Graft-tainted Chitungwiza city fathers last week defied residents’ resistance to its unjustified decision to dole out commercial stands to special interest councilors virtually for free.
Landscape with Tangai Chipangura
The move, seen by residents as an apparent bid to hide the party-less councillors’ own land fraud, vindicates rumblings in the city by its two million ratepayers complaining to deaf government ears that Chitungwiza has gone to the proverbial dogs.
The special interest councillors (whatever that is supposed to mean) have been offered the stands for as little as $5 000, although the market value for the properties is well more than double that.
Some residents had offered to pay much more, in cash for the stands.
Chitungwiza Town Council has not been able to pay workers for many months and is in desperate need of money to pay its disgruntled workforce.
But the city fathers sat last Thursday evening and, in spite of protests by residents, went ahead to pass a resolution to give out the stands, located in the town’s Unit G area for a song.
The reasoning behind this absurd decision, according to residents, is that the councillors are paying these “special” councillors to stop them from exposing corruption.
Chitungwiza councillors were chucked out of the MDC-T party for incompetence, land theft and corruption. They have stolen council land, everything including wetlands, and shared it among themselves for resale to desperate home seekers at obscene profit.
The special interest councillors, all of whom are known local Zanu PF loyalists, put in those positions by Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo, cannot themselves be seen as exactly squeaky-clean.
They have accepted this dirty offer on the unspoken terms of the rotten councillors.
Now residents must watch helplessly as more of their land is stolen while council employees continue to work without pay — because opportunities to raise money have been squandered in this barefaced act of corruption.
Land theft in Chitungwiza has become prodigious. Every council that has run this sprawling city has focused more on stealing land than service delivery.
The town has become known for sewerage stench, water shortage, uncollected refuse and potholes, but council is clearly not concerned.
People that are supposed to stand for the interest of residents – as city fathers — have for decades, had a freehold on the land in Chitungwiza. They give each other no limit to the number of stands they can lay claim on.
When the media poked its nose in that rot, the councillors legalised their action by passing resolutions that gave them entitlement to free stands — ostensibly for the benefit of their less privileged subjects.
That done, the legalised land scandal became a raging fire and city fathers (and mothers) threw all caution to the wind — they literally lost their heads. Powerful members of council management too, failed to resist the temptation and joined the gravy train.
These men and women became land barons — corruptly obtaining vast tracts of land for free and selling each stand for an average
$4 000 instead of the official council price of $200 per stand. And, because they made sure nobody got anything by following the legitimate housing waiting list, the stolen stands sell like cake.
The current crop of councillors was fired in its entirety by their party, the MDC-T, for corruption, but Chombo refused to remove them. Now, knowing they had become political outcasts with no chance of returning to council, they took plunder to dizzy heights, stealing with reckless abandon. No open space has been spared in Chitungwiza. The city’s housing plan has been trashed.
Information Communication Technology minister Nelson Chamisa said upon dismissal of the councillors in 2010: “It’s a whole dictionary of complaints from residents and the party that has necessitated their dismissal . . .
“We meant to bring in a clean pair of hands to do a surgical on the inflicted council. But the councillors defied the party order and rejected the surgical treatment. Now the party had to do a caesarian to save the baby which is the people of Chitungwiza.”
Chairman of the MDC-T committee which exposed the rot, Tapiwa Mashakada, said the stripping of the town revolved around land, council buildings and other properties. When it came to land, he said, the corruption had gone footloose among both Zanu PF and MDC-T councillors that have run council over the years.
One individual, former deputy mayor Frederick Mabamba, who was a Zanu PF councillor, now owned more than 25% of land in Chitungwiza, Mashakada said.
“Our investigations have established that minister Chombo connived with convicted former mayor Marange and the town clerk to rip council of at least 20 out of 26 commercial stands at the Chitungwiza Town Centre. Chombo even has plans to build a hotel there,” Mashakada revealed.
The construction of this hotel has indeed started at a huge swathe of wetland next to the city’s Town Centre.
It should not be a difficult job for the Anti-Corruption Commission to find out how this land was acquired and by who – and for the environment authorities to see if the land use there is proper or if it is detrimental to the millions of residents of this town and their future generations.