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The Maputo Provincial Court on Thursday ruled in favour of the forestry company Milhulamete in a land dispute that has raged for the past two years, and has ordered that all structures built illegally on land granted to Milhulamete must be destroyed.
Milhulamete has the rights to 765.5 hectares of land in Marracuene district, about 30 kilometres north of Maputo, where the company was establishing a eucalyptus plantation. But in August 2016, a group of people calling themselves “natives” of Marracuene invaded the Milhulamete land.
In flagrant violation of the Mozambican constitution and land law, the invaders divided the land into plots and sold it. The sale and purchase of land is illegal, since under the constitution all property in land vests in the state.
There should have been no doubt as to the illegality of the actions taken by the self-styled “natives”, since Milhulamete has the official title (known as DUAT) to the land.
An embargo was slapped on further construction on the Milhulamete land, but a judge at the Marracuene District Court, Judite Simao, lifted the embargo, and allowed the invaders to carrying on building.
Simao’s blatantly illegal decision went before the Higher Council of the Judicial Magistracy (CSMJ), the disciplinary body for judges. In April 2017, the CSMJ expelled her from the magistracy. She was accused of holding a meeting in a Marracuene restaurant, in which she suggested to representatives of the company that they should negotiate with local neighbourhood secretaries to persuade them to change the statements they had given to the court.
The CSMJ found that she had violated her duty to act with impartiality, by giving opinions and offering informal advice to parties to the dispute. The CSMJ stressed that the behaviour of judges should never affect the trust which citizens place in the legal system and should never call their impartiality into question. But “this trust and guarantee of impartiality are seriously affected by the fact that the accused (Simao) held meetings with people linked to the case at a crucial phase in the case”, the CSMJ said.
Simao “was not serious in exercising her duties, did not bring dignity to the magistracy, and did not contribute to promoting citizens’ confidence in justice”, it added. She had “violated the essence of her profession”, and had “damaged the image of the Mozambican State, whose institutions should be at the service of citizens”.
Despite this damning indictment of Simao, there was no immediate move to reverse her decision and return the occupied land to its rightful tenant. Indeed, the “natives” simply went on parcelling out the land and selling it off. An increasing number of houses appeared on the land, some of them built to luxury standards.
So Milhulamete appealed to the Provincial Court, which had no doubt that the company’s title to the land was foolproof. Milhulamete had the DUAT and it had a land registration certificate. Representatives of the invading group in court raised no objection to either of these documents, reported the independent television station STV.
The court reaffirmed that Milhulamete had the rights to the land, and that the invaders had no rights at all to it. It ordered them to refrain from any conduct that might call into question Milhulamete’s rights, and ordered the demolition of all constructions built on Milhulamete’s land.
Initially, in 2016, the “natives” occupied about 25 per cent of the land attributed to Milhulamete, but has been expanding since. The area occupied has been cleared of trees, and turned into a residential zone. Some people have even built shops there.
An STV team visiting the area fund that outside the residential zone, eucalyptus trees have been cut down for building material or for firewood. The invaders were also demarcating more plots for sale and occupation.
When two Milhulamete security guards tried to stop them on Tuesday they were brutally beaten and threatened with death. They were rescued by the arrival of the police, and at least one of the assailants is now under arrest.
There is little hope of Milhulamete recovering its land in the near future, since the lawyer for the “natives”, Moises Mahavane, intends to appeal. He claimed that demolishing the houses violates the constitutionally enshrined right to housing – a frivolous argument, since the general right to housing does not imply that citizens are entitled to build houses wherever they like.