Bak Storage demolitions: Nowhere to call home

HARARE - The image of a wailing mother flinging her arms in grief while her child tries in vain to console her has not been easily forgotten by onlookers who stood motionless as bulldozers razed down structures along Harare-Masvingo road.

It’s been close to a month since that episode left more than 3 000 families homeless.

But their plight is still as desperate as it was when Bak Storage Company rolled in excavators, armed with a High Court order and knocked down the structures, throwing out the furniture.

Thousands of houses in every direction were turned into mounds of brick, plastic and cement. Among the rubble, no building remained.

One resident told the Daily News on Sunday he was awakened with a knock on his door. Before he could answer, a demolition crew had kicked down the door and began throwing out their furniture and breaking down the walls with sledgehammers. When he tried to stop them, he got kicked in the stomach.

Those made most vulnerable by the evictions and demolitions are women and children who continue to have no or minimal access to shelter, food and other basic services.

Women have increasingly become the sole bread winners in the home, as unemployment has reached unprecedented levels in Zimbabwe. A significant proportion of those interviewed by the Daily News on Sunday were from female-headed households, due to the high rate of HIV/Aids which has left many women widowed and HIV positive

The houses were built on 70 hectares belonging to the storage company. Some of the evicted families had set up shop right at the doorstep of the storage company.

Shacks made from corrugated iron, cardboard and plastic cast a shadow over the Bak Storage Company entrance.

The squatter camp had not only become an eyesore, but a breeding ground for communicable diseases.

This, somehow, did not faze the illegal settlers.

They passionately believe they are victims of politically-connected land barons who assured them of the authenticity of the land when they were occupying it, only to turn around and ditch them after they had paid thousands of dollars in subscriptions.  The land was sold to the squatters in deals of questionable legitimacy.

Desperate for an alternative, the settlers have engaged Urban Development Corporation (Udcorp), a government entity mandated to ensure provision of housing.

“There are about 3 000 of us and we have each paid $10 to Udcorp,” said Tinos Mujayi, who says he had his life savings destroyed when his three-roomed house was demolished.

“Udcorp says it’s for us to be registered, but we do not know if they have the stands to allocate us.”

But Zanu PF Member of Parliament for Harare South Shadreck Mashayamombe, who under his watch the constituency has seen a spike in land barons dishing illegal stands to unsuspecting individuals, claimed the situation was under control.

“Udcorp went there and took their names. They have to be patient,” he said.

“Udcorp can’t just take people and resettle them where there are no services. This is the process currently being undertaken. I encourage these people to find alternative lodging for five to six weeks as we sort all this out.”

Tirivepano Housing Cooperative chairman Albert Chitside, who has also set up his shack in the squatter camp, had no kind words for Mashayamombe.

“I have been trying to talk to him but he doesn’t want to see us, but we are the people who voted him into Parliament,” Chitside fumed.

“He doesn’t want to see us now but he is the same person who signed that we stay here but because of the corruption in this country, here we are!”

Chitside said the housing cooperative was started in 2000 and most people started building their houses in 2012. They were shocked to receive information that they were going to be evicted from the area.

“We followed all processes to the extent that the then Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo had asked his lieutenants to regularise the stands, which never happened. Our situation was made worse in 2015 because Mashayamombe, (Mbare Zanu PF MP) Tendai Savanhu and (Local Government minister Saviour) Kasukuwere saw it fit to take this land, to the extent that we took each other to court.”

Mashayamombe, however, profusely denied any wrongdoing.

While it is unlikely that anyone will be convicted for wrongdoing in the lands scam, gullible residents have been hit the hardest.

“We are living in inhuman conditions, look at the way we are living, we are exposed to rains, and our children’s books are being soiled in rain, our blankets and everything,” said a distraught Julia Chirindapanze.

“We don’t have water to drink. We are getting our water from the cemetery which is exposing children to cholera.  Even a place to bath we don’t have. We are going into the (Mbudzi) cemetery to bath.

“We use tombstones to hide while we bath. So, we don’t know how government can assist us so that we can live a normal life.”

The 32-year-old mother of six said they were living as many as eight in one shack.

“We only have one tent. We are sleeping in the same corner with our children. I was surviving as a vendor but for me to go and sell, I will come back and find my things stolen,” she said.

“Our sleeping conditions are dire, the father on the side, the mother on the other and we now have children who are growing up but we will just be a heap, it’s not ideal.”

One man said he was evicted right after his mother died.

The Daily News on Sunday crew arrived on the scene and witnessed a well-wisher building four Blair toilets as the residents had been defecating in an open space adjacent to Bak Storage.

Increasingly, rights groups and anti-corruption groups are worried about threats to social stability caused by the urban property rush, and the enrichment of well-connected developers at the expense of ordinary people. The problem of forced evictions represents the single most significant source of popular discontent in Zimbabwe and a serious threat to social and political stability.

Comments (4)

why being a squatter in the first place muchingodhotera pese pese. you deserve it Dzokerai kumisha munorima

tuths - 23 November 2016

So mix informed Mr/Mrs tuths

blessed - 25 November 2016

32 yrs old with 6 kids. Can't she count? ...and voting for Zanu PF (a party of/for thieves and terrorists) makes me NOT feel sorry for these people.

Sharia - 26 November 2016

A fellow citizen should never mock another for the sake superiority. Tuths you are offside, what ever reason or cause that pushed them there God never allowed man to trash one another like that, retract your words and repent you are 100% offside and no level headed Zimbabwean should support your views.

Doctor Wrollings - 28 November 2016

Post a comment

Readers are kindly requested to refrain from using abusive, vulgar, racist, tribalistic, sexist, discriminatory and hurtful language when posting their comments on the Daily News website.
Those who transgress this civilised etiquette will be barred from contributing to our online discussions.
- Editor

Your email address will not be shared.