CIVIL society organisations (CSOs) have described the ongoing demolition blitz targeting informal traders’ vending stalls in urban areas by the government as “illegal”.
This comes after the High Court yesterday ordered local authorities to stop the demolition of vending stalls and tuckshops in Epworth and Chitungwiza saying the act was illegal.
This was after a group of informal traders represented by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) filed an application seeking to stop the council and central government from demolishing their vending stalls and tuckshops across the country.
High Court judge Justice Nyaradzo Priscilla Munangati-Manongwa ordered that demolitions happening in Chitungwiza and Epworth be stopped because they were unlawful and not procedural.
“High Court orders demolitions to be stopped in Chitungwiza and Epworth as they are unlawful and unprocedural. ZLHR lawyers believe this ban should serve as a warning to the rest of all councils that demolitions will have repercussions on them,” the ZLHR tweeted after the court ruling.
Local authorities have been destroying the vending stalls and wooden cabins after receiving a directive from the government during the Covid-19 lockdown.
The 21-day lockdown, which began on March 30 and elapsed last week, was followed by a two-week extension, which the government relaxed to allow key sectors such as mining and manufacturing to resume operations.
The lockdown has seen a heavy police and army presence in urban areas.In Harare, the destruction of structures in Mbare, Highfield and Glen View, which were used by small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and countless self-employed residents, drew condemnation, with rights groups describing the demolitions as unlawful.
Legal and Parliamentary watchdog Veritas this week told the Zimbabwe Independent that the demolition of vendors’ stalls, among other structures dotted across urban centres, by council authorities and security agents, is unconstitutional and risks plunging millions of poverty-stricken urban families into desperation.
Veritas said the demolitions decimated people’s source of income.
“We have not gone into the question —an important one — whether it is necessary or desirable to demolish vendors’ stalls in the interests of combating Covid-19 in particular or public health in general. We are concerned solely with legal issues, and from our legal analysis it seems that: the Harare City Council is responsible for the demolitions. The council is not compelled by law to carry them out,” Veritas spokesperson Valentine Maponga said.
Veritas highlighted that the city council, having acted unlawfully by pulling down informal structures without following due process, should consider compensating the affected traders.
Maponga said: “Demolitions should not be carried out unless the owners or occupiers of the stalls have been given reasonable notice and an opportunity to remove their property. They probably also should be compensated, but we have not gone into that.
“In view of this, councillors cannot disclaim responsibility. They have been elected to the council, which is the decision-making body that ultimately controls the staff of the City of Harare. If the staff are carrying out demolitions without the authority of the council, then the councillors must stop them. If the councillors do not approve of the demolitions, then if they form a majority on the council, they must rein in their staff and stop the demolitions.”
Harare Residents Trust spokesperson Precious Shumba told the Independent this week that the demolitions were illegal and destroyed livelihoods.
“Demolitions undertaken without a supporting court order are illegal. Our Constitution guarantees property rights and freedom from arbitrary eviction. Section 74 states that: ‘No person may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances’,” Shumba said.
“The lockdown demolitions are an expression of a long-held view by the local authorities to restore town planning, and illegal structures. The government’s communication was, in our view, in direct response to the issues raised by local authorities to help them deal with illegal vending, sprouting of illegal structures in residential areas and public marketplaces.”
Shumba called on the government to foster order and transparency as it enforces the lockdown, which ends on Sunday.
The latest wave of property demolitions in a battle to contain Covid-19 has drawn fierce criticism, with human rights watchdogs drawing similarities with Operation Murambatsvina of 2008 when the authorities demolished illegal structures across cities, leaving thousands homeless and jobless.