via Demolitions: Residents cry for justice | The Herald March 13, 2014 by Michelle Chifamba
In awe, a pregnant and mother of two stands in her almost complete house, her eyes red with fury as she tries to come to grips with the Government’s directive to demolish her house because it was built on a wetland.
She screams, “The Government’s move is not justified. When construction of these houses commenced where was Government, considering that the houses are almost complete?
“We have lived here since 2010 and now they wake up and say the houses were built on illegally owned stands.”
“The co-operative that allocated these stands is registered. Both town planners and house inspectors authorised the constructions,” said 35-year-old Miriam Chiriga from Rock View, a residential area that lies in a swampy area in Chitungwiza.
Traversing the land that lies in the wetlands between the densely populated St Mary’s and Zengeza 5 in Chitungwiza, a dormitory town that lies 35 kilometres outside the capital – Harare – a sombre mood grips the inhabitants who now live in fear of the unknown as the only place they called home hangs in the balance with the million dollar question being whether or not their issue would be resolved and their homes spared demolition.
According to an organisation that represents residents in Chitungwiza – Chitungwiza Residents Trust – the Local Government ministry has a case to answer when it comes to the demolitions.
In their view, both the Local Government and the local council share the blame in the demolitions which have turned into a human rights disaster as many people are nearing destitution.
“The council should have raised red flags as soon as construction of the ‘illegal structures’ commenced.
“The council should have stepped in to issue stop development forms which they did not do from 2004.
“Therefore the question is why is the Local Government seeing the illegal structures now? Where were they when these ‘illegal structures’ started cropping up?” said Chitungwiza Residents Trust chairperson, Marvelous Khumalo.
While waiting for answers, a court interim relief has been issued to stop the demolitions, when the respondent – local council – is being requested to provide evidence that suggests why the houses should be demolished and failure to do so, according to residents representatives, will mean the demolitions should stop permanently.
The demolitions which some of the Chitungwiza residents face are now being viewed as a political gimmick because during the run up to the July 31 elections, politicians considered the residents as their electorate and never questioned the position of the residents as being illegal.
“During the run-up to the July 31, 2013 elections, there were polling stations at the areas that are now being regarded as illegal stands.
“Many politicians campaigned in those residential areas and never bothered to question the legality of the residents on the wetlands,” Khumalo added.
Residents in this part of Chitungwiza say they are now prepared to die for a worthy cause of saving their houses should the bulldozer wake up on their door step. “We are prepared to take the matter as far as the President’s Office because we demand answers to this directive that houses should be demolished,” said a resident, Edgar Muyambo.
It is not easy to spend more than a decade on the municipal housing waiting list, and eventually get a residential stand through a registered and legal co-operative and suddenly the house is being termed an illegal structure and construction ordered to be stopped- such are the sentiments of the residents whose houses face the chop.
“Minister of Local Government, Ignatius Chombo has been in office for the past 16 years, he was watching when the houses were being built and to say the houses should be demolished now is unjustified. The minister should address the people because he was around for quite a long time even before the houses were built. He should not direct his deputy, Joel Biggie Matiza to deal with this matter because he has been in office barely 6 months. Thus there seems to be a political motive behind,” added Muyambo.
To the residents, both the ministry of local government and the council is to be blamed since a lot of human rights are being trampled upon.
“The council says it wants to demolish our houses and allocate us to a better place. In this case the better place is Nyatsime which lies 12 kilometers away from the basic services such as schools and clinics. The council and the local government should rethink their decision because I have invested a lot in this house to watch it being razed to the ground,” added Miriam Chiriga.
Thus in the eyes of the residents a deep secret shrouds the demolitions and the relevant authorities should give answers.
The Chief Housing Officer in the Ministry of Local Government says he is not in a position to comment on the issue of demolitions.
Deputy Minister of Local Government, Joel Biggie Matiza, through his secretary said the matter pertaining Chitungwiza demolitions is no longer in the hands of the Local Government but in the hands of the Chitungwiza local council.
“There is a resolution that was passed which has put everything in the hands of the Local Council, thus all the questions regarding the demolitions should be referred there,” said Matiza through his secretary.
The Chitungwiza secretary for housing says it opposed the court application and the demolitions are to go on.
“Demolitions will go on. We are opposed to the court application and we are yet to hear the verdict. These people are to be blamed for participating in an illegal and corrupt transaction,” according to the Chitungwiza secretary for housing.
In the mean time the matter is still in the courts after the Chitungwiza town council challenged the issue, in which the date of hearing has been set for the March 21, 2014.
According to residents, only 12 houses, at least 200 people in that part of Rock View residential area are facing the axe, though the residents claim that they followed all the relevant procedures of acquiring residential stands and abiding by the Urban Councils Act.
“The truth has a way of coming out. We have written a letter to Minister Chombo requesting for answers and if we do not get them we are going to endure what is takes to take the matter further even to the president,” said a youth in Rock View who only named himself Tendai.
According to the affected residents, the reason why the local government decided to embark on the demolition in the first place was to flush out corrupt MDC-T councilors who constituted the largest number of councilors during the government of national unity.
In view of the residents the move by the government to demolish the houses leaves many more questions than answers.
“The main motive behind the demolitions lay behind cracking down on corrupt MDC-T councilors who constituted a huge number and to their dismay when they came for the tour of the houses that had to be demolished they were not aware that the ZANU-PF chairperson owned the co-operative, and most of the houses that were built on buffers and on wetlands belonged to them,” Nyarusei added.
According to a June 2005 policy review by the Zimbabwe Institute on the Local Government, the reason many Zimbabweans are being deprived and denied their rights is a result of their failure to take part in a policy that is responsive to the needs and demands of the local citizens.
The policy critiqued that local people should determine the nature and implementation of public policy and be involved in decision making matters that affect their lives.
“Where a system of local government is efficient and effective, transparency and accountability are central to the decision making process and the system is able to provide and maintain quality service and infrastructure,” read part of the policy.
According the Chitungwiza Residents Trust many residents in Zimbabwe are not aware of the stipulations in the constitution of Zimbabwe which protect the rights of citizens on the land acquisition.
“The move by government to request for the demolitions is in opposition to the basic human rights and some sections of the constitution. We are therefore calling on government to respect the rights of the people,” CHITREST chairperson Marvelous Khumalo said.
As the journey to find an alternative place to stay rages on, many residents believe that they have equal rights to the stands and they await justice to be served in their favour because owning a house is a basic human right which cannot be subverted for political gain.
“Chitungwiza has been my home for as far as I can remember and I have every right to own this house. Without proper reason to demolish this house from the relevant authorities, I am prepared to take the matter as far as the President’s Office,” a resident named Tendai fumed.