Stop Chitungwiza land thieves

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When MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai fired the entire council of Chitungwiza last year after party investigations proved they were corrupt, Ignatius Chombo, the Local Government minister, in his wisdom or otherwise, came out in their defence and used urban councils statutes to nullify the dismissals.

So the councillors remained in office but they remained fired from the MDC-T. The party insisted the city fathers were “rotten to the core” and the party did not want to continue to be represented in office by that calibre of persons.

Now it appears the birds have come home to roost and even Chombo may find it difficult to maintain his position.

The councillors were found guilty by their party of corruption after evidence to the effect that most of them had amassed residential and commercial stands, selling them at obscene profit had been unearthed.

None of them owned up and volunteered to give back the “stolen” properties and when Chombo absolved them of any wrongdoing, they continued on their “rotten” path, combing through the sprawling town, identifying every open space and dishing it out to desperate home seekers and making huge personal profits.

Residents complained that children no longer had any playing grounds and that they were now crammed like rats where they live.

In areas like Unit B, for instance, the city fathers doled out stands a spitting distance from the Seke highway and later tried to repossess the properties after serious protests.

Those that had been given the stands would not budge, demanding their cash back, including, of course, the kickbacks that had not gone into council coffers but into the city fathers’ pockets. Up to now, those stands, some already under construction, still stand.

It has become clear Chitungwiza city fathers earn their living from the corrupt business of selling stands.

Now that they have filled every open space, including swampy areas, recreational space and along highways, council has refocused its eyes on home industries.

Last week Jeremia Jumbo, a member of the Education, Housing and Community Services committee, wrote to the St Mary’s Home Industry Association telling them council wanted to repossess all the stands with immediate effect.

When council allocated the stands to residents, through the association five years ago, the local authority told the beneficiaries council was not in a position to service the stands and therefore the association had to do that themselves.

The association pulled resources from its members and started servicing the stands. According to their lawyers, they have done 90% of the job.

Now all of a sudden, council wants the stands back, including the money that beneficiaries contributed. The city fathers say they want to reallocate the stands.

Gumbo’s letter reads in part: “. . . (council has) recommended that the responsibility of servicing Home Industry stands be reverted to council and the Home Industry Committee be requested to hand over public funds collected towards servicing the stands”.

What is curious is that all of a sudden, the cash-strapped council has found money to service home industries that other people were already working on. Where is their interest?

For all we know, Chitungwiza has allocated thousands of unserviced housing stands in Manyame and, although beneficiaries have paid money towards their servicing, there is very little, if any, evidence of any work taking place there.

Council may not have even the required equipment to service the vast swathe of land it has allocated and collected money for housing stands.

Whether or not the money that is being collected for that purpose is in the safe custody of banks, is another question. What we know is that council struggles almost every month to pay wages on time.

As you read this article, another home industry at Makoni Shopping Centre may have fallen victim to the same greed.

Councillors want to grab anything that can make them an extra dollar in their pockets as quickly as they can, at least before their term of office ends. That is their agenda.

But should individual priorities and open greed be allowed to ruin other people’s lives and with such impunity?

What is clear is that councillors are out to make money from the home industries, being the only remaining space left to sell.

That is regardless of the fact that beneficiaries have already forked out a lot of money to service the stands.

That is daylight robbery and Chombo, as minister, should intervene on behalf of residents that are being ripped off. Council has no right to treat residents as trash.

The St Mary’s Home Industry Association has done the right thing to refuse to hand over the stands and it is their legal right to do so.

Council should let residents use the opportunity they have to own property and to do business without necessarily having to grease the city fathers’ hands.