Tension is looming at Mwaktau area in Mwatate sub-county of Taita Taveta after thousands of families were issued with an eviction notice by the owners of Isanga Iwishi ranch on which the families have been occupying illegally for decades.
The families have until October this year to leave the land or face forceful eviction from the 15,000-acre ranch.
There has been a lengthy dispute between the ranch officials and the people living in it over the ownership. A previous dispute ended in court with the ranch officials carrying the day.
Residents claim that the disputed area was their ancestral land and they have been living there for over 30 years.
Mr. Duncan Mwalimbo, one of those threatened with eviction, said families have been living on the land for years with many family members buried in farms and no one ever protested. He stated that residents had no other home and any eviction would cause untold suffering to thousands.
“This is the only place we call home,” Mwalimbo said.
Other residents called for a review of the title deed that is allegedly held by the ranch officials with calls for an independent team to evaluate the land gaining traction daily.
Officials of the ranch however stated they are the rightful owners of the vast land with a valid title deed. Mwatate ex-MP Mr. Calista Mwatela, the official advisor to the ranch management, disclosed that the 1,940-members acquired the land in 1970.
He said that elders from the villages of Bura and Mwanda came to a consensus that each group should have its own ranch. As a result, the elders from Mwanda formed Oza ranch while those in Bura formed Isanga Iwishi.
“The formation of the ranches was a formal ceremony that had the blessings from the elders in Bura and Mwanda. Isanga Iwishi ranch has been invaded by squatters,” he said.
He stated that there have been previous attempts to resolve the matter with the squatters but they have been unwilling to explore the possible options.
The former assistant minister for education stated that Isanga Iwishi would strictly eject non-members who were an impediment to plans to develop the land.
There are claims that the county government had termed the land as public which encouraged the residents to invade the ranch enmass. Mr. Mwatela said such views were misguided as the ranch owners had total authority over the land.
The County Executive Member for Lands Mr. Mwandawiro Mghanga proposed that the ranch incorporate squatters living in the land as members to avoid massive evictions.