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Land barons face exposure

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THE findings from investigations into the illegal parcelling-out of unserviced pieces of land in Seke and Chitungwiza could unravel massive land grabs by people with connections in Zanu PF’s top echelons, it has been learnt.

REPORT BY JOHN NYASHANU

NewsDay understands that some of the top Zanu PF officials and their cronies now owned hundreds of commercial, industrial and residential stands in public open spaces, wetlands and unserviced areas.

This came as government has indicated that the demolition of illegal structures, which could affect millions, would be carried out countrywide, arguing it was indisputable that the proliferation of illegal settlements in urban centres if left unchecked would slowly turn whole cities into unplanned settlements.

Yesterday, Local Government deputy minister Joel Biggie Matiza told Parliament that government would not tolerate people staying on wetlands or people building on school sites because those houses on wetlands were cracking and boreholes were flooded with human waste hence during the rainy season “we might have serious cases of cholera”. Matiza, who chairs an investigating team into illegal land grabs in the area, said after the completion of the audit report on the issue, government would not hesitate to remove illegal settlers. “We will say those illegal settlers should vacate.

The issue of human rights is addressed in that these people are building structures at school sites violating the rights of children. We are also looking at the rights of people building on top of sewer lines and it is a violation of rights and we want that person to vacate. We will allocate a better healthy place for those people,” he said.“We set up an audit team to investigate the land issues in Chitungwiza and their report should be out by Friday (tomorrow). 
 At this juncture it is premature for me to comment before this report is out.”The findings, which would be presented to Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo tomorrow, could be a tip of the iceberg as indications were that the land grabs appeared to have gone out of control in Harare where hundreds of party activists were parcelling out unserviced pieces of land in high-density suburbs.

Investigations by NewsDay also showed that Chitungwiza councillor Fraderick Mabamba has reportedly emerged as key to the illegal land sales in the dormitory town.
According to top officials at Chitungwiza Town Council, Mabamba, a Zanu PF mayoral candidate this year, owns six schools, hundreds of residential stands, two shopping complexes and numerous other properties in a town where the majority of residents are wallowing in abject poverty. 

 Most of the properties are in wetlands and other sites reportedly not suitable for such property developments.Mabamba’s schools were identified as Rehoboth Secondary School in Zengeza 3, St Mary’s College of Academy Secondary School in Zengeza 4, St Mary’s primary and secondary schools at Makoni and Fraderick Mabamba High School at Makoni and Fraderick Mabamba Primary School in Unit O Seke.

How Mabamba, who deputised Joseph Macheka as mayor in the 1990s, acquired the land remains a mystery, even to Chitungwiza Municipality.Although Chitungwiza town clerk George Makunde could not shed light on Mabamba’s operations, a top official who refused to be named said:  “The majority of his properties are in Units N, O and P in Seke. What surprises us is that for most of them there is no paperwork at all in our files.

He says he bought them from other people, but the deals were certainly not above board. At times all we hear is that this piece of land belongs to Mabamba.”The official added that efforts to rein in Mabamba, who is still a councillor in Chitungwiza, had hit a brick wall over the years. “Last year, we investigated his properties and identified numerous anomalies and instructed him to stop any developments, but he did not. We do not know where his powers are emanating from,” the official added.

Agents selling residential stands reportedly on Mabamba’s behalf operate right on the doorsteps of council offices at Zengeza 2 – just outside the main gate.

Masquerading as potential buyers, a NewsDay crew was told by one of the agents, who identified himself as Mutamba, that they were selling residential stands on behalf of the land baron.“We have plenty of stands in Unit O and you can buy them instantly. Each one measuring about 150 square metres is going for $3 000,” he said.

One of Mabamba’s schools, St Mary’s School of Academy in Zengeza 4, a stone’s throw away from the council offices, has an enrolment of 280 pupils, each paying $150 per term.
 School headmistress Miriam Nyanga confirmed they started operating in 2010 saying: “We enrolled Grade Ones three years ago and these pupils are now in Grade Three.  So it is only after that stream writes Grade Seven examinations that we can best be judged.”

Dilapidated ceilings, peeling paint, broken chairs and an atmosphere generally unbefitting of a learning institution greet visitors to Rehoboth Secondary School, another of Mabamba’s properties.

Fraderick Mabamba High School in Unit G has an enrolment of around 130 pupils, according to the school secretary who only identified herself as “Auntie Mhlaba”.

The school has four classes for each form from Forms 1-4 and the tuition fee is $92.In Unit O, Mabamba acquired yet another piece of land and built Fraderick Mabamba Primary School and subdivided the remainder of the land into residential stands where houses have already been built without council approval.
Next to Chitungwiza Town Centre in Unit D, Seke, Mabamba has built a shopping complex, Longrange Investments t/a Mabamba Power. 
It comprises of 16 shops where, according to his secretary who refused to be identified, occupants were paying $450 a month per shop.
Another wing of almost similar size is also under construction at the site. Throughout the town, unserviced residential areas — known as KwaMabamba — were too many to count and the bulk of them have already been built.

In Unit O, one of Mabamba’s beneficiaries who refused to be identified said about 30 of them paid $4 500 each to him and were allocated unserviced stands as the land baron assured them that servicing would be done after construction.Strenuous efforts by NewsDay to track down Mabamba in the last two weeks hit a brick wall.

His mobile phone numbers were not being answered.  A visit to his offices in Unit D yielded no results as he was said to be out of office and only came in unannounced.

A visit to his residence in Riverside, Chitungwiza, next to Makoni Shopping Centre, again yielded no results as the housemaid who answered the intercom said the businessman was not around and refused to take further questions.Speculation was rife in Chitungwiza that Mabamba could be avoiding anxious beneficiaries of his projects in the face of looming demolitions of illegal settlements by government. 

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