By Pascal Mwandambo
Mzee Mwalukware Mnjala (70) blinks involuntarily as the sunrays pierce through the open roof of his unfinished structure at Singila village in Mwatate, Taita Taveta County.
His gaze shifts momentarily to the nearby Singila Shrines where his forefathers used to pray, and sighs deeply.
“I usually dread any prospects of rains as I am forced to crouch in one corner of my house to shield myself. As you can see, the larger part of the house is incomplete and most of the roof is still open,” the old man says as he reaches out to pick an eviction notice from a sisal farm that claims the land where they have built.
Even though Mnjala is poor and ailing, that’s hardly the reason his house is incomplete.
The old man was stopped by the sisal farm’s management from completing his house accusing him of trespass. But he says he has lived there with his family all his life.
Mnjala’s plight is shared by other villagers of Singila and Majengo villages who have been at loggerheads with Teita Sisal Estate, which they accuse of extending its boundaries and taking up their ancestral land.
The 3,000 squatters of the two villages are now living in extreme poverty after the sisal farm allegedly took over their land, uprooted their crops and planted sisal.
The locals have had a standoff with the management of the sisal farm whose land area covers 108,000 acres, making it perhaps the largest sisal farm in Kenya.
However, residents claim the farm extended its boundaries and annexed 75,000 acres of their land thereby consigning them to landlessness, poverty and destitution.
The secretary of Mwasima Mbuwa Welfare Association Mr Mnjala Mwaluma says the sisal farm management has been using security and provincial administration to intimidate the squatters.
Mwaluma, says the worst in justice was meted out to the locals in 1991 when bulldozers from the sisal farm moved into Singila and Majengo villages and demolished homes as well as uprooted crops and in their place planted sisal.