A can of groundnuts for an acre of land!

Nyamirembe 2

When a very public conflict ends well everyone knows about it. Verediana Mayoya, in a yellow blouse, who was cheated out of seven acres of land but following a long, hard legal battle with the intervention of paralegals the land was returned to her where she now grows groundnuts and cassava. 

Verediana Mayoya, a soft-spoken woman, lives with her grown-up children near her in the far-flung village of Nyamirembi in Kibondo, Kigoma. Her husband fell ill not too long ago, and due to financial constraints, he opted to sell an acre of land he owned, so he could cover medical costs.

Unusually though, he found a willing buyer, however, instead of accepting cash for the land he took a can of groundnuts, which he intended to sell and use the money to treat his illness. His wife knew about this barter arrangement.

The groundnuts he received didn’t sell for much, unfortunately, and in the course of time his health deteriorated and he eventually passed away.

The buyer, Yona Emmanuel, began cultivating the land, but when Verediana stopped by she discovered that he had cultivated more than the acre he had bought. Her repeated efforts to stop him proved futile, and he continued to encroach upon more of her land until he had cultivated a total of 8 acres all the while claiming that, her husband had sold him the whole lot.

Her next stop was the village land tribunal, where she was told to furnish money that would enable tribunal officers to travel to the disputed plot. Three days of deliberation followed after which the tribunal declared her the rightful owner of the land. Emmanuel appealed to the ward land tribunal and amazingly the judgment was overturned.

Kibondo Paralegal Foundation (KIPAFO) provides legal aid and education in the entire district of Kibondo and seeing no way forward, other villagers who were troubled by what she was being put through directed her to KIPAFO.

Japhet Lazaro, a paralegal, remembers his first encounter with Verediana, “We decided to lodge an appeal, however, the window had elapsed and so we sought assistance from the District Commissioner (DC), who was away at the time, who advised me to write to the ward land tribunal officers and ask to meet with them formally. The officers then contacted Verediana and told her to pay for their trip to the meeting, however, they didn’t show up;

“The DC then asked me to call over the village executive, village land tribunal chair and the ward land tribunal chair; these three didn’t show up either. Upon his return the DC asked me to inform the village executive to gather everyone involved in the case including Emmanuel as he himself would be coming in person,” Lazaro recalls.

When the party convened at the village office, Emmanuel again claimed that, the 8 acres were sold to him by Verediana’s husband. She disputed the claim, and a number of people present supported pointing to the moment after her husband’s burial, when she said publicly that, he told before he passed away that, he had sold only one acre to Emmanuel.

The DC, seeing the clear scheming among the officers, proceeded to sack the village executive on the spot, and ordered him to refund Verediana in full. Additionally, he ordered the 7 acres also be returned to her ownership.

Emmanuel still unsatisfied appealed again, and at this point, clouds of doubt began to form in Verediana’s mind believing that, any hope of ever reclaiming her land was all but gone. Luck was on her side, though when KIPAFO submitted a counter-claim against the appeal and when the court in Kigoma weighed the matter found that, all along Emmanuel had used money to influence decisions.

“At this turn of events, Emmanuel came to our office and told us that, he wouldn’t pursue the matter anymore, and that he wished to settle the dispute permanently with Verediana and return the land to her. I told him to first return to her, admit his erring ways and seek an amicable end to the dispute”, says Lazaro.

Arrangements were then made to gather witnesses and put in writing a commitment never to encroach upon her land copies of which were sent to the DC and ward and village executives. This step marked the end to the protracted tug-of-war between a man with money, who twisted justice and an old woman with nothing but hope.

“I allowed Emmanuel to uproot the cassava he had planted, and since then I have grown groundnuts, corn and cassava, which I sell every season and I buy and sell shares in our women’s group here. During the dispute, I lived in a small mud hut, but I have since been able to build a bigger house, which is an improvement in my life. I’m sincerely grateful for all the help thus far,” Verediana told us.

It took a long time, money, sweat, pain and disappointments along the way but in the end Verediana’s right to property that belonged to her all along was restored, thus including her in the long roster of women, who end up smiling with confidence as a result of achieving justice and with it the chance to fend-off poverty.

The unfazed determination of paralegals and the cooperation of higher authorities coalesced around her case to help deliver justice and restore her peace of mind.

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