President Peter Mutharika has stepped in on the contentious land dispute between communities and tea estate owners in populous Thyolo and Mulanje districts where some concerned citizens have been threatening to invade the farms.
The President’s involvement comes after an earlier intervention initiated in March 2015 by the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development to address the communities’ grievances apparently proved ineffective.
On Thursday, Mutharika summoned leaders of the Thyolo-based People’s Land Organisation (PLO) Charles Mchacha and Bon Kalindo of the Citizens for the Protection of Mulanje (CPM) to a closed-door
meeting at Sanjika Palace in Blantyre to discuss the prolonged wrangle in the districts where most of the arable land is taken up by tea estates.
The President personally convened the dialogue following media reports on the wrangles and the apprehension that has gripped commercial farmers in the two neighbouring districts.
He said besides the land issue, the meeting also touched on the welfare of people living in the two tea-growing areas as well as the damage and deforestation in Mulanje Mountain.
Kalindo, who is also Mulanje South member of Parliament (Democratic Progressive Party-DPP), said Mutharika expressed happiness with what he learnt from them on the land problems and issues of the overall welfare of the people of the two districts.
In March this year, officials from Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development brought together PLO and CPM where a report containing the two groups’ grievances was signed as a mark of government’s commitment to address their concerns.
The ministry’s principal secretary Ivy Luhanga said the report was to be presented to various government officials who would be tackling each issue in accordance with their line ministries.
PLO has been agitating for the local people’s occupation of all idle tea estates land in the districts since its establishment in 2009, and has been demanding that estate owners pay £65 (about K53 000) per acre per year for all used colonial estate land from 1914 to date.
The organisation has also been demanding from the estate owners a wage rate of £6.13 per hour (about K5 000) per individual for those involved in thangata (forced labour) between 1914 and 1963. There are10 big estates in Thyolo and Mulanje which started their farming during the colonial era.
On the other hand, CPM has been petitioning tea estate owners to allocate all idle lands, discharge social responsibility functions and improve the working conditions for their workers.
The Mulanje concerned group has also been fighting against the operations of Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT) in the district alleging the trust is involved in the destruction rather than conservation of the environment in the mountain.
In February this year, the land issue took a new twist when PLO petitioned different local and international leaders and institutions, among them Mutharika and his Zimbabwean counterpart, Robert Mugabe, in his capacity as African Union (AU) chairperson.