The Sunday Mail
To build or not to build?
This is the question that 15 000 families, the majority of whom are members of the Mvurachenachena Housing Co-operative, have been asking themselves following their occupation of Eyestone Farm some 12 years ago.
Although it is generally agreed that building one’s own home can be a thrilling experience, for members of this and other co-operatives, who occupied land along the Harare/Chitungwiza highway, the prospect of building a shelter over their heads brought with it sleepless nights.
The City of Harare has renewed efforts to evict and demolish the houses that were constructed by members of the Mvurachenachena Housing Co-operative Society, the Harare South Housing Apex Co-operative Society and the Harare South Housing Union (Apex Board).
In a protracted wrangle, the City of Harare argues that it was granted rights, title and interest to this piece of land by Saviour Kasukuwere, the former Minister of Local Government, Rural Development and National Housing.
Council claims it was allocated the land for purposes of planned urban development.
On the other hand, the co-operatives are arguing that they were given offer letters by the same ministry and for the same land.
The dispute spilled into the courts, with a High Court interdict which was passed in 2016 ruling that the co-operative should stop building permanent structures.
The same interdict barred the City of Harare from demolishing the temporary structures and evicting the residents.
A final court decision to settle the ownership wrangle was supposed to have been made within 10 days of the interdict ruling.
It is now three years down the line and Eyestone residents’ hands are still tied by the High Court ruling. Efforts to have the dispute finally settled is seemingly bearing no fruit.
The City of Harare, which was ordered by the courts not to interfere in any way with the operations at the settlement, is instead issuing threats to the residents, warning them to either regularise operations or face eviction.
In 2016, council razed to the ground the houses that had been built by the residents.
The delay in the finalisation of the dispute and the threats from council has been a source of anxiety and distress for the residents, who are praying for a permanent solution to the ownership wrangle. A visit to the settlement, which is close to the Robert Mugabe International Airport, revealed that the settlement is haunted by a feeling of despair.
Mr Thomas Mafuka, the chairman of the Mvurachenachena Housing Co-operation, summed up the desperation: “As you can see, I’m old and need to have a home of my own. For three years, I have been patiently awaiting the go-ahead for me to build permanent structures. The cost of building a house is going up every day and I might die before realising my dream of having my own house. I am stressed.”
Another resident, Mr Fibion Mudamburi, is wary of the threats coming from the City of Harare: “A court order barred council from interfering with our operations. Contrary to the order, council is running advertisements in the Press, threatening us with eviction. This bullying and intimidation must stop and council should respect court processes.”
Mr Mudamburi said council did not compensate the residents for the homes it destroyed without a court order in 2016. According to Mr Mudamburi, council is earmarking the land for the establishment of a cemetery. Apart from the threats, some council workers have allegedly occupied part of the settlement.
Added Mr Mudamburi: “Council has been misrepresenting that they own the land. This is not only incorrect but malicious.”
Papers availed by the co-operatives indicate that the City Council does not have an offer letter but was given the land “by word of mouth” by former Minister Kasukuwere
Co-operative members are urging the City of Harare to respect the court order and to wait for the results of a land audit that was conducted by the Zimbabwe Land Commission.
Although Mr Michael Chideme, the City of Harare spokesperson, had not responded to the questions sent to him with regards to the wrangle, council is flighting advertisements in which it is calling for Eyestone residents to regularise their operations.
Land disputes, which are usually fuelled by land barons, have been a pain-in-the-neck for councils and Government.
As a result, Government set up the Zimbabwe Land Commission for the purposes of solving land disputes.
The Minister of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement, Retired Chief Air Marshal Perrance Shiri, is on record saying his office is inundated with reports on disputes involving sharing of farm infrastructure, farm boundaries and double allocations.
The Minister of State for Harare Metropolitan Province and former Harare mayor, Senator Oliver Chidawu referred to the land barons as criminals.
“The so-called land barons are criminals and greedy people who are exploiting those who need housing. For me, I think there is nothing like land barons, these are people who have been stealing land and using all sorts of methods to get money from people,” Senator Chidawu said in a recent interview with The Herald.