House demolitions: How politics and greed are spawning a humanitarian crisis

December 21, 2020

Moses Matenga

Scores of families in Budiriro are living in the open after authorities demolished 190 houses belonging to members of Events Housing Cooperative just under a fortnight ago.

The cooperative was controlled by an aspiring Zanu PF lawmaker, Caleb Kadye who has since been arrested, and it sub-divided a school site and sold the housing stands illegally.

In the aftermath of the demolitions, central government and the opposition MDC Alliance controlled local authority blamed each other for the mess.

A possible 32,000 homes that were built without approval are set be demolished in Harare alone, according to the Harare mayor, Jacob Mafume.

Millions lost

With the typical average of six family members—most of them women and children—per urban homestead in low-income settlements, it means some 192,000 people are going to be affected,

This is outside the home seekers whose houses have already been razed down in 2020 and preceding years.

But the figures are always going to be higher. New home owners in such settlements tend to take in tenants to augment their incomes—at least two other families.

If the tenants have an average of four-strong families each, that would translate to 14 heads at each house that faces demolition, meaning a whopping 448,000 likely evictees in the capital.

In monetary terms, the losses are huge. It takes at least US$10,000 to build a standard four-roomed house.

The home seekers pay land barons or housing cooperatives anything from US$3,000 for the residential stands. That comes to a minimum of US$41, 6 million that would go down as rubble!

Demolition victims invariably blame the local authority, politicians and land barons for their losses.

Politics of shelter

A throw-back investigation commissioned by Information for Development Trust—a non-profit organisation supporting journalists to report on bad governance and corruption—dug out fresh information that shows that politics was central in the creation of Harare’s illegal settlements.

The investigation came as President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration is resisting publicising a national audit report that was produced by the Tendai Uchena land commission last December.

The executive summary of the report indicated that former and current Zanu PF big wigs, housing cooperatives, real estate agents, senior government officials and war veterans were active in grabbing and selling urban land, resulting in multi-billion dollar losses to the State.

“(There was) abuse of political office in the allocation and appropriation of urban state land and use of names of the top ruling party leadership to exert undue influence on government institutions and processes,” says the executive summary.

Mainly, the ruling Zanu PF was behind the creation of the irregular settlements—mostly in the southern and northern parts of Harare—to claw back support from an electorate that was gravitating towards the opposition.

Documents obtained from the Harare City Council, Zanu PF and some ruling party—linked cooperatives lay bare the genesis of the chaos in the capital’s housing system that the authorities now want to tame by demolishing houses.

The majority of the illegal settlements were created ahead of the 2013 elections by cooperatives linked to Zanu PF, it has emerged.

Zanu PF has struggled to win successive elections in Harare following the formation of MDC two decades ago.

In a bid to end the MDC dominance, the government parcelled land to cooperatives linked to Zanu PF and this saw illegal settlements sprouting around the capital.

Harare South, a constituency on the outskirts of the capital comprising beneficiaries of gerrymandering by the ruling party, has one of the biggest illegal settlements.

The Harare City Council has just released a confidential report that shows that most of the land barons and war veterans running the dodgy schemes claim they have links with Zanu PF.

The document recommends demolition of the illegally constructed houses.

The titled “Land Invasions on institutional sites, open spaces/wetlands in Harare” says there were over 102 land invasions by cooperatives in Harare and council-owned properties such as Ingwe and Crowborough Farms were not spared either.

In Harare’s Kuwadzana alone, the document points out, over 25 housing co-operatives invaded open spaces, with 17 of them taking over a farm that was meant for the treatment of sewer effluent from the nearby Crowborough plant.

“As a result (of the invasion) on the paddocks, there is no room for regularisation,” reads the report.

A letter addressed to the Harare provincial development coordinator Tafadzwa Muguti from Parkridge West Housing Consortium, which is behind the Crowborough Farm invasion, confirmed the Zanu PF link and the strategy to neutralise the opposition.

Brian Muzembe, leader of the consortium, says the scheme was hijacked by land barons.

While Zanu PF is seen as central in land invasions, the opposition has also been named in the housing scandals, with some councillors from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), having being arrested for unprocedurally selling  land.  

“These residents were allocated through Zanu PF in the years back around 2013-2014, with the agenda to neutralise MDC (opposition Movement for Democratic Change) invaders, who had invaded the same farm from the east around 2012 (sic),” Muzembe’s letter dated October 26, 2020 reads.

“At 422 stands… MDC invaders’ were later regularised by the MDC-dominated council, while the Zanu PF members were denied regularisation.

