The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has recommended that government should convert the five estates formerly owned by Press Agriculture Limited (PAL) from private to customary land and allocate it to the latter’s ex-labourers who were abandoned after the company’s closure around 2000.
The recommendation follows findings of an investigation into alleged human rights violations and establish the causes of landlessness of ex-employees of PAL after the company’s closure of operations.
Releasing the report on Friday in Lilongwe, MHRC commissioner Martha Chizuma, who is also the country’s Ombudsman, said several rights of PAL ex-workers were violated and hence government needs to do something about the victims.
“These people have been deprived of their right to property by government for failing to provide them with land for shelter and to cultivate, the state also violated the ex-workers’ right to dignity by subjecting them to abject poverty and finally the state violated their right to access social amenities,” reads the report.
According to the report, in the 1970’s PAL migrated labourers to Kasungu from various districts of the country and many of them found marriages in Kasungu and never returned home even during off season.
It further says around 1990, the company started downsizing operations necessitating disengagement with most ex-labourers but since most of them had nowhere to go, they remained on the estates.
The report says around the year 2000, PAL completely closed its operations and evicted all the ex-labourers from its estates as a result, most of them sought temporary refuge in nearby villages where they were given small plots of land only for shelter.
Millenium Information and Resource Centre executive director Rev. Flywell Somanje said the organisation is fighting for 1 080 ex-labourers situated in Mchinji and Kasungu. He said both the findings and recommendations have vindicated the victims.
“I have engaged government several times on the matter but nothing came out. Now that the government sanctioned human rights body MHRC has made these recommendations we hope something will be done imediately to free the ex-labourers,” said Somanje.
According to him, the organisation facilitated the transfer of 280 families to Rusa Estate in Mchinji while 800 families are in Kasungu.
MHRC has said it will follow up with government on the progress of the recommendation after three months of submission of the report and Chizuma confirmed that the report was already submitted.