WHEN Water, Environment and Climate minister Saviour Kasukuwere jokingly told Chitungwiza residents last week that since his appointment last year, the weather patterns had changed, many thought he had come with a solution to end their discomfort caused by the current cold spell.
BY MOSES MATENGA
But once Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo stood up, his message unnerved the residents. Most of them will have to endure the cold in the open in three weeks’ time. Chombo told them government was going ahead to demolish more than 4 000 “illegally” built houses.
Chombo led a ministerial delegation to Chitungwiza last week and left sorrow and dismay in his wake. In less than 21 days residents of this populous town will witness armed police, bulldozers, sledgehammers and flamethrowers at work — a cruel reminder of the 2005 operation Murambatsvina that left more than 700 000 people homeless.
“We want an orderly city,” Chombo declared. “We need sanity and a well-planned city. People should stop fraudulent land sales by self-styled barons who are eager to sell land not belonging to them.”
“What human rights are there to talk about when people settle where they are exposed to dangers.”
Kasukuwere, Chombo and his deputy Joel Biggie Matiza passed through muddy roads, cemeteries and wetlands where hundreds of houses have been built.
The government is arguing that the affected residents were being endangered as they have built houses under electricity pylons and on top of sewer pipes where they risk getting water borne diseases.
This was also a reaction to massive corruption in Chitungwiza where land barons would sell land to home-seekers and fraudulently take over wetlands and land designated for other projects without council approval.
But women rights activist Faith Ndlovu said whatever war government was fighting, it must be sincere and not harm the vulnerable that deserve its protection.
She said with winter approaching, women and children would be the worst affected.
“The law must not be applied in such a way as to drive those who are already deprived into deeper deprivation or those who are desperate into deeper desperation,” Ndlovu said.
‘Demolitions impair rule of law’
Lawyers say the move by government was in contravention of the country’s constitution and that they would continue to fight until the law was adhered to.
“The proposed evictions and demolition of housing structures will not only violate the Constitution but impair the rule of law,” said Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) spokesperson Kumbirai Mafunda in a statement.
He said in taking any action the government must honour its constitutional obligations before rolling out the planned forced evictions of residents.
“The government must assure citizens that it will follow the dictates of the law in executing the planned evictions and demolition of property given the fact that Zimbabwe has entered a new constitutional dispensation, which provides for the protection of the basic human rights of the people,” he said.
ZLHR said the planned evictions violated several of the key protective provisions such as the right to shelter and freedom from arbitrary eviction which is enshrined in Section 74 of the new Constitution among other rights.
“As ZLHR we are demanding that the government and Chombo’s ministry must furnish us with the total number of households that will be affected and in particular how many children will be left without shelter,” it said.
The lawyers said they were contemplating legal action to protect citizens’ rights which were on the verge of being violated.
Chitungwiza Residents and Ratepayers Association (CHIRRA) chairman, Arthur Taderera quizzed Chombo on the rationale of the evictions.
“Where will people stay? You can’t throw people like animals or trees? Why didn’t you do this 10 years ago and we could not be having these problems. A lot of money was poured in building the houses,” Taderera said.
Residents said they bought the stands from suspended Zanu PF councillor Fraderick Mabamba and former MDC-T councillor Boniface Manyonganise for between US$4 500 and US$6 000. Manyonganise could not be reached for comment.
The delegation was shown agreement of sales entered into between the land barons and residents.
Mabamba said there was no need to demolish the houses and his schools as they were built on his own personal land. But he was quick to add that if the minister wanted to, he would not object.
Mabamba denied abusing the name of Zanu PF to corruptly amass vast tracts of land.
While Chombo claims that government, under its economic blue-print, the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZimAsset), plans to build more than 125 000 units in five years, it remains to be seen where the thousands to be affected will be housed.
As it stands, government has no contingency plans to move people or create new housing for them.