“MY oldest child is supposed to be in Grade 7, this one is in Grade 4 and the little one in Grade 2, but they are all not going to school at the moment,” said 44-year-old Stella Murape in despair.
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She is a very troubled woman. Her home of five years — a three-bedroomed house at Arlington Farm — which is adjacent to the Harare International Airport, was demolished on January 21 following an order by President Robert Mugabe to knock down houses built along Airport Road.
Mugabe gave the order on November 25 last year while officially opening the Airport Road, arguing the settlement was an eyesore and painted a bad picture about the country. Murape’s home was destroyed a day before Mugabe returned from his month-long holiday in the Middle East.
Before the destruction, most families, including the Murapes, had been forcibly moved from the farm on December 27 and relocated to Stoneridge Park near Mbudzi People’s Market. Before leaving the farm, they were told to take out their household property from their homes before the demolitions, left it in the open exposed to the heavy rains that pounded the city end of January.
Some however resisted moving until Harare City Council bulldozers moved onto the farm and destroyed the houses a fortnight ago.
Like other occupants at the farm, Murape was a member of the Zanu PF-aligned Nyikavanhu Housing Co-operative, which had more than 1 000 members. The Co-operative was according to the government in 2010 and 2013, the lawful occupier of the land. The Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe also gave clearance for the development of the land in 2011.
Despite the co-operative’s papers being in order, the homes were still destroyed on Mugabe’s instruction. The move has however resulted in hundreds of children failing to go to school as they now lived far away from the schools they attended around Hatfield.
Murape says she is deeply worried about the welfare of her children who are supposed to be in school. She cannot afford daily busfare to and from their school in Hatfield.
She is also a worried woman after seeing most of her household property destroyed by rain as they have no proper shelter at Stoneridge.
A makeshift home made out of iron sheets is all Murape’s husband has managed to set up for the family as they cannot afford to buy building material to construct a proper house on their new 200-square metre piece of land.
The savings they had was used up transporting her household property to Stoneridge. To make matters worse her husband is a builder who gets contract jobs which are sometimes far in between.
At Arlington Farm she was a well-known vendor but now she no longer has capital to restart her business.
“My husband and I had to use our little savings for transporting our property which in any case was already damaged after being affected by the rain,” she said. “We also had to buy iron sheets for our temporary structure which you can see.”
Murape told this paper that despite the demolitions, the family remains loyal to Zanu PF.
“I did not buy the stand at Arlington Farm, I was allocated by our co-operative chairman since I was a loyal Zanu PF cadre and a card-carrying member of the party,” she said.
People moved from Arlington Farm to Stoneridge have been settled on bare land as it is a relatively new residential area with many unfinished houses. The majority have erected makeshift shelter mostly made up of ironsheets. They have no access to toilets or running water, exposing them to water borne diseases among other illnesses.
For relief, most residents are resorting to using the bush, putting them at the mercy of the typhoid outbreak which has hit the city.
Stoneridge is also close to Hopley Farm which is being closely monitored for typhoid outbreak.
Through the Harare Residents Trust, Harare’s City’s health director Prosper Chonzi has warned Hopley residents to stop buying food from vendors.
“Residents have to boil their water, no matter where they are getting the water from. Hopley is a health time bomb for us. There are no health facilities and the clinic is too small,” he said.
The Murapes and other families have to beg for drinking and cooking water from people around the area as well as Chitungwiza.
Smith Marara, a member of the Zanu PF central committee and former MP for Harare South, who was at Stoneridge when the Zimbabwe Independent visited on Tuesday, said the party had not abandoned people as it had made sure everyone whose house was destroyed got a stand.
“We are now finishing off the relocation programme here at Stoneridge so that everyone whose house was destroyed can be resettled,” he said.
Social commentator Blessing Vava believes despite the harsh treatment they received, the people were likely to remain strong party supporters.
“Zanu PF officials are always clever in hoodwinking their people by apportioning the blame to some quarters, like in this case the message going around is that it is MDC council that is destroying houses that belong to Zanu PF people,” he said. “Zanu PF has never admitted to any wrong-doing since time immemorial, the party is like a cult, its members do behave like zombis in a satanic church, they are told what to believe to the extent of believing that an owl has horns.”
Economist John Robertson said the government is responsible for the people’s plight.
“Unfortunately, the consequences are painful to the victims who fell prey to people deemed as important in the party who used their influence to allocate land without following proper channels,” said Robertson.
“When one buys land, there has to be change of ownership of the property as well as surrendering tittle deeds to the purchaser, but all that was sidelined by people who thought they are above the law.”
Robertson said the situation is sad considering that most people are victims of fraud and bad behaviour.
Government has justified the destructions saying members of the co-operative built on land meant for the expansion of the Harare International Airport.
The Harare City Council has since last year destroyed hundreds of houses built on wetlands or without council approval.