By Iommie Chiwalo
The Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (CDEDI) has not minced words but resolved to demand that all uncaring Estate owners must leave as they have abandoned their poor Malawian workers at a time they need them most.
In a statement released on Friday March 31 and signed by CDEDI Executive Director, Sylvester Namiwa said it is regrettable that most owners of various estates growing cash crops such as tea in the country have demonstrated that have no welfare of the people at heart.
“CDEDI hereby informs the general public that in the
event that the estate owners ignore the aforementioned demands, we will, beginning May 2023, mobilise communities to work on the affected roads and, thereafter, mount toll-gates,” reads the statement in part.
Continuing that as an alternative, estate owners not ready to commit to the demands above should
peacefully, and quietly, leave Thyolo and Mulanje districts.
Namiwa has thus far challenged estate owners, especially those affiliated to the Tea Association of Malawi (TAM) to voluntarily release idle land to allow for relocation of the landless affected families in Thyolo, Mulanje and Phalombe districts.
The CDEDI Chief has also demanded improvement of all roads in their catchment areas to gravel standard and work on bridges and culverts connecting their estates to the main roads.
He said this can be achieved by reviving corporate social responsibility initiatives such as providing potable water, constructing health facilities and providing bursaries to needy students.
Namiwa has also suggested the need to have working conditions and general welfare of the workers in the plantations improved.
“CDEDI would like to seize this opportunity to remind authorities, including the
estate owners, that the land the estates are using in Thyolo and Mulanje under freehold tenure was grabbed from the locals’ forefathers and that British colonialists inflicted pain on the locals in the early 1890s and, todate, nothing has been done to heal the same,” he said.
The observation comes against growing debate as to who actually benefits from the proceeds of the tea, tung, coffee and macadamia industry that has been in existence for over a century.
Namiwa says recent visit to the tea-growing districts of Thyolo and Mulanje has revealed that the estate owners are not moved by the plight of their workers who have been affected by effects of Tropical Cyclone Freddy, which have moved all and sundry into caring mode.
“Our findings are that it is only a handful of estate owners who have responded to effects of the devastating cyclone by doing something to mitigate the suffering of their workers. For instance, in Thyolo, it is only Nchima Estate that has provided relief items to 300 affected families surrounding the estate while Eastern Produce Malawi Limited (EPM) fixed the bridge on Msuwadzi River in Thyolo and, also, contributed K2.5 million towards for relief items to affected people in Mulanje,” he says.
Adding that it is worrisome to note that only a few players in the industry who are ready to alleviate the suffering of locals when disasters strike, while the rest, most of whom have been using cheap labour to enrich themselves and their families abroad for the past 100 years, just sit and watch the locals suffer.
“Worse still, doing all this at the expense of the locals, from whom they grabbed land,” he said.
He has highlighted that unlike in the past whereby the estates used to provide jobs and markets in time of need, presently most of them have either abandoned the core tea-growing business or those still in the business are using technologies that have replaced labour demands.
This development, according to Namiwa, has created more idle land on one hand, and dilapidated structures and destitute ultra-poor locals on the other.
“It is a mockery to think that the landless ultra-poor locals can rebuild their lives in these difficult economic times,” he said.
CDEDI has also requested Thyolo and Mulanje district commissioners to summon estate owners under their jurisdiction to an all-inclusive stakeholders’ meeting and demand from them commitment to the
People’s Land Organisation (PLO) which has also been advocating for the land to be given back to locals says the call for an all-inclusive meeting as suggested by CDEDI Executive Director, is a welcome move saying otherwise there can be a repeat of what happened in the past whereby blood was shed.
Meanwhile Namiwa has confirmed that his organisation has penned all concerned parties including Parliamentary Committee Chairperson responsible for the matter at hand, Mark Bottoman.