Armed police on Friday demolished Chipakuza Village in Chikhwawa because the villagers are believed to have illegally settled on Illovo Sugar (Malawi) Limited land.
Houses and structures belonging to 61 households were demolished, leaving the poor villagers homeless.
In an interview this week, village head Chipakuza said armed police raided the village on Friday and destroyed all houses and other structures.
“My people are homeless. They have nowhere to go. They are still there but without any structure to hide in. Our animals have fled into the bush. We are sleeping on open space,” said Kapakuza.
But the villagers have found solace in Paramount Chief Lundu, who has challenged Illovo to leave the people alone because the demolished village is outside the company’s area, according to a 1974 map.
“That land is outside their territory. The people were moved away from another area which belonged to the company and compensation was paid. But to move them from this other land they have settled on is stealing their land,” said Lundu on Tuesday.
Illovo spokesperson Irene Phalula on Thursday said Illovo owns the land in question under leasehold title deed number 44495 SD number 5912, Deed Plan number 544/74.
She said Illovo paid compensation to the encroachers because it treasures good working relationships with its surrounding communities. She said the compensation was not given as purchase of the land because the land belongs to Illovo by law.
“Unfortunately, even after the good gesture by the company [of paying out compensation to the encroachers], the people did not move. There have been numerous discussions with the people and relevant authorities, but still they refused to move.
“Illovo sought court intervention and the people were ordered by the court to vacate the land, but they did not comply. The court issued a writ of possession by which the Sheriff would repossess the property on Illovo’s behalf. Only a few families moved,” Phalula said.
Chikhwawa district commissioner Felix Mkandawire said legally the land belongs to Illovo because due process of the law was followed. He said it was not Illovo that evicted the people, but government through sheriffs because diplomacy failed.
“I do not know the map the chief showed you,” said Mkandawire.