Government has stopped the sale of 1048 hectares in Rumphi at K1.5 billion following claims from communities that the land was snatched from them without any compensation.
The communities claim that they are struggling to survive since they have little land to cultivate on.
During a meeting with stakeholders on Friday in Rumphi, Minister of Lands Kezzie Msukwa admitted that the land is privately owned, but said his office was seeking an opinion from the Attorney General on how to proceed on the matter.
He said there was need to check how the land was transferred from public to private ownership.
Msukwa said: “But also as an agriculture land, we need to see how it got the 99 years lease when we know that such land can only be leased for a maximum of 50 years and, usually, we give about 25 years.
“We also need to put in all the factors that the communities have put in to see how best we can solve the situation, for both the interest of the people and investors.
“In the current sale, they followed the legal processes. However, I have withheld consent to transfer the ownership until these issues are sorted out.”
On the demand that the matter should be resolved by June this year, the minister said the issue at hand was complex.
Speaking during the meeting, a representative of the communities, Jaih Kanyondo said over 5 000 families have been displaced and lack land for settlement and cultivation.
He said: “People never knew that the land had been sold. Last year, we saw a circular that the land was being sold, and it raised eyebrows.
“We expect that by June this year, this matter should be sorted out so that people can farm during the next growing season. Even if they sold the land, nobody was compensated.”
Sub-Traditional Authority Kawazamawe said government’s quest to make people food-secure will be meaningless if people do not have land.
“What our people want is to have land to settle and cultivate. We have suffered long enough and we are hopeful that the Tonse Alliance government, which people fought for, will pay back by giving them their land,” the chief said.
The land, which has been occupied by five companies since government sold it in 1977, currently belongs to Africa Invest Malawi Limited and is registered under deed number 81955. The company wants to sell it to Tropha at K1.5 billion.
Controversy arose on December 11 2020 when the company published in the local press that it’s intention was to sell the land to some foreign nationals, prompting communities to petition government on the same.
Records show that in 1971, the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources (as it was called at the time) acquired Nkhozo Estate as per General Notice 383 of 1971 registered as deed number 38224.
A notice from government shows that at the time of acquisition, an agreement was reached and that five families, four belonging to the Gondwes, would continue farming on the land.
In 1977, Spearhead Holdings (Enterprises) Limited took over the management of Nkhozo Estate under the directive of the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, but the relationship with locals became sour and later they demanded compensation to completely leave the scheme.
In 1987, the estate was assigned to Kawalazi Estates Company at a consideration of K660 000 registered at the Deeds Registry as deed number 59509. Later in 1996, the estate was assigned to Impala Farming Company Limited at a consideration of K1.8 million.
“In 2000, the estate was assigned to Nkhozo Investments Limited at a consideration of $200 000. The assignment was registered as deed number 77429. In 2007, the estate was assigned to Africa Invest Malawi Limited at a consideration of 400 000 pounds. The assignment was registered as deed number 81955,” reads the notice.
Meanwhile, Africa Invest Malawi Limited director and legal manager Innocent Mphote said government is yet to communicate on its decision to withhold consent.
Africa Invest Limited bought the land on October 5 2007.