THE continued wanton demolition of houses in settlements identified as undesignated places for human habitation has made this country appear like an unlegislated republic. Dambudzo Marechera, one of Zimbabwe’s greatest literary arts minds, would have described the situation surrounding the issue as “defecation on the supreme law of the land.”
Disregard of the law in general and the Constitution in particular in this matter is simply astounding. In the quest to restore order, due legal process has been thrown out the window by instinctive responses. There appears to be arbitrariness in the manner in which the demolitions have been effected. It is the duty of a competent court of law to order the eviction of people and demolition of any residential structure. It should not be a matter of conjecture and randomness where people have to be raided at night and evicted in the rain. This is against the spirit and letter of the Constitution. This is not to speak for victims of the demolitions, but it is a call to respect procedure and the dictates of law. Section 74, deliberating on freedom from arbitrary eviction, puts it in the clear, as a general thing, that, “No person may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances.” Despite this clear provision in the national charter, it is surprising the spirit under which the pulling down of structures continues to happen.
It must be appreciated that the structures could indeed be illegal as in most cases. It also raises eyebrows why, for years, bogus housing co-operatives have been left to flourish and dupe desperate home seekers under the watch of authorities, but I digress. The same law which disallows the arbitrary demolition of structures also concurs that deprivation of one’s property could be legal in the interests of such things as public safety, public order, public health or in order to develop or use that property for purposes beneficial to the community. These are valid reasons why structures might need to be demolished and any right-minded person would agree. It is important that the public give heed to local authorities land use policies. We have all heard of how houses have been built on top of ground where builders had to dodge electric cables. We have also heard of structures being built on muddy wetlands. Houses have been built a few metres from highways in some places posing danger to the people themselves. A speeding kombi once lost control and rammed into a house a few metres away from the highway in Hopley. All these things point to the voice of reason that indeed some structures have been built and endanger society and the very occupiers of the houses.
Now while this is true and well-reasoned, it is the manner the demolitions have been carried out that continues to cast a dark shadow on the process. Residents have been given 48-hour eviction notices as was the case with Tembwe Housing Co-operative. About 100 houses in Budiriro alone were destroyed in August last year for occupying land meant for construction of schools, a clinic and recreation facilities. Recently we witnessed the demolition of scores of completed structures near Harare International Airport. While it is expected that such structures should be destroyed, it is important that due legal process takes course as the national law dictates. Ordering the demolition of any structure should only be the function of the courts and not any other body, individual or juristic. Even more, such a person whose property is lined up for destruction can contest the legality of the decision. Provision is also given that reasonable notice should be given to people before the place is destroyed, among other things. In fact, the law requires the acquiring authority to pay fair and adequate compensation for the acquisition before acquiring the property. However, all these provisions of law have not been given regard in view of what we continue to witness throughout the country. Household property like furniture has been destroyed. Cases have been reported where residents have been awakened in the dead of the night by caterpillars ravaging the structures in the absence of notice as required by law.
It would appear there is serious disregard of the law in the entire process and a palpable infringement on people’s property rights. It is crucial that the deprivation is done in terms of the law. Also as an offshoot of the tragedy, as many people continue to point out, it defies the mind how people are left to build structures complete with state-of-the-art material, with authorities only turning up years after. It is a quiz which many continue to ask. It appears cruel to see a two-storey house being razed to the ground, but that could have been avoided by timeous addressing of the problem. Authorities must be alert to the problem whether it means reining in the bogus co-operatives.
lLearnmore Zuze is a legal researcher, author, and media analyst. He writes here in his own capacity. E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org