The area under discussion is Bwanje North Constituency in Ntcheu from Chipindu running eastwards and westwards past Golomoti Trading Centre in Dedza and extending to and including the Monkey Bay Road and going up the shores of Lake Malawi near Leza. Eastwards, the area extends to Chipinga Village, Mafua, Chief Namkumba area in Mangochi and runs up to Malembo.
The Nantipwili area is after Chigumula in Bvumbwe, Thyolo.
In this article I intend to discuss more the Bwanje matter as it is much larger and involves four parties and the issues at stake could serve as examples for other similar situations in Malawi if they are sorted out amicably and satisfactorily.
There are more areas in which wrangles over land exist, but some issues are more pronounced and deserve special attention. The local media has written on both the Nantipwili issue in Blantyre and also the Bwanje issue and have stated that over 500 families are homeless. Reliable sources though put the figure at over 1 000 families. The Ngabu issue has not been reported at all, maybe because there is no contest from other parties as it is only one company that is in the process of acquiring land, the same party that is involved in the Bwanje wrangle. A colleague of mine, a senior land surveyor had his house earmarked for acquisition and fortunately, his knowledge of the land law saved his home and his agricultural fields, but others had their land acquired.
Of course, the process of acquisition is voluntary, but money entices poor farmers and villagers to sell. The wrangle in Bwanje involves two companies which I shall not name for fear of litigation, chiefs and their own subjects. The Nantipwili one involves a private individual, government but also citizens of Malawi. This last matter is in court and as such I shall not comment further for fear of being in contempt of court.
The land in Bwanje is a combination of customary land and leasehold land. The lease was in favour of a company and the customary land is held in trust for the people of Malawi by the Head of State and chiefs are mere custodians. The land in Nantipwili, Thyolo is held in freehold in favour of the company under receivership. The land in Ngabu is also customary. In Bwanje and Ngabu, the chiefs are being blamed for having originated the deals on the land and having benefited from the deals themselves and generally having acted in a corrupt manner such that in the Bwanje area, the district commissioner was angry and he blames the chiefs for rendering their own people homeless.
What is happening is that the chiefs are conniving with developers who are buying the land from the people and then the developer takes over the land and plant crops on it. At the moment, they are growing cotton and the other company is mainly rearing chickens on a large scale. The area involved is so large already that it involves land from about three kilometres from Kasinje all the way to Golomoti on the Lakeshore Road and eastwards to Monkey Bay but going northwards towards Leza on the shores of Lake Malawi.
One might say this will develop the area. After all, these developers are employing local youths and are paying handsome compensation for the land and the chiefs are benefitting a lot. However, the big question is, where will all these people farm next season and in the future?
What about the chiefs? Will they be brought before our justice system or that is water under the bridge? Has the district commissioner, who I know to be a very capable young man, the authority he requires to put the situation under control? Is the paramount chief going to do something? More importantly, what is the status of our land laws. Do the existing land laws protect the people in any way. Is the land taken being surveyed professionally to determine the size and therefore, the amount of compensation?
The demerits and merits of this activity need to be studied by the relevant authorities and guidelines ought to be issued which those concerned ought to follow. I am not saying that acquisition of land is bad, but that laid-down procedures and national laws should be followed. Development is good, but it should not be allowed to the disadvantage of the population.
My recommendation is that all those who acted improperly must face the law and that more thinking ought to be employed on the future of those involved. Again, the correct authorities should get involved at the earliest moment to put the situation under control.
The author is a land economy surveyor registered with the Malawi Government, an economist and a chartered valuation surveyor.