Time for decisive action on unplanned settlements: President

Source: Time for decisive action on unplanned settlements: President | The Herald

Time for decisive action on unplanned settlements: President
President Mnangagwa

Zvamaida Murwira

Senior Reporter

Unplanned and chaotic urban settlements without proper sewers, water supply roads and social amenities and with building on land totally unsuitable for human habitation are a serious risk to public health and central Government will soon have to intervene in the at-risk local authorities, President Mnangagwa said at the weekend.

The President said the affected and dysfunctional municipalities were costing Zimbabwe dearly and urgent action had to be taken to fix these settlements through regularisation and organising the basic services for the residents, along with applying the correct land-use plans to protect water sources and wetlands.

Writing in his weekly column in The Sunday Mail, President Mnangagwa also challenged the insurance sector to proffer to the Government ways to insure high-value and modern investments such as houses now being built in rural areas and growth points.

On the unplanned settlements, President Mnangagwa said there was need to deal with these decisively. “We have to deal with the problem of informalisation of human settlements, which has a direct bearing on the construction industry, principally the residential subsector.

“All unplanned settlements need to be regularised after proper geo-spatial surveys and proper land-use plans which protect our delicate environment, principally our wetlands and water sources,” he said.

He was happy that the six ministries responsible for housing, technology, local government, lands, legal affairs and the environment were working in harmony, all in the spirit of the whole-of-Government approach. Once regularised, homeowners had to be given title to secure ownership.

“We have to find a formula for delivering basic amenities and services at all settlements. Broken and dysfunctional municipalities have cost us greatly, including creating chaotic settlements which do not have even the most rudimentary amenities.

“Central Government might have to intervene to ameliorate this sorry situation. The hazards to public health are enormous and require very urgent preventive interventions.”

Urban councils, led by opposition parties for two decades, and especially Harare City Council have been severely criticised for allowing these settlements to be created and grow, rather than doing their laid down job of insisting that all land use must be properly planned and that all the basic services such as sewers, water supply, roads, electricity supply are put in place before people are allowed to settle and build.

These councils have allowed the land barons to simply settle people, taking their money but without creating title let alone selling the non-existing title, and without going through the proper planning and development processes before land can be sold and settlement start.

“Under the law, municipalities have a lot of self-government when it comes to planning and building but the Government can intervene under other laws when there are major health issues, environmental issues and, since urban roads were declared a state of national disaster, on roads.

This has seen people being settled on places not fit for human habitation or that are meant for other uses.”

President Mnangagwa stressed that all urban settlement, from the smallest growth points to the largest cities, needed to increase residential densities as well as commercial and industrial density, using all such land optimally since land was finite. Other experts have noted that the urban sprawl most noticeable in Harare also makes urban transport expensive, considering the ever-longer commutes faced by many, with a lot of time wasted.

But the densification policy was now being implemented, said the President.

“I am happy this is beginning to happen, including at rural growth points where blocks of flats for Government workers are now being piloted, Mutawatawa in Uzumba-MarambaPfungwe being a case in point.

“Our human settlement plan requires that 40 percent of allocated land should go towards construction of flats,” he said.

President Mnangagwa noted that rural housing had been progressing remarkably well, especially at rural growth points. But as the new small towns take shape and grow to incorporate industry, he was concerned that key amenities including water, sewer services, all-weather roads and electricity, seemed to lag behind.

“My decision to upgrade the old District Development Fund to a Rural (Infrastructure) Development Agency, was partly prompted by this concern.

“The authority has to work closely with rural district councils to ensure the burgeoning rural settlements are backed up by needful amenities. This thrust should also ensure traditional blair toilets are upgraded to modern flushable systems. With our plans for rural industrialisation, it is critically important that we plan for bigger,

agglomerated settlements in rural areas,” said President Mnangagwa.

The gap between urban and rural is fast closing given high value investment at growth points and in some rural communities.

This was backed up by the results of the census last year which found that there has been a rapid improvement in rural housing, with many farming families now building higher quality modern houses, often in stages but with a majority of rural homesteads now having at least a core of modern construction, and many now similar to the same range seen in urban housing.

“Zimbabweans, including those in the diaspora, have been building homes of all sizes: from start-ups to family homes and even mansions. All this speaks to a strong ownership ethic in our people, and an exceptional savings level which often goes uncelebrated.

“This trend reflects in the rural sector, at growth points especially, where modern, upmarket structures are changing the rural landscape. As your President, I am happy that our policy of leaving no one and no place behind is taking emphatic shape,” he said.

“The traditional chasm between town and country is narrowing, even closing in some cases. It has now become a norm rather than an exception to see working families commuting from their homes at various growth points to get to workplaces right in towns and cities. Clearly this underlines the fact that the rural-urban nexus is now reciprocal and mutually reinforcing.”

President Mnangagwa said he was happy that alternative sources of power are being harnessed to service most modern rural settlements, in line with the Government’s goal to remove households from dependence on the national power grid through solar technologies.

“What makes me anxious is that new, ultra-modern housing structures which are being built in rural areas do not enjoy insurance cover. I therefore task the insurance industry to come forward with suggestions for Government to consider, so this urgent area is addressed. These high-value investments must be secured against all manner of risks, as happens in urban areas,” said President Mnangagwa.

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