Elita Chikwati and Joseph Madzimure
Government will help those sold unsuitable and undeveloped stands by land barons backed by corrupt urban councils with temporary shelter while the permanent solutions of getting their money back and being allocated legal stands are implemented.
Harare and Chitungwiza have seen land barons, including allegedly corrupt councillors and officials now on remand, seizing land set aside for public open spaces, often wetlands and illegally creating stands that are sold with no services but at high prices.
Now many of the houses are being flooded, as the good rains refill vleis and swamps and highlight why this land was not zoned for building.
National Housing and Social Amenities Minister Daniel Garwe yesterday said as Government prepares to evacuate affected families, affected residents should stop paying rates to the councils and stop making payments to land barons, while the law catches up with those behind the illegal sales of State land.
Speaking after a tour of Budiriro 5B extension, where 43 households were affected by flooding following the recent heavy rains, Minister Garwe said Government is going to settle people on serviced land with services including running water and where refuse is collected.
“We have instructed local authorities and land barons to stop the scourge. This is an emergency. We cannot have people living on wetlands. We have to start evacuating them to a safe place while looking for decent permanent residential area.
“The people are not paying to Harare City Council only but they are also paying to land barons. This is an informal settlement, for some unbeknown reason the local authority decided to sell this land to people. There are no roads that were constructed there is no water or sewer. These people are paying rates, they are paying for refuse collection, paying for water and all these services are non-existent. The Ministries of Local Government and of National Housing are going to investigate further.
“There is a team of land barons who are working in cahoots with the council officials and councillors collecting money from people. It’s a scourge that has affected not only Budiriro but the whole country and we are cleaning it, and this is the first. It is Government’s wish that people are resettled where there is water, sewer and roads. From now going forward, no one will be settled where there is no water, sewer and roads,” said Minister Garwe.
Chitungwiza Town Council, where teams of councillors and officials have been corruptly dishing out stands without servicing the land, resolved to evacuate the residents in the short term and admitted in a statement that the proliferation of illegal stands under the local authority’s watch has come back to haunt them.
Chitungwiza acting Town Clerk Dr Tonderai Kasu said the floods that have recently been experienced in the town have left hundreds of houses and associated infrastructure damaged.
“It is on this basis that the municipality is strongly warning and urging those residents that are living in low lying areas; as well as those that built houses on wetlands, on river banks, on waterways and in streams; to immediately evacuate these areas now and without delay,” said Dr Kasu.
In Chitungwiza areas affected by flooding include Unit N extension near Zaoga, Unit A extension, the area along Duri River, Unit M, Pagomba area in Zengeza 4, and in Manyame.
He said the rampant proliferation of illegal settlements that has taken place in Chitungwiza was a complex problem that shall be dealt with in the correct manner, but the immediate concern, on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, is that relief is brought to the affected.
Dr Kasu warned people against constructing illegal structures, as the results of doing so are now self-evident for everyone to see.
“Let us all be alert as we may not have seen the worst of the floods yet. Although the system of storm water drains in Chitungwiza needs improvement, and although the municipality is in need of resources in the form of machinery to maintain this drainage system, preliminary indications gleaned from the technical field visits that have been conducted are that many or most of the affected houses are those that were built illegally on wet lands, on river banks, on waterways and in streams; where houses were not supposed to be built in the first place”.
One of the affected residents in Budiriro said they have been experiencing flooding for some time now with no solution from the council while some councillors leap from rags to riches as they line their pockets with little contrition.
“We have been complaining to council but they have been giving us empty promises. We were told that our problem would be rectified and at one time they said they were going to resettle the affected families but nothing materialised,” she said.
Another resident, Mr Pasipanodya Nyamayaro said they had a masterplan and layout plans approved by council.
“We have so many letters from council officials. We have been paying bills and now we are suffering,” he said.
Some of the residents said when they bought the stands they were shown a different area only to be settled in the wetlands.
There are several cases now on record where corrupt officials actually changed zoning and layout plans to include land that should never have been built on in the first place.
Cities like Gweru, Bulawayo and Mutare have not been spared by the rot that has left the country’s major cities as havens of corruption.