Police have arrested 16 leaders of the Peoples Land Organisation (PLO), a grouping of community members from Thyolo District advocating for land redistribution especially tea estates.
Earlier today, about 300 community members carrying hoes, pots and beddings gathered at Conforzi Tea Estate ready to get back their share of the land which they claim was grabbed from their forefathers by the tea estate owners.
In April this year, Vincent Wandale president of PLO, declared Thyolo and Mulanje an independent state calling it the ‘United States of Mulanje and Thyolo’. He gave government up to September 1 2016 to resolve the land or they will start the redistribution exercise themselves.
Police failed to convince the leaders to control their followers. Later the police asked the leaders to accompany them to the District Commissioner’s office for further negotiations.
But instead the PLO members, excluding leader and founder Wandale who never showed up at the land redistribution, were taken to Chilomoni Police Unit in Blantyre.
The 16 include PLO’s vice president, ten women and six men.
To disperse the gathering, police fired teargas and in retaliation community members set fire on the estate.
Most of the people who came for land redistribution came from the areas of Senior Chiefs Ngolongoliwa, Chimaliro, Inkosi Bvumbwe. They vowed to continue with the exercise in all estates of the districts.
“We are suffering as if this is not our country. All we want is our ancestral land to be given back to us. We are suffering with hunger because we do not have a land to cultivate. We are ready to die for this,” said Beatrice Munanala one of the villagers.
“We will sleep here. We will not bow down to any intimidation and we will wait for feedback from our leaders whom they have taken to a place we don’t know. We pray that they do not harm them because if they dare they will surely face our wrath,” said Simeon Black from Chibwana village.
Southern region deputy police spokesperson Beatrice Mukiwa confirmed the arrest of the 16 saying they have not yet been charged but investigations are still going on.
Speaking in a telephone interview, Wandale said he and all the members are waiting for the outcome from the police.
“This issue started long time ago, we engaged all relevant authorities including the president, we gave them a notice but they did not act, if they have issues let them take us to court, our lawyer Jai Banda is ready for them. It is not like we are just doing things out of ignorance, we know our rights, why are they treating us like criminals?” said Wandale.
Asked where he is getting the mandate to do all this, Wandale said he is getting the mandate from the people.
Land wrangles between estate owners and indigenous people from the two districts started in 2009. Currently PLO has 14980 members while CPM has 21 980 members.