss was behind the engagement of the soldiers.
“We do not know why the government is allowing its citizens to be mistreated by foreigners. Thomas took our land and he never gave us back. Government seems to support him. It was our land and he was supposed to give us so that we harvest the trees. When we go there, soldiers beat workers up. Some soldiers forced our workers to eat Kamvweche (Tanzania fish) just as one way of ill-treating them. What is wrong with us to reclaim our land?” questioned Nthambazale.
He also complained that when soldiers confiscate their products, they do not label them for identification and above all the products are taken to Raiply offices instead of the Department of Forestry.
Plantation Manager Nyirenda said the union has never presented their grievances to his office and therefore government cannot act on them. Nyirenda also said some of their problems relate to the issues that are already in court and nothing can be done.
On Raiply stealing 2,000 hectares, Nyirenda said government was yet to engage both parties because the matter relates to boundaries. He then said the union did not show interest to start the exercise of marking out the boundaries as proposed. The members then presented their concerns to Nyirenda verbally.
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