By Wallace Mawire
A local watchdog group, the Harare Residents’ Trust (HRT) says demolition of houses is not the solution to dealing with illegal land sales.
The trust said a humanitarian crisis was developing, which required a purely humane response.
It is reported that on December 3, 2019, the City of Harare, accompanied by the police, and armed with court orders, demolished 143 houses, leaving around 715 people homeless in Budiriro.
The trust said although it did not support building on illegal land, it pointed out that demolishing the houses was not and would never be the solution.
“The repeat illegal allocations and demolitions of people’s homes will be with us for a long time to come if local authorities do not address housing delivery and servicing of land.
“Ultimately, the human rights of the citizens will continue to be violated while the corrupt keep getting away without being punished,” HRT said.
The Trust said several factors were leading to the never-ending illegal land sales.
It said one of the main reasons was citizens’ desperation for housing.
Harare has a huge housing backlog, which is fuelling the desperation among residents.
This has exposed them to land barons and corrupt officials in the local authorities and central government.
“This desperation clouds them and in the end, they do not verify whether the land they will be receiving is legal or not. A few who are aware of the illegalities surrounding the land sales also are also desperate and they receive assurance from political figures that their houses will be regularised,” the Trust said.
It said the timing of the demolitions was insensitive as it was done during the rainy season.
“The corruption is worse in land allocations, as estate agents, land barons, council management, town planners, councillors and central government officials are using the desperation of home seekers to manipulate systems and make more money for themselves in the process,” the Trust said.
In the case of Tembwe Housing Cooperative, bribery allegations have been raised against a senior City of Harare official. It is alleged that the cooperative secured the land in Budiriro in 2010 from city council officials and obtained a certificate of incorporation as a housing cooperative, after which it parcelled out the land to its members.
The cooperative members allege that a City of Harare official in 2014 demanded a bribe of US$45 000 to regularise the land allocation.
A list of names was sent to the City of Harare with the promise that the stands would be regularised after they pay the bribe.
When the beneficiaries refused to pay the bribe, they allege that the land was then offered to another housing cooperative.
The Trust called on the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission to investigate the matter.
“Demolishing people’s houses without a critical consideration of their position on the sustainable livelihoods scale will make it more difficult for the victims to escape from poverty,” the Trust said.
“These demotions demonstrate that the state has abandoned its constitutional obligations and is therefore failing to offer security to its vulnerable citizens.
“Household economies are going to be shattered after the demolitions, and this will put pressure on the already depressed society due to the fluid state of the economy.
Stress levels among the affected citizens are going to shoot up, severely damaging the psychological and mental wellbeing of victims,” the Trust added.
It proposed that the council regularises all the houses not built on wetlands, but with penalties.
The Trust said the law enforcement agents should bring to account all known corrupt land dealers, councillors, council managers, land barons, estate agents, central government officials and politicians.
It also called on the City of Harare to have an electronic housing waiting list to allow for a transparent land allocation for housing developments.