Tensions over a potential loss of land and source of living are boiling at Senga Bay in Salima, with people of Nguwo Fishing Village mobilising pangas, bows and arrows to fight against eviction.
Weekend Nation has learnt that the villagers are protesting the eviction after an investor, Silrage Sultan, bought their land along Lake Malawi.
The investor says he wants to build a five-star hotel on the land in partnership with two South African and Zambian firms.
But families at the village are refusing to leave, saying vacating the land is the same as dying because it would ruin lives of over 18 000 people who directly and indirectly benefit from fishing activities there.
â€œWe are ready to die on this land. Let anybody or police come to evict us. We are not going anywhere because this place is our only source of livelihood. Let police come and kill us right here,â€ said chairperson of the villageâ€™s committee Ibrahim Kachinga on Tuesday.
Another member of the committee, Harry Symon said: â€œPeople here are angry and arming themselves with pangas, bows and arrows to fight anybody who comes to evict us. They say whoever dare to enter this village to evict us will not go back alive.â€
Weekend Nationâ€™s visit to the village on Tuesday found most women, men and youth in the state of readiness to fight against the eviction as most of them shouted: â€œWe cannot be treated like foreigners. This is our land.â€
So far, everything is going on well for the investors after the High Court in May 2012 backed them and ruled that the people of Senga Bay be removed even though there is no clear resettlement plan from both government and the investor.
Two weeks ago, the fishers got an eviction notice to leave the land by October 17 2012, but they have not moved.
Weekend Nation has learnt that assuming fish caught using all the 60 boats from the village sell at the highest price, the fishers alone would rake in about K10 million in a day taking into account different boat sizes and varied fish selling prices.
Village Group Head Mdalamkwanda on Tuesday said he feared the five-star hotel would not employ any of his subjects as they are not skilled in hotel business.
â€œYou can see that removing us from this village is more than just killing the fisher. Itâ€™s killing the whole village. Thatâ€™s why everybody here, including me, is ready to die for this land,â€ said VGH Mdalamkwanda.
A businessperson in the village, Akisa Kanyaso, who has eight children and also looks after six orphans from her four late sisters, said: â€œI have been in fish business since 1984. I have built a four-bedroom self-contained house and I am paying schools fees for all my children and orphans from this business.â€
The May 10 2012 High Court rulingâ€”which VGH Mdalamkwanda and Kachinga say they received around September 24â€”reads that Sultan bought the land from VGH Mdalamkwanda in 2000 and paid K200 000 part payment to the chief.
â€œThe plaintiff [Sultan] agreed to buy the land and he paid K200 000 in part paymentâ€¦ GVH Mdalamkwanda gave him a go ahead to develop the land. The GVH introduced him [Sultan] to the Traditional Authority (T/A) Maganga of the area.
â€œThereafter, the processing of title deeds began. The T/A signed her part as did the GVH [Mdalamkwanda] before he signed the appropriate form,â€ reads the court order.
Mdalamkwanda said he only took Sultan to T/A Maganga because he had no land to sell him.
In an interview on Wednesday, Sultan contradicted the High Court record, saying he did not buy the land from GVH Mdalamkwanda, but was only allocated the same for free by the chief.
â€œYou donâ€™t buy customary land. I was only allocated the land and gave K200 000 token of appreciation to GVH Mdalamkwanda. I followed all the procedures and got the lease agreement from Ministry of Lands,â€ said Sultan.
In an interview at her home, T/A Maganga also denied selling the land to Sultan and receiving any money for the same.
â€œI didnâ€™t get any money for the land. Itâ€™s GVH Mdalamkwanda who brought Sultan to me. I only endorsed sale of the land documents in the presence of GVH Mdalamkwanda and Sultan who both signed the same documents.
â€œI wish the villagers were not evicted from the land because they are going to suffer, but the matter is now beyond my jurisdiction as it has been in the hands of the court,â€ said T/A Maganga.
Asked why he did not resist sale of the land at the time she was signing the sale agreement, T/A Maganga said she queried GVH Mdalamkwanda on what he thought about the livelihood of his subjects.
â€œI was concerned, but Mdalamkwanda told me the people would be relocated to another place along the lake,â€ said T/A Maganga, adding she neither threatened to dethrone Mdalamkwanda nor asked him to pay any fine on the matter.
Principal secretary for Lands, Housing and Urban Development Ivy Luhanga referred the issue to Salima District Council, saying the local authority was better placed to comment on how the land was exchanged and any resettlement arrangements for the fishing village.
No resettlement plan
Salimaâ€™s director of administration Redgson Mkolombwe said there is no resettlement plan for the villagers, saying the investor is responsible for such resettlement arrangement and not government.
â€œIt is not reasonable to chase the villagers from that place because they are earning a living from the land, but the matter went to court and the villagers lost. At the moment, we donâ€™t have a better plan. The villagers have said they are ready to fight back. It is a delicate situation,â€ said Mkolombwe.