By Richard Muponde and Moses Mugugunyeki
Leaked letters addressed to Chitungwiza Town Council bosses have exposed the government’s involvement in the demolition of homes and other illegal structures in Harare and the dormitory town with the hand of Local Government minister July Moyo coming out prominently.
Provincial development coordinator (PDC) Tafadzwa Muguti is also exposed as an influential figure in a complex scheme involving the ruling party Zanu PF whose hidden hand controls Chitungwiza council’s day-to-day operations.
Chitungwiza Town Council recently announced plans to demolish about 11 000 illegal structures, which include residential and commercial properties.
In December, MDC Alliance was accused of being behind similar demolitions after council officials demolished Budiriro houses in Harare.
However, the recently leaked correspondence to Chitungwiza council bosses by Moyo and Muguti reveal that the two effectively run the town of Chitungwiza.
In a letter dated December 1, 2020 to Chitungwiza mayor Lovemore Maiko gleaned by The Standard, Moyo ordered the local authority to abide by Muguti’s orders to provide a list of houses to be demolished.
“I wish to advise that the Provincial Development Coordinator (Muguti) was carrying out his normal duties when he instructed on the matters you allude to. I would like to encourage Chitungwiza to cooperate with the Provincial Development Coordinator in the day-to-day affairs,” Moyo wrote.
The two’s influence does not end with the city resolutions on how to deal with illegal structures alone.
“As requested in your letter, I expect the following instructions to be adhered to:
“To rescind the resolution which rotated the Town Clerk post holder from Mrs (Evangelista) Machona to Engineer (David) Duma.
“To deal with the issue of leakages of documents
“To supply with the list of all sites to be demolished.”
After Moyo’s directive, Muguti, in a letter dated January 8, gave Chitungwiza Town Clerk Machona three days to respond to his initial instructions and that of the minister.
Acting on Muguti’s instructions, the director of works, David Duma, then wrote a memo dated January 12 to the acting town clerk outlining 40 sites earmarked for demolition.
“This memo serves to submit the list of proposed demolition sites derived from a meeting held on December 21 at 14:15 hours in the council chamber and chaired by Mr Mvere, the CSO (Chief Security Officer). I cross-checked with the one earlier submitted by the housing department and they are similar in most respects. I have noted the absence of the commercial list,” Duma’s memo reads.
The 1 000 properties set to be demolished in Chitungwiza included houses illegally built on wetlands, railway servitudes, Zesa power lines and sewer lines which were reportedly parcelled out by land barons.
The demolitions are likely to happen at the end of the rainy season.
However, Harare Metropolitan Residents Forum (Hamref), a coalition working towards improved service delivery and good local governance in Harare Metropolitan province, denounced the planned demolitions.
“The demolitions have clearly turned out to be a boxing ring between two opposing political parties, that is the ruling Zanu PF party-controlled national government and the opposition MDC Alliance-controlled urban local authorities,” said Hamref chairperson Marvellous Kumalo.
“That has perpetuated a situation where two elephants fight while the grass suffers. The end result is absence of accountability with the two contesting parties absolving themselves from assuming responsibility.
“The process of these demolitions fails to allow operations of Section 276(1), which accords local authorities the right to govern on their own initiative the local affairs of the people within which they are established.”
Kumalo said the PDC office and Local Government ministry were usurping the powers of local authorities.
“We further emphasised that failure to implement the letter and spirit of devolution as enunciated in the 2013 Constitution of Zimbabwe, will create a super powerful ministry of Local Government at the expense of other ministries in Zimbabwe. Events happening during the demolitions in Harare Metropolitan Province have justified our concern,” he said.
Kumalo said Hamref was also concerned with the timing of demolitions.
“The timing of these demolitions is very bad. Besides the fact that we are in the rainy season, we have a contextual issue of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown,” he said.
“During times when Covid-19 cases are surging in Zimbabwe, priority should be given to fighting the pandemic as opposed to demolitions which place citizens on open grounds where water, sanitation and hygiene services will be very bad.”
Kumalo, who is also the director of the Chitungwiza and Manyame Rural Residents Association, challenged President Emmerson Mnangagwa to release findings of the Justice Tendai Uchena-led Commission of Inquiry into the sale of State land.
According to the Uchena report, land barons, housing cooperative leaders, property developers and politically-connected people illegally sold $3 billion worth of urban State land since 2005.
“Land barons responsible for allocating land are known in Chitungwiza and Harare and we have institutions mandated to deal with corruption. The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission and the judiciary are institutions that should deal with corruption and all criminal cases respectively,” Kumalo said.
“Section 74 of the 2013 Constitution of Zimbabwe gives citizens freedom from arbitrary evictions and compels authorities to secure a court order before demolitions.”
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum has since written to Chitungwiza Municipality to reconsider its decision to demolish illegal structures.
“For avoidance of doubt, the judgement granted by Justice Tsanga on October 15, 2020 barred Chitungwiza Municipality from damaging or destroying any houses in Chitungwiza and Manyame area without a valid court order. We have annexed this court order to this letter for ease of reference,” wrote Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum public interest litigation specialist Darlington Marange.
Chitungwiza Municipality has over the years threatened to demolish thousands of houses built on spaces reserved for clinics, churches, schools, cemeteries, recreational activities, roads and under high-voltage electricity pylons.
Muguti claimed what he was doing was above the law and meant to bring sanity to the province under his jurisdiction.
“What we have started has made many people angry. Most Twitter fanatics hate anything done by President Mnangagwa and they can’t appreciate that crimes cannot be politicised. The person takes their crime and government stands alone. It’s time we separate that analogy,” Muguti tweeted on Wednesday.
Last month Harare City Council demolished illegal structures in Budiriro acting under a court order and the government distanced itself from the exercise.