The Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development has said it has no plans to stop communities in Machinjiri Township in Blantyre and its surrounding areas from using the land located between Chiradzulu Turn-off and Mapanga Factory.
In an interview yesterday, ministry spokesperson Charles Vintulla said the communities can continue using the land for now but was quick to point out that the land still belongs to the ministry.
On Wednesday, communities and traditional leaders in the area claimed the ministry had ordered people using the land to vacate by next month, a development that prompted an emergency meeting in Machinjiri Township which was attended by over 300 people from 17 villages.
At the meeting, both traditional leaders and villagers agreed not to allow anyone to grab the land, estimated to be about 4 000 hectares and benefiting about 12 households. They vowed to deal with any government official who tries to tamper with the land.
But Vintulla said government allowed communities to temporarily use the land for farming.
“Mapanga land opposite the factory is public land, and was not allocated to any developer. However, government allowed locals from surrounding areas like Machinjiri to be using the land temporarily for their gardening or small-scale farming. But people continue using the land for years and assume ownership over time, which is wrong.
“So, the ministry is currently looking at the best way forward regarding the said land. In the meantime, the status quo remains and people can still be using it just for their farming.”
In his speech during the Wednesday meeting, village head Sones Chitsonga, who once served as Cabinet minister at large in Kamuzu Banda’s era, said the land is theirs and there is no justification for government to grab it.
Asked how they obtained the land, Chitsonga narrated: “Mapanga Estate was previously owned by Sabantin, an Italian before James Nikon bought the estate in the early 1940s. During that time, people from Nanthoka and Mkunule villages were cultivating that land on Thangata system until when we obtained independence in 1964.
“Government then embarked on a programme that all estate owners who have idle land should surrender to government to buy. Government bought this land, gave it to the DC [district commissioner] to distribute to people around Nanthoka, Mkunule and other villages. In 1982/83, the DC, through the village heads, distributed the land to people of these villages freely as citizens of the country.”
Councillor for Mapanga Ward in Blantyre City East, Songwe Kabaghe, said he has written the Blantyre District Council office to intervene on the matter.
He said communities agreed to hold demonstrations on Friday (today) from Machinjiri to the DC’s office in Blantyre. n