Eswatini: Forced evictions expose flawed land laws as hundreds face homelessness

The Eswatini government must halt forced evictions which have left hundreds of people homeless and pushed them deeper into poverty, Amnesty International said in a new report today.

These forced evictions expose the harsh reality of land tenure for ordinary Swazi people
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Regional Director for Southern Africa

They don’t see us as people: security of tenure and forced evictions in Eswatini details forced evictions in two areas of the country that resulted in more than 200 people, most of them subsistence farmers, being made homeless and without access to land where they could continue farming.

Although the evictions involved a long legal process, they were carried out in the absence of adequate notice, genuine consultation and without adequate compensation, in violation of international law. Amnesty International is also aware of at least 300 more people facing imminent eviction from land they depend on for farming, food and their livelihoods.

The report also reveals the devastating impact of the country’s land governance system. Since most of the land is held by the King in “trust” for the Swazi nation, and others living on title-deed land without formal recognition, Swazi people do not enjoy any degree of security of tenure - making them vulnerable to forced evictions.

Eswatini's land governance system is deeply flawed as it denies ordinary Swazis the most basic commodity and dignity
Deprose Muchena

“These forced evictions expose the harsh reality of land tenure for ordinary Swazi people. The country’s land governance system is deeply flawed as it denies ordinary Swazis the most basic commodity and dignity,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southern Africa.

“The country’s laws are meant to offer people protection but, in truth, they are creating increasing misery for ordinary Swazis. Forced evictions are driving people into more poverty. Those living under constant threat of imminent eviction experience anxiety and fear. The kingdom’s land laws have failed the people.”

As part of its research, Amnesty International interviewed a diverse range of people, including politicians, human rights activists, lawyers and 80 people affected by forced evictions or under threat of eviction.

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.

Recipients of Swazi Nation Land must pay allegiance to their chief, usually in the form of labour, in exchange for their land. However, there is no formal legal security of tenure and no uniform official written records of these allocations. Chiefs have the power to dispossess people of the land allocated to them.

A Member of Parliament admitted to Amnesty International that laws governing land in Eswatini are failing the people. He said: “There’s never a year without evictions… The law on land is weak against the victim, they are at the mercy of the land owner.”

Forced evictions have disastrous consequences for families in predominantly rural Eswatini who have, for generations, depended on the land to grow crops to feed their children or raise some extra income to pay for healthcare, school fees and other basics.

Forced evictions

Eswatini has a long history of forced evictions which have rendered many homeless over the years. In one of the two latest incidents which the organization documents, 61 people, including more than 30 children, were left homeless after their homes were demolished by armed police and bulldozers in the farming area of Embetseni in Malkerns town on 9 April 2018.

People have also been evicted from Swazi Nation Land in Nokwane, some 15km east of Manzini.

Once known for its pineapple plantations, Nokwane is today home to the recently inaugurated Royal Science and Technology Park, a project led by the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology (MICT) and spanning 159 hectares.

Between September and October 2014, residents from at least 20 homesteads consisting of over 100 people were forcibly evicted to make way for the Taiwanese-funded MICT project, which is part of King Mswati’s economic growth strategy Vision 2022.

Both cases documented by Amnesty International involve disputes about the tenure status of those evicted. However, according to international human rights standards, everyone has a right to be protected from forced evictions regardless of whether they own or occupy the land or house. The government of Eswatini is also required to ensure that no one is rendered homeless as a result of an eviction.

The government and elites cannot continue to keep thousands of hectares of land while the vast majority of Swazi people remain in limbo with no guaranteed security of tenure in their own motherland

“The government and elites cannot continue to keep thousands of hectares of land while the vast majority of Swazi people remain in limbo with no guaranteed security of tenure in their own motherland,” said Deprose Muchena.

Amnesty International is now calling for the Swazi government to declare a nationwide 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.

Background

The report is based on forced evictions that have been carried out in Nokwane and Malkerns in the Manzini region. Amnesty International visited the country three times, starting in March 2017, during its investigation, with the last mission in April 2018.

A forced eviction is the removal of people against their will from their homes or land they occupy without legal protections and other safeguards. Forced evictions have direct implications on people’s human rights, including the right to housing, water, sanitation and food, as well as their access to livelihoods and necessities of daily life.

Under international human rights law, evictions may only be carried out as a last resort, once all other feasible alternatives to eviction have been explored and appropriate procedural protections, including consultations with the affected people, are in place.