LOCAL Government minister Ignatius Chombo Sunday distanced himself from reports that the government would demolish illegal structures in urban areas starting with Harare Tuesday, saying his ministry was still awaiting findings of a probe team tasked to investigate the gravity of the problem.
JOHN NYASHANU/EVERSON MUSHAVA
In an interview with NewsDay last night, Chombo said his deputy Joel Biggie Matiza, an engineer by profession, was scheduled to present a report of his team’s findings over the illegal structures on Thursday.
“I do not know where these reports (of demolitions) are coming from. My deputy will make a presentation this week after analysing the situation in Chitungwiza then give us recommendations. Any demolition would be done after taking into consideration numerous aspects,” Chombo said.
Chombo’s remarks were in stark contrast to statements attributed to Harare town clerk Tendai Mahachi who was quoted in State media reports saying the crackdown on illegal structures would start tomorrow.
“We are targeting tuckshops, unplanned buildings and all other structures that are illegal. The sprouting of these structures has created chaos in the city and we have been left with no choice, but to pull them down,” Mahachi reportedly said.
Yesterday owners of the targeted structures in Harare and Chitungwiza were in panic mode following reports of the looming demolitions this week.
When NewsDay visited some of the targeted areas in Budiriro, Glen View and Manyame Park in Chitungwiza yesterday, despondent residents said they would not abide by the government’s directive to pull down their so-called illegal structures.
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In separate interviews, most of them claimed to have procedurally acquired the land on which they built their properties and blamed local authorities for their calamity.
On the outskirts of Budiriro 4, the 45-member J&B Housing Cooperative last year erected two-roomed houses on an unserviced piece of land claiming council had given them the green light to do so.
“Council told us to put up temporary toilets on our households. Even our homes are temporary structures. Our (cooperative) leaders are in the process of acquiring documents to legalise the temporary structures. We have a letter of allocation from council,” said cooperative member Wellington Madzivire.
He, however, could not produce the said council letter.
Another member of the cooperative who refused to be identified said the whole exercise pointed to an insensitive government which did not have the poor at heart.
“Instead of demolishing our homes, government should construct houses and relocate us. This is another episode of Murambatsvina (the 2005 demolition of illegal structures) which left about 700 000 homeless,” she said.
In Glen Norah, on the vlei between the suburb and Glen View, where another settlement recently mushroomed, residents were in panic.
“Imagine how much I invested to bring this house to this stage. Our question is why did they allow construction to come this far when they knew they would bring them down. I for one will not destroy what I laboured for – let them come and demonstrate their insensitivity,” said the resident who only identified himself as Cde Fearless.
Elsewhere in Manyame Park, Chitungwiza, it was all gloom when NewsDay arrived at a settlement along the banks of Manyame River.
They claimed to have received the blessings of the local town council to build the homes while others said they bought them after verifying the legality of the structures with the local authorities.
“I bought this property for $17 500 and verified all the information pertaining to it with town council. I will not resist any move to repossess it, but I have to be compensated accordingly,” said Tendai Mautsa.
Meanwhile, a legal battle between Chombo and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights over the looming demolitions appears set to intensify.
ZLHR accused Chombo of ignoring a 72-hour ultimatum they gave him to produce statistics on the number of families likely to be affected by the demolitions.
“We will consult with our clients (the affected families) tomorrow morning and see what action can be taken,” ZLHR director Irene Petras said.
“We have a new Constitution that gives rights to citizens. Certain procedures should be taken to avoid violation of fundamental rights. The move will have a knock on effect on a lot of families. The proposed demolitions will deprive many people their rights to shelter, education and health, among other rights.”
Chombo yesterday rubbished the ultimatum saying: “They should go and find out the numbers of the affected people themselves.”