The forced eviction of 61 people last year, including 33 children, from a farming area in Eswatini had left in its wake poverty-stricken families struggling to survive, said Amnesty International on Monday.
The human rights organisation made the statement in an emailed press release following visits with the affected families.
“On 9 April 2018, Eswatini authorities deployed armed police and bulldozers to demolish four homesteads in the Emphetseni farming area in the Malkerns town. Everyone lost their homes following the demolitions. Many of those evicted have lost their livelihoods as well as access to the graves of their loved ones,” said the statement.
The forced evictions had destroyed people’s futures including those of children, whose education had been interrupted, said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s regional director for southern Africa.
“The affected families have been thrown into a cycle of poverty that they may never escape. They did not only lose their homes and livelihoods, but deep cultural connections with the land that they have known as their home for over six decades,” said Muchena.
Residents told Amnesty International that one year since the evictions, they had been relegated to “a life of misery”. Many of the families are women-headed households who were subsistence farmers.
One woman told Amnesty International: “There’s a big difference [now]. In our land we used to plough [and grow our own food], now everything costs money.”
Another affected man said: “Before, we could eat as much as we want[ed]. Now, cabbage costs $1.41 USD in supermarkets.”
Those who found places to stay had to find money to pay rent, an additional burden that had left them with no money to pay for their children’s school fees, said the statement.
Some of the children among the evicted had experienced significant distress after they witnessed the destruction of their family homes.
“The children are not learning very well. We used to plan for school fees, it’s difficult to plan now,” said one parent about not having sufficient funds to pay school fees.
Amnesty International said it was calling for reparation and compensation for the affected families, including access to adequate housing, water, sanitation, education, and health care services. Children affected by the forced evictions should also be assisted with psychosocial support, it added.
The organisation is also calling for a nationwide moratorium on mass evictions until adequate legal and procedural safeguards are in place to ensure that all evictions comply with domestic and international human rights standards.
“The people of Eswatini live at the mercy of the authorities and other title deed landowners. Due to the country’s flawed land tenure system, many of them are vulnerable to forced evictions and homelessness,” said Muchena. “The Eswatini authorities must guarantee people the security of tenure and put an end to forced evictions.”
– African News Agency