“Unfortunately, the settlement on the Zanu PF dominated side was hijacked by selfish land barons, who started selling land to other people and subdivided the remainder of the farm into 22 co-operatives.

“Apparently, the farm belongs to the City of Harare. No formal registration was done to the city council by these land barons, but they were milking money from people since 2014-2017,” said Muzembe.

Other shady cooperatives in Kuwadzana include Ideal Homes, Vanhu Vatema, Takakura, Garwe and 5 Chitepo.

In Warren Park, members of the Gracelands Housing Cooperative, named after ex-first lady, Grace Mugabe, invaded open spaces along Kambuzuma Road.

A group calling itself Dare Rechimurenga and another one known as Forward Housing Trust invaded Ingwe Farm between 2014 and 2015.

Kadye, who is accused of spearheading the setting up of the Budiriro illegal settlement where structures were demolished, contested and lost Zanu PF primary elections in 2013 and 2018.

He was arrested for the alleged illegal allocation of residential stands on land that was being managed by Tembwe Housing Cooperative, some 2km from the Budiriro 5 shopping centre.

“Urgent issues”

A November 28, 2012 letter by former Local Government minister, Ignatius Chombo, to the chief secretary to the Office of the President and Cabinet, Misheck Sibanda, also revealed a Zanu PF hand in the creation of an illegal settlement, Arlington Estates, near the then Harare International Airport.

The mansions that had been built at the settlement were flattened in 2016 after then president Robert Mugabe spoke out against their construction following a visit by a high-powered Chinese delegation.

Chombo told Sibanda that the settlement was a government scheme to deal with what he just described as “urgent issues.”

 “The ministry’s intention is not to leave the current members of Nyikavanhu Housing Cooperative (on Arlington Estates) in the cold,” Chombo wrote, adding that government would find the victims, alternative land.

Harare mayor, Jacob Mafume, who is currently in remand prison for allegedly grabbing residential land for a relative and employee, recently told this publication that the decision to outlaw housing cooperatives was made at a November 20 meeting between council and Muguti, the provincial development coordinator.

Mafume, though, said he rejected a government order to demolish the affected houses because that would affect 32 000 families, whom he said were victims of political manipulation.

But Muguti denies issuing the instructions to demolish the houses and says it was council that went to court seeking the eviction of invaders.

“Let’s stop this mudslinging and address the elephant in the room, the land barons, who use political leverage and corrupt councillors,” he said.

Former Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni said politicians took advantage of the capital’s housing crisis to manipulate desperate home seekers.

“Government has failed to deliver on its promise to avail more farms to the city of Harare to address the housing backlog. Along came politically well-connected individuals as land barons,” Manyenyeni said.

He described the land barons as a “protected species” operating underground and pocketing millions from desperate home-seekers.

Caledonia in the Goromonzi North constituency Harare was one informal residential settlement that was created with Zanu PF help and the ruling party enjoys strong support in the area, the ex-mayor said.

It was created by thousands of Zanu PF supporters under Nhaka yeMadzitateguru Edu, a consortium of 30 housing co-operatives at Caledonia Eastern Height Farm.

In Goromonzi South, former Public Service minister Patronella Kagonye was singled out as one of the Zanu PF politicians that set up illegal settlements to woo voters ahead of elections.

Documents obtained by The Standard show that all Zanu PF central, youth and main wings in the area benefited from Kagonye’s illegal scheme.

Among them was the Shingirira Housing Cooperative that fell under the auspices of the party’s women’s league. Vaduku Housing Form for the youths and Totonga Housing Cooperative that benefited war veterans.

Civil servants with ties to Zanu PF benefited under the Low Income Housing Cooperative.

The scheme falls under Goromonzi Housing Cooperative Union, which was formed in January 2012, and was chaired by a Zanu PF official, Oswell Gwanzura.

On July 29, 2013—on the eve of that year’s general elections—Chombo visited the farm and claimed that the Goromonzi settlements had been regularised.

Two days later Kagonye was elected MP for the constituency. At some point the former minister was accused by the cooperatives of trying to force them to deposit money into her Glorious Real Estate company account.

Elasto Mugwadi, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission chair, said they were investigating the Budiriro demolitions.

“We have a number of authorities and people to interview so we will only be able to make a well-considered statement after that,” Mugwadi said.

Sesel Zvidzai, the opposition-linked former deputy minister of Local Government, accused Zanu PF of creating land barons as a power retention tool.

 “At the centre of the crisis are Zanu PF land barons and illegal co-operatives, whose corrupt conduct has led to the arbitrary allocation of land in a manner that does not comply with council by-laws,” Zvidzai said.

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