HomeLocal NewsThe arrest of land barons ‘mere window dressing’

The arrest of land barons ‘mere window dressing’

BLANKETS, clothes, pots, cups, buckets and other household items lie scattered on the dusty ground, evidence that recently some people called this place, in Budiriro 4 high-density suburb, home.

Wongai Zhangazha

There is debris — mainly building materials — strewn everywhere, as if the area has been hit by a localised earthquake.

However, this was no natural disaster, but a Harare City Council exercise to demolish “illegal structures” in the suburb, and elsewhere in the city where such structures continue mushrooming.

Budiriro demolitions
Budiriro demolitions

In this particular case, the city fathers, after plenty of threats not matched by any action, bulldozed illegal structures in areas such as Warren Park built on wetlands.

With a baby strapped on her back, a middle-aged woman retrieved a broken window frame from the debris as she tried to salvage what she could from the wreckage of her house.

A thick air of despondency envelopes the settlement as men and women count their costs. Some dejected owners strolled around while others sat hopelessly as they pondered their next move. Young children, who constitute a large fraction of the evictees, appear traumatised after enduring several nights sleeping out in the cold.

“I don’t have anywhere to go,” says Nyasha Mugoni whose four-roomed house was been reduced to a pile of rubble. “I am a widower; I bought this 200 square-metre stand for almost US$3 000.”

Battling to control a lump in her throat before breaking into tears, Mugoni described how she feels betrayed.

“What hurts the most is that we were assured our stands were legal,” she said. “We paid for this land which we got through our party (Zanu PF). We did not come here for free. We paid our dues to Tembwe Housing Co-operative.”

The housing co-operative took its name from the liberation war era Tembwe Military Training Camp in Tete, Mozambique, where in 1977 thousands of recruits and civilians were massacred in what is one of the most horrendous attacks by Rhodesian Forces in history. It was one of the camps where Zimbabwe’s liberation fighters received military training to fight British colonial rule in a protracted 1970s guerrilla war. The majority of people whose homes were destroyed claimed to be Zanu PF supporters, most of whom formed housing co-operatives and invaded council land ahead of the 2013 general elections with active encouragement from senior Zanu PF officials. Not to mention a blind eye from the city council, which only offered occasional threats of demolitions that lacked menace.

At most of the illegal housing co-operatives, the Zanu PF flag flies side by side with the national flag. The co-operative names such as Bhora Mugedhi (a Zanu PF slogan) in Glen Norah, Gracelands, named after First Lady Grace Mugabe near Kambuzuma and Nehanda Housing Co-operative in Dzivarasekwa Extension, are closely associated with Zanu PF.

The names were apparently chosen to give would-be members the housing co-operatives had the blessing of the ruling party, which in the scheme of things, can render them above the law or, certainly, above the dictates of Harare’s by-laws. But the party has now abandoned the co-operatives that served it well in the run-up to the 2013 general elections by enticing voters, prompting the state to hunt down officials who parcelled out the land — now dubbed land barons. At least 15 people have been arrested for illegally parcelling out the land with more arrests anticipated.

Zanu PF’s supreme decision-making body in-between congresses, the politburo, has tasked Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere with ensuring the land barons face the wrath of the law, but ordinary Zimbabweans are sceptical pointing to the fact that only the small fish have been caught in the net so far.

There is belief that those arrested are only pawns in a chess game, as the real land barons are believed to be senior government officials who have grabbed vast tracts of land.

While the arrests of the land barons has generally earned the thumbs-up, some feel focus should be on a comprehensive land audit to flash out multiple farm holders like President Robert Mugabe, and those who own vast tracts of land in urban areas.

Mugabe’s family owns about 14 farms.

Government hypocrisy has also been exposed in cases such as that of former local government minister Ignatius Chombo, now Home Affairs minister, who as his divorce case revealed, has amassed much land countrywide.

Last year, the Zimbabwe Independent revealed that Chombo was accused of fraudulently acquiring stand number 61 of Helensvale (also known as stand 61 of Glen Lorne) which measures 193 716 sqm and another piece of council land, subdivision K of Nthaba, which he allegedly sold to a third party without paying for it.

The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission reported three cases involving Chombo to the police for further investigation, but nothing materialised.

In 2010, a nasty divorce fight between Chombo and his ex-wife Marian showed that he owned land in almost every province in the country with land in Harare, Chirundu, Binga, Victoria Falls, Mutare, Bulawayo, Chinhoyi, Banket, Ruwa, Zvimba, Chitungwiza, Beitbridge, Norton, Chegutu, Chiredzi, Hwange, Magunje and Kariba, among others.

Analyst Maxwell Saungweme says the crackdown on illegal land barons is clearly a case of miniature criminals being nabbed while the bigger ones roam the streets scot-free.

“It is well known and documented that the biggest land barons in the country are top Zanu PF and government officials. In fact, the biggest land barons are those who own multiple farms, those converting conservancies into private lands, orphanages and dairies,” said Saungweme. “The biggest land barons are there at State House, in government and in Zanu PF. Who does not know how vast the land owned by the First Family is?”

He said the recent crackdown on the so-called “land barons” is just a hopeless attempt to window dress the extent and size of the phenomenon.

In 2013, Chiyangwa’s vast land property was revealed in messy divorce proceedings by his wife, Elizabeth. Though the couple last year said they were now back together, initial divorce papers showed that Chiyangwa owns vast acres of farmland, housing and commercial prime land across the country.

So while the crackdown on the “land barons” has been welcomed, Zimbabweans await to see the net ensnare the big fish.

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