The Sunday Mail
AS an apex body advocating for the interests, rights and welfare of residents across the country, the Zimbabwe National Organisation of Associations and Residents Trusts (ZNOART) supports instigation of sound and progressive rapport between local authorities and their core business.
IN the process of that relationship each side should meet its side of the bargain and not abrogate their responsibilities. We wish to categorically state that we are in no way in confrontation with local authorities, but we actually seek to partner them to facilitate mutual and dignified co-existence with residents.
In view of the ongoing demolitions of illegal settlements and structures being executed by local authorities across the country, it is quite apparent that this is the end result of an accumulation of misconduct and abuse of privileges exercised by some deviant elements of society, whose agendas are based on gratifying self-interest at the expense of the efforts and pain of other individuals.
The wanton allocation of residential and industrial stands and the invasion of wetlands which are meant to be pillars of environmental conservation is mind boggling to any right-minded citizen. Some local authority officials have been acting clandestinely in perpetual allocation of land designated for use as parks and other recreational facilities.
ZNOART is in support of the initiatives being spearheaded by the Government to bring sanity into this matter. The demolition of illegal structures is principally in order and long overdue as this has demonstrated the will by the authorities to execute their mandate of law and order with no fear or selection, though very painful that unfortunate residents are now collateral damage to the evils of unrepentant land barons.
The cancer of land and space barons should be nipped in the bud as their inclination to lawlessness has reached alarming levels.
While at it, we must take note of the push factors to illegal settlements. There is rampant shortage of accommodation which has created humongous waiting lists of individuals seeking to be homeowners. This, coupled with exorbitant rentals, has given land barons sufficient hunting ground for victims to prowl on.
These haphazard settlements are unsightly and are in defiance of the goal of achieving world class cities by 2025. Desperate home seekers find themselves being settled on wetlands and roads.
Capital project sites such as the Harare-Chitungwiza railway line have been invaded and settled on. Recently, a council official was placed under investigation on the allocation of land to a wholesale company and apparently construction was done on top of a water and sewer line.
Houses built under electricity pylons and cabling are imminent catastrophes that put human lives at risk, not just of falling live electricity infrastructure, but non communicable diseases such as cancer.
How construction under these conditions is sanctioned right up to completion stage is yet another puzzle to be solved. Council will allow the construction of a house to completion only to demolish it. This is not only absurd, but a huge sign that local authorities’ procedures are heavily compromised.
The question that haunts the minds of most residents relates to where on earth these land barons emanate from. They do not just mushroom, but they are individuals armed with inside information from local authority offices and are obviously directed and empowered from therein.
They will be in the know of where these pockets of land are situated. Such people have inside knowledge of how planning of these illegal settlements is instituted and expedited by corrupt officials who stand to be the main beneficiaries of these sinister arrangements.
One fails to comprehend how some residents have been on the housing waiting list from 1995 with no hope of ever getting a residential stand while others get multiple stands soon after registering.
Every citizen has a right to a stand and the starting point is to register with the local authority in whose jurisdiction one wishes to reside. One is then given a waiting list number whose sequence is followed in the allocation of stands.
After that, one will then be called for an interview which seeks to determine capacity to purchase the stand and also build on it. This procedure should be done above board, without seeking the influence of any council employee or politician.
Unfortunately, not many councils are following these procedures and residents in need of stands have been left at the mercy of corrupt officials who swindle would-be stand owners of their hard earned money. People ought to exercise due diligence when they go out to seek pieces of land because ill-meaning vultures await. Sadly these vultures will simply vanish into thin air when demolitions start.
As ZNOART, we stand convinced that local authorities have cases to answer. In the Harare suburb of Westgate, zones which are wetlands and some reserved for recreational facilities have been allocated to high ranking council officials and their spouses.
As residents, we are happy to note that central Government has established the office of the Provincial Development Co-ordinators (PDCs) whose duty is to ensure that local authorities and all service providers comply with their mandates and we are more than hopeful that this oversight of authorities will trigger a new culture of accountability, transparency and responsiveness.
Our advice to all stand holders is that they should verify the authenticity of their stands with the PDCs’ office or ourselves.
Local authorities, especially in urban areas, should desist from overspending on non-priority implements and activities and direct greater portions of their revenue to service provision. In the same vein residents should assume responsibility and ownership of processes that guarantee their own welfare.
What should be paid for ought to be paid for unconditionally, as service provision comes with costs and those receiving such services ought to pay for them.
As alluded to earlier, the demolition of structures not suitable for human settlement needs to be relentlessly pursued in line with the 2025 goals and the new dispensation’s thrust for orderly settlement.
Those in wetlands should be removed as they will become a social cost on Government, especially now when we are expecting normal to above normal rains, thus, implying that dwellings on wetlands would be heavily affected.
There is a need for authorities and residents associations to move towards educating residents on issues to do with council procedures.
Those who have been swindled by land barons should duly report these unscrupulous individuals to the police and allow justice to take its course and we want to urge authorities to consider stiffer penalties for convicted land barons and unregistered land developers.
As ZNOART, we are reaching out to all stakeholders who have capacity to partner with us in establishing long – term and sustainable solutions to the plight of residents across the country. We stand ready to play our part in enlightening residents so that cases of housing demolitions are curtailed.
Mr Shepherd Chikomba is the ZNOART chairperson.