Land barons give Zanu PF headaches

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF government, known for its patronage system and use of gullible supporters to win votes, has no appetite to arrest land barons who are accused of fuelling illegal settlements in towns and major cities, analysts say.

This comes as the Zanu PF government is demolishing houses built on illegal land in a blitz that has provoked outpouring anger from ordinary people, civic groups and political parties who charge that the politically-connected land barons will escape the wrath of the law.

Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni told the Daily News on Sunday that it was too early to conclude that government was now committed to ensuring that order prevailed in urban centres.

They doubt government sincerity in punishing land barons saying only the small fish will be sacrificed while victims of these land barons, who acquired land and built homes which are being demolished, would be the biggest losers.

Manyenyeni said the threat to arrest land barons by government was now a broken record.

“It is about how far those who say they are now committed in correcting this whole thing will allow the law to take its course. It is more about if they can separate these people from their political godfathers and their political party patronage,” said Manyenyeni.

“If decisive action is not taken and we have a situation where people are arrested for two days and they are released then there is no end in sight. The only deterrent is to take decisive action that sends a clear and unequivocal message.”

Police on Friday said they had arrested 15 land barons with the bulk of complaints emanating from Harare South constituency where thousands of families have been thrown out into the open following demolitions of houses which the State claims were built on illegal land.

It is the same constituency which has seen a blazing row erupting between property developer Phillip Chiyangwa and a co-operative which sold stands to thousands of home seekers in Southlea Park on land belonging to the maverick Zanu PF businessman.

The co-operative claimed it had been granted permission to parcel out land by government.

“It is hypocrisy that has reached its worst levels to have Kasukuwere saying he wants to act now when we know that the land barons’ activities had the tacit approval of Zanu PF,” claimed the Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe (CCDZ) advocacy officer, Gorge Makoni.

While Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere has hit the ground running, declaring war on land barons, scepticism on government’s appetite to clampdown on them, persists.

“Those who do not have the political shield enjoyed by some will be made sacrificial lambs. Government must not pretend as if they have only learnt now about the barons when investigations were done and concluded last year. They are doing this again with the Labour Act that they have been ignoring when it has been there since time immemorial.”

In Chitungwiza, a report produced by an investigation team led by former Manicaland Provincial administrator Fungai Mbetsa last year named ex-Chitungwiza mayor and Zanu PF member Frederick Mabamba among land barons.

Mbetsa also named Zanu PF’s Chitungwiza South MP Christopher Chigumba as one of the space barons selling State and council land and pocketing thousands of dollars from the illicit deals.

Previous government probes on land barons have not had the desired results, leaving civic groups and its critics concluding that the exercise was half-hearted.

Curiously none of them has been arrested, leading to scepticism over Kasukuwere’s recent threats.

MDC Zengeza West MP Simon Chidhakwa, said if government was now sincere, it should just act without having to announce.

“Ignatious Chombo made the same threats but we know they cannot act on them because they are from their party. When you hear a minister announcing that he wants to arrest so and so, it is either he wants to forewarn them so they make their defence or he is just being populist ahead of elections in 2018.”

“Land barons are not arrested in newspapers. We should just read about their arrest not the intention and that is why we are not going to hear that Chigumba has been arrested,” Chidhakwa told the Daily News On Sunday.

“Government is not sincere because the building of houses took place under the minister’s nose, why was he quiet? These houses were not built overnight, the ministry should have taken action at that time,” said Chidhakwa.

Chidhakwa slammed government blitz on the hapless home seekers whose houses are being demolished in the fresh blitz almost similar to Operation Murambatsvina.

Mugabe and Zanu PF, analysts say, have been the biggest beneficiaries of the chaotic illegal settlements which mushroomed under their watch.

Among the settlements that have given government headaches are Caledonia and Hopley Farm, both situated on the outskirts of Harare where thousands of home seekers have built structures.

The MDC and other forces have repeatedly accused Zanu PF of allowing illegal settlements to maximise on votes earned from new settlers.

Interestingly, among the occupants of these structures are members of the uniformed forces and civil servants.

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