There has been considerable public violence in recent days pitting people from two neighbouring villages in Bubi District, Matabeleland North over the control of grazing land.
By Wednesday, eight men had been hospitalised in Inyathi and Bulawayo as more sporadic skirmishes were being reported in parts of the area. The belligerents are villagers from Wards 4 and 5 who had been fighting since last Thursday.
It appears to us that there is a long-standing grudge between the people from Lubanda Village in Ward 4 and their counterparts in Ntoli Village in Ward 5 over a piece of land zoned for grazing. The seizure of 186 head of cattle belonging to Lubanda villagers by those in Ntoli was, to us, only the trigger of a war that was already in the making for a long time.
We reported yesterday that at least eight were admitted to hospital, but they certainly are not the only ones to have sustained injuries in the clashes that could actually have resulted in loss of lives. The weapons that were used are indeed some of the crudest tools of war — spears, machetes, axes, knobkerries and sjamboks. These can cause serious injury, even death when used during fights.
“Villagers in ward 4, Lubanda village, are fighting those in ward five, Ntoli village over the grazing which is between the two wards. According to my office policy, the grazing land is under ward 5,” Bubi Rural District Council Chief Executive Officer Mr Patson Mlilo told Chronicle on Wednesday.
Any dispute that leads to a physical confrontation and injury as happened in Bubi over the past few days and can lead to death is a matter of great concern to us. Therefore, we denounce the violence that took place in that area. It does not solve anything really apart from just causing much physical and emotional pain on those involved. It creates a deep sense of insecurity because you cannot know who the next target would be, at what time. Your possible assailant is not clearly defined given the setting of the villages as neighbours and you cannot be sure of anything and anyone.
Instead of taking matters into their own hands, the villagers should have used peaceful ways to resolve their dispute. Those who had their cattle seized could have simply taken up the matter with their local administration —their chief or councillor — requesting him or her to reach out to the other side for them to release the cattle. We are sure those who had taken the animals were going to understand and do the right thing.
Bubi District Administrator Mr Juma Dube said Ward 5 villagers impounded the 186 head of cattle also because they had destroyed their crops. If this is true, we are confident that those who had crops destroyed could have demanded some form of compensation for that loss. This is standard procedure in rural areas especially in the wet season like now if crops are eaten by someone’s livestock.
According to the local authority, the disputed pastures fall under Ward 5. Therefore, Ntoli villagers felt that they had the right to confiscate the cattle for “straying” into their territory and grazing in their fields. While this is so, it does not mean that cattle from neighbouring wards cannot graze there as well.
We appreciate that cattle are very important, the same applies to field crops and loss of them under any circumstances can anger the despoiled. Cattle are a symbol of wealth. They are a source of draught power. They give a social status. By the same token field crops are important as well. They are food and wealth. Lubanda villagers were unhappy to have their cattle seized while on the other hand those in Ntoli were unhappy to have their crops destroyed. Both sides had cause to be aggrieved, but violence has not solved anything, only landed the eight in hospital and might land others in jail.
However, it is good that police and council officials have now stepped in to help in coming up with a peaceful solution to the dispute.
The senseless bloodletting in Bubi reminds us of an almost similar confrontation that occurred in Gwanda last year when some villagers from Matshetsheni area teamed up to assault and burn homes belonging to those they suspected to be stealing their cattle. The attackers might have had a genuine cause to be unhappy but they actually ended up worse off after they were arrested, hauled before the courts and some of them jailed for up to five years for public violence.
We hope there would be a permanent solution to the Bubi fighting, both sides realising that they are actually one people who must not fight among themselves. They must be in peaceful co-existence and be tolerant of each other.