Friday, May 11, 2012

More land-grab in Malawi

The construction of an inland port at Nsanje meant linking land-locked Malawi with the Indian Ocean port of Chinde, 238 kilometres away in neighbouring Mozambique, through the Shire-Zambezi Waterway project. The aim was to reduce the high costs of importing and exporting goods by road via Malawi’s commercial capital, Blantyre and the Mozambican port city of Beria - a round trip of about 1,200 kilometres.

“There’s no evidence that Nsanje will ever be a big port city,”
said Nsanje resident Rose Samuel  . “We’ve heard that down the river it’s so narrow that a ship can’t pass, so we don’t think [the port] will be in use anytime soon.” Samuel has more reason to be bitter than most. Her family was among about 300 that used to farm land now occupied by the port. “Those families affected had to uproot maize that was already planted,” said Samuel. “Some were old people who left crying - that was their only source of income.” Samuel’s family received a mere 5,000 kwacha (US$20) for one hectare of ancestral land, for which they had no title deeds. Her family now survive by doing piece-work and renting a small plot of land to grow food. Many others have yet to receive anything. “People are worried that if they can grab land without paying, what will stop them removing more people from the area.”

Townspeople have been told by the Traditional Authority not to build any new houses because the land has been earmarked for development, and Nsanje’s District Commissioner, Rodney Simwaka, told IRIN that his office has received 4,000 applications for land from developers who are banking on the port eventually becoming operational. Village headman Black Richman Khembo told IRIN, “Lots of land has been bought by rich people hoping to make money. So far they are letting people remain on the land, but someday they will probably kick them off.”

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