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At least 124 members of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association were yesterday found guilty by Chiredzi magistrate Mr Honest Musiyiwa for illegally occupying sugar plantations in the Lowveld.

Their court appearance follows the occupation of sugarcane plantations at Hippo Valley and Triangle estates by more than 600 villagers, including war veterans on Monday demanding that Government allocates them the land.

The disturbances saw about 186 people being arrested. Those arrested appeared in batches at Chiredzi Magistrates’ Court charged for violating the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, for allegedly “entering any land knowing that or realising that such entry is forbidden”.

Mr Musiyiwa fined them US$25 each, payable before June 9 this year failing which they would be jailed for 10 days.

Prosecutor Mr Liberty Hove submitted that between May 15 and May 16, 61 people occupied Section 19 of Hippo Valley Estates.

Stella Masori and 48 others allegedly went to Section 65 in Triangle on May 16 and settled themselves illegally. The rest of the other arrested persons are expected to appear in court today.

Mr Hove released 17-year-old schoolboy Thinkwell Mashamba without charge.

The teenager is alleged to have participated in the land occupation in place of his parents who work in South Africa .

The accused were represented by lawyer Mr Wellington Muzenda, who argued that his clients were reacting to delays in offering them land as promised hence they deserved a lesser sentence.

Meanwhile, Zanu-PF’s Masvingo provincial leadership has condemned the invasion of sugar plantations by a group of villagers and suspected war veterans and urged members to respect the party principles.

In a telephone interview yesterday the provincial chairperson, Cde Callistas Gwanetsa expressed concern over the invasion of the sugarcane plantations and urged people to wait for Government to allocate them land.

“I abide by what the Minister of Lands and Rural Settlement Dr Douglas Mombeshora has said on the matter and we should not allow land invasion at this juncture. Things should be done properly,” said Cde Gwanetsa.

He said no one is above the law and arrested persons must not expect preferential treatment.

“The issue of land reform is not an event but a process. Those who were given offer letters will obviously benefit in due course. What is needed is that people should wait for the finalisation of a policy on plantations and they have to be patient,” he said.

Contacted for comment, the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Sugarcane Farmers’ Development Association, Mr Edmore Veterai, said he was not aware of the disturbances in the Lowveld as he was out of the country.

Source : The Herald