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Chief Chundu jerks government to address challenge of veld fires

Senator Monica Mutsvangwa, Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services

By Nhau Mangirazi

Harare – The Zimbabwe government has agreed to take punitive measures to curb veld fires after Chief Chundu raised the issue with information minister Monica Mutsvagwa who promised action to address the major challenge affecting the environment.

Chief Abel Mbasera Chundu said this during the Senate sitting under Oral Answers to Questions without Notice session last week.

‘‘There are a lot of veld fires. Some people are being arrested but the laws are not punitive. There are a lot of people who are dying and some are dying trying to put out fires. What are the Government’s plans regarding perpetrators of arson so that they get deterrent sentences and that such cases are expedited in courts because, in traditional courts, we deal with such cases but we are not seeing justice happening in the Magistrates’ courts?’’ said Chief Chundu.

He represents chiefs in Mashonaland West province.

Senator Mutsvangwa made a commitment that may make a difference in how the veld fire judgments are failing to help out the sad scenarios across the country.

She responded that the question was ‘pertinent’ for the cabinet to act.

‘‘Veld fires are now prevalent and there is loss of lives, property, wildlife, and domestic animals. In the last few weeks, we saw in Matabeleland South, the loss of lives. There was a lot of damage ranging from paddocks and we lost ten people. These are quite young people aged 20 to 50 years.

“We also noted that throughout the country, we have lost a lot of fields, some with wheat. As a country, we are proud of the wheat production and we are looking forward to having a good harvest but because of such fires, it is painful that people who perpetrate this arson are people who do so for very petty reasons like those who will be hunting for mice. As Hon. Sen. Chundu said, he is the custodian of the area. This is quite a painful issue, and our traditional leaders tell people not to start veld fires. You find old people losing their homes, and 200 hectares of wheat were destroyed by fires. So, EMA through the Environmental Management Act which was enacted by the Government and which looks at perpetrators of veld fires should ensure that they are prosecuted,” Senator Mutsvangwa said.

The Minister noted that traditional courts deal with these cases but when cases like those of arson are brought to the magistrates’ courts, they are not dealt with in a just manner, especially considering that such people would have destroyed people’s lives and property.

She said the EMA Act will have to be looked into so that it comes back to the august House to ascertain whether the law is prohibitive.

“But we need to ascertain whether the law is punitive enough so that when people have participated in arson, then they will be deterred by heavy sentences. Let me end by saying that I thank you Mr. President Sir, and I also thank Hon. Sen. Chief Chundu. I am going to engage the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Hon. Ziyambi so that the Act should be looked at. Even the Attorney General should look at the law and the law will be brought to this august House so that it is reviewed or amended,’’ Minister Mutsvangwa said.

However, Chief Chundu further asked the minister that although they are waiting for law amendments, provisional action can be taken maybe through Executive presidential powers that may deter people from participating in arson.

She agreed that the traditional leader remains concerned with the issue of arson.

‘‘Cabinet is really seized with the matter. We spoke at length concerning the issue and the suggestion will be taken up to Cabinet but we emphasize and we understand this issue,’’ said Hon Mutsvangwa in response.

Issues of veld fires are affecting the environment, and biodiversity among other social and economic challenges in the country.

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Byron Adonis Mutingwende