The continued sprouting of illegal settlements in urban areas is an issue that puts into question the ability of local authorities to bring sanity to our cities.
When the invasions were reported a few weeks ago in this paper, police descended on the invaders in places like Glen View and Glen Norah in Harare and some parts of Chitungwiza where they used force to remove the culprits.
Now, barely two weeks after the police crackdown, the illegal settlers are back again at the same open spaces, including wetlands that are critical for the survival of our cities, carving out pieces of land and allocating them without regard of local authorities settlement plans or even their knowledge.
In all these “projects” people are given pieces of land to build houses where no such structures should be constructed – on open spaces that have been deliberately left untouched because they are wetlands that must remain so or because they have been reserved to serve as recreational areas for bona fide residents.
The result of this chaos is that some of the structures have been built right under electricity pylons, on top of drains, where roads ought to be running through and, in some instances, encroaching into legally settled people’s properties. This is anarchy writ large.
What becomes disheartening is that, as we have reported before, local authorities have either failed to deal with the chaos, have chosen to keep their hands folded, watching shanty towns grow inside our cities, or feel politically powerless to do anything about it.
Officials in Chitungwiza said they were aware of the mess, were watching the degeneration of their city plans into jigsaw puzzles but “we are not involved”. What dereliction of duty! Of course they cannot be involved in willy-nilly and chaotic parcelling out of land, but what are they doing about it?
Who do they expect to act? Is it not their duty to ensure city plans are adhered to?
Local authorities have the legal right to uproot these illegal settlers and it is a wonder why they are not doing that. The longer they delay doing so will result in people putting up expensive permanent structures from where they will not want to leave without a fight.
The non-action by local authorities breeds suspicion that council officials could be involved in these land invasions – reaping rotten gains from these nefarious activities.
We cannot expect the Zimbabwe Republic Police to guard the targeted areas while municipalities that have the responsibility to maintain sanity in their areas of jurisdiction sit and do nothing. What’s even more disturbing is that the councils are not even approaching the local police for assistance to remove the invaders.
Councils cannot hide behind the false fear of political involvement because, while certain political parties may have before sought to use the land issue to gain political mileage, elections are now over and political parties are coming out in the open condemning the illegal settlements.
There is, therefore, no excuse for councils to sit and watch while their towns and cities are reduced to slums.