Murambatsvina curse haunts Zim

HARARE - With government and local municipalities failing, despite lofty plans and pronouncements, to clear the ever-growing urban housing backlog, many home seekers are still paying for the sins of greedy land barons.

Since the country’s switch to the multi-currency system, home seekers have turned to using their own finances or loans to buy houses or stands.

But the relief of having their own roof above their heads has turned to anxiety for many new homeowners following recent demolitions and threats by local authorities to continue destroying what they said were illegal structures.

According to a report handed to Housing minister Ignatius Chombo in December 2013 by the audit team chairperson Ronald Chimwowa, more than 14 000 residential stands recently allocated to new homeowners in Chitungwiza and Seke rural, are said to be illegal. The report states that the stands are reserved for clinics, churches, schools and recreational facilities.

In reaction to the report, civil society groups said victims of recent evictions and demolitions should seek recourse in court and challenge the constitutionality of the evictions.

Sentiments shared by Combined Harare Residents Association (Chra) chairperson, Simbarashe Moyo, who cited section 74 of the Constitution.

“The Constitution clearly reprimands the eviction of any person from their home, or demolition of homes without an order of the court made after considering all the relevant circumstances,” said Moyo.

One of the victims, Charity Njomi (37) from Chitungwiza said most of them were left homeless as they did not have leases of the properties.

“I was registered with Ivhu Kuvanhu Housing Co-operative in Chitungwiza and we were told that we were going to get our leases after the full payment,” said Njomi.

She questioned section 276 of the Constitution which states that “local authorities have the right to govern, on their own initiative, the local affairs of the people within the area for which it has been established and has all the powers necessary for it to do so”.

“Local authorities are only visible when the problem structures are already erected; why not from the start?” she asked.

Themba Hlabangani from Mpopoma in Bulawayo concurred with Njomi asking where the authorities were when they were being allocated on such areas.

“Now they are showing up destroying our houses after we have spent so much on the structures, erecting them,” said Hlabangani adding that; “It seems history is already repeating itself; we are now in the new era of Operation Murambatsvina which was a widespread and systematic campaign to destroy illegal properties launched by the government of Zimbabwe in May, 2005.”

A survey conducted by Action Aid International in collaboration with the Counselling Services Unit (CSU), Combined Harare Residents’ Association (Chra) and the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) report (November 2005) shows that Operation Murambatsvina interfered with 70 percent livelihoods in Harare, 69 percent of it representing 16 223 households with lost earnings, whilst 63 percent represents 14 812 households with losses of property.

The report states that; “The right to govern is premised upon the duty to protect the governed: governments are elected to provide for the security of their citizens, that is, to promote and protect the physical and livelihood security of their citizens. In return for such security, the citizens agree to surrender the powers to govern themselves by electing representatives to govern them.

For any government to knowingly and deliberately undermine the security of its citizens is a breach of this contract and the principle of democracy.

Indeed, it removes the very foundation upon which the legitimacy of government is based. Just as there is an injunction upon health workers not to harm their patients “first do no harm” — so there must be an injunction upon governments that they ensure that any action that they take or policy that they implement will not be harmful.”

It is however, the case that many Zimbabweans are still suffering, with evictions continuing, suffering the same plight as that of the victims of Operation Murambatsvina.

Therefore, Chra urged that cases of demolitions must be understood from a human rights perspective where each and every citizen of this country has got the right to shelter, highlighting that;

“Going ahead with demolitions will only show that our government is not ready to embrace the rule of law. If this fails the victims will be left with no option except to take the law into their hands in resisting the evictions by any means necessary.”

The Harare Residents Trust agreed to this view saying that the ministry was applying selective application of the law on demolitions of illegal structures whereby the land barons who capitalised on desperate people to get a roof over their head are not behind bars.

HRT committee’s officer, Pretty Chabuda said government’s need to re-look at the distribution of land by co-operatives and weigh the possible legal distribution by the city council.

“Why insisting on using co-operatives when they cause more harm to the struggling Zimbabweans?” she asked.

Councillors together with the civil society should jointly work together to furnish the public with information on the legal way of getting stands for housing.

However, a highly placed official within the Harare city council who refused to be identified revealed that land barons are working with big bosses within the council.

He said big wigs in the municipality office co-own these co-operatives indirectly and rip-off desperate home seekers.

“They are the ones who benefit from these corrupt activities that is why the so-called land barons are scott-free.”

Harare City Council town clerk, Tendai Mahachi said it does not help to pin point each other urging members of the public to verify with the local authorities before they are trapped in such a messy situation.

“Home seekers should check with the local authorities if the housing co-operative they are working with is registered with the local authorities,” said Mahachi.

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