Hundreds of people in Eswatini are living in misery after being forcibly evicted from their homes by the government last year.
According to rights group Amnesty International, the state is also failing to appropriately amend land laws, leaving many more people at risk of further evictions and homelessness.
“Despite Amnesty International having raised the alarm over forced evictions that left hundreds of people homeless, the Eswatini government has not taken any steps to provide reparations, including alternative housing, to the victims of this human rights violation,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa.
“Many of the communities who are facing notices of eviction have stopped planning for their future and they are devastated by the prospect of finding themselves on the streets. To wilfully ignore their suffering and distress is simply unacceptable.”
Those who have been forcibly evicted and others who remain at risk of forced evictions are mainly subsistence farmers. The forced evictions not only impact their right to adequate housing but also their livelihoods, thus pushing them deeper into poverty.
Amnesty has since reiterated its call for the Eswatini government to provide reparation including adequate alternative housing to all those forcibly evicted so far, as a matter of urgency.
According to the rights group, earlier this year Eswatini authorities agreed to implement a moratorium on mass evictions until adequate legal and procedural safeguards are in place to ensure that all evictions comply with international and regional human rights standards.
“The government must publicly announce this long overdue moratorium on mass evictions. Such an announcement will go a long way in alleviating the current situation where people live in constant fear of being evicted and made homeless overnight,” said Muleya Mwananyanda.
In its 2018 report, Amnesty International revealed that many Swazis are vulnerable to forced evictions because they lack security of tenure, due to the country’s deeply flawed land governance system.
Most of the country’s land is Swazi Nation Land, held in “trust” by the King who has the power to allocate it to individuals or families through his chiefs. The remainder of the land is Title-Deed Land, owned by private entities or the government.
Amnesty International has found that at least four communities, Sigombeni, Madonsa, Mbondzela and Vuvulane, are at risk of imminent eviction from their farming land and their homes.
In Sigombeni, at least seven homesteads comprising 75 adults and 29 children are at risk of imminent eviction after the Central Farm Dwellers Tribunal ruled on 27 March 2018 that they should vacate portion 1 of Farm 246 in the Manzini region.
The farm owner does not want people to live on the farm anymore. The affected families told Amnesty International that they would lose at least 17 graves on their land if they were finally removed.
In Madonsa, more than 200 people from approximately 58 families are facing eviction from land claimed by a parastatal authority.
In Mbondzela, approximately 100 people, are at risk of being evicted from Title-deed Land. The residents have appealed to the Minister of Natural Resources and Energy who has referred the matter back to the Central Farm Dwellers Tribunal for reconsideration.
In Vuvulane, at least 16 families remain at risk of eviction.
Some positive news
However, Amnesty International has noted that there are some encouraging signs of change.
On 26 February, the High Court of Eswatini ordered the Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology to pay compensation for damages that two sisters Thoko and Lomgcibelo Dlamini suffered as a result of their eviction from ancestral homes in Nokwane.
In another case, on 9 May 2019, the Supreme Court of Appeal upheld a ruling by the High Court that the eviction of Sagila Dlamini’s family in the Malkerns, on 14 July 2017, was unlawful and that he was entitled to compensation from the private company.
In the past few years, hundreds of people have been affected by forced evictions in Eswatini. Most of the evictions were carried out in the absence of adequate notice, genuine consultation and without adequate compensation, in violation of international law.