HEART-WRENCHING videos of illegal structures being demolished have been circulating on social media in the past month. This week it was distressing to watch women wailing, particularly a mother of a two-month old baby, who has now been rendered homeless after her house was torn down.
Editor’s Memo:faith zaba
“Zimbabwe is for everyone,” she screamed. “When people do this to others, what is that? Am I living in Botswana? I am in Zimbabwe (my home country) and you demolish my home. I am going to be sleeping in the open with a two-month old baby because of you — A two-month old baby is going to be sleeping outside in the open,” she wept.
Furniture was scattered around in the mud. Some tried to stand defiantly in front of bulldozers in a desperate attempt to stop them from demolishing their properties, but to no avail.
About 190 illegal houses were demolished by Harare City Council in Budiriro five this week. The police arrested Caleb Kadye, an alleged land baron, on charges of parcelling out stands on Tembwe Housing Cooperative.
The demolitions were conducted as rain poured down on the furniture. It was difficult to watch the women and children crying, as they watched their homes being turned to rubble.
Thousands of residents in Harare and surrounding areas are facing evictions as local authorities embark on an operation to demolish illegal structures.
While we do not condone illegal parcelling out of stands, the demolitions have been ill-timed and with the onset of the rains means there will be more suffering.
Harare Residents Trust director and founder Precious Shumba describes the demolitions as “vindictive, insensitive and driven by corruption, and not genuine desire to have proper town planning”.
The question that everyone is asking is why the local authorities did not stop construction at foundation level. For more than two decades, unplanned settlements have been allowed to mushroom, with no effort to stop them.
Zimbabwe faces an acute shortage of urban housing. Local authorities are not servicing land for housing developments. Desperate home-seekers have become prey to corrupt councillors, local authorities’ management, land barons and central government officials, especially from the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works. What has emerged is that the corruption starts with the local authority’s management, who have access to council documents, site plans, area maps, council resolutions and committees’ minutes. Cartels working with officials at the councils use fake site plans. Desperate home seekers are shown the fake papers to convince them that everything is above board.
In some cases, councillors and management sell the land, even on wetlands, before starting the legal processes in terms of the Regional, Town and Country Planning Act (Chapter 29.12). Processes to regularise the sale is done and backdated to suit the plan.
There has also been times, unfortunately, when houses have been declared illegal and orders to demolish secured mainly because housing cooperatives refused to pay bribes to council town planners.
Both central government and councils are blaming each other for the demolitions and this must stop. The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission and police need to investigate these allegations around allocation of stands.
Known land barons, corrupt politicians, councillors and managers must be arrested, prosecuted and given deterrent sentences. Assets acquired from the proceeds of their land corruption must be forfeited to the Council.
Local authorities need to develop an electronic housing waiting list such that there is very minimal contact between home seekers and council officials. An electronic housing waiting list will promote transparency and accountability.
The local authorities also need to document land they own, information that only seems to be known by a few individuals in the town planning and valuation departments. It seems there is no political will to put order at the municipalities as the chaos is breeding corruption.
Municipalities should identify land for proper housing delivery for all the victims of corruption. The victims must also play their part and reveal how they were duped, and produce the fake documents that they used to acquire the land through corruption.
This issue is a double-edged sword. The local authorities must also not be seen to be condoning corruption by regularising the illegal sales. One way to do this would be for the victims to pay penalties and all planning fees before regulalisation. Councils should first identify alternative land, properly allocate it, and use the electronic housing waiting list as earlier highlighted.