By Kudakwashe Vhenge.
One of the continent‘s biggest green fuel (bio-diesel )project estimated to create over 4500 jobs bringing relief to the poverty stricken Checheche district in Manicaland province turned out to be a nightmare as villagers now lament that their livelihood that has been destroyed ever since the inception of the project.
Owned by Zimbabwean business mogul Billy Rautenbach, in conjunction with Agricultural Rural Development Authority (ARDA) and two other investors, the Chipinge Green Fuel Plant occupies an estimated 9 400 hectares of land to grow sugar cane, feeding the ethanol plant.
The villagers allege that with the rural development authority’s collaboration, the company was allowed to overstep the land granted to it by the parastatal and encroach on what was communal property.
Peasant farmers have now been left without farming land.
One Tichaona Togarasei (not real name) criticized the initiative which he said has brought misery upon villagers who have lost tracks of land which they were using for subsistence farming.
In return the villagers got menial jobs that are only accessible to a handfew.
“Since the government is involved in this project, our land was forcibly taken from us without any consultation. The government began to send soldiers and the police to beat up people into submission when ever we exhibited signs of disgruntlement and that has affected our relations with the local policemen,” he said.
A visit by this publication to the Manicaland Province revealed that farming land that belonged to the locals was taken away and farmers had their crops cleared off living them in dire need of food aid.
They have since sold most of their livestock as they no longer have adequate grazing pastures and this has further crippled their livelihood.
Local residents are demanding co-existence between the company and the communities by accommodating locals villegers within the company’s economic space as there are very few of them employed at the plant.
Most of the company employees are said to be of the Zezuru tribe, mainly from Mashonaland Provinces while only a hand few lucky locals from the surrounding areas are afforded the rare job opportunity.
Green Fuel spokesperson, Nicole Rautenbach was not available for comment by the time of publishing.
Platform for Youth Development Trust (PYDT) director, Claris Madhuku raised concern about the environmental hazards that have been brought about by the operations of the Green Fuel Plant from its inception that is killing their livestock and putting the health of the local citizens at risk.
“This company produces a lot of toxins which destroys our environment. When it begin operating a few years ago, the company used to produce toxins that flew into a small river tributary to Save and a lot of fish and people’s livestock died but nothing was done about it,” he said.
Local MP Enoch Porusingazi, of the ruling Zanu-PF party is on record to have promised the villagers that he will raise the matter to the higher offices and promised the issues will be dealt with amicably.
In a report earlier last year, Parliament’s Indigenization and Empowerment Portfolio Committee recommended that the long-running conflict should be resolved through engagement and consultation.