A middle-aged woman, Mai Makona (as she wants to be identified), stares into the blue sky as if seeking divine answers to what has just befallen her.
by SILENCE CHARUMBIRA/MOSES MATENGA
She has just lost an investment of more than half a decade — her three-roomed cottage in Budiriro 4, Harare, which has been reduced to rubble by a council front-end loader.
A loyal member of Tembwe Housing Co-operative who religiously contributed towards the development of the area in general and her house in particular, Makona could not hold back her tears as she narrated her grief caused by the demolition of her house.
The tragedy struck shortly after she had suffered hypertension-induced stillbirth triggered by news of the impending council blitz on illegal structures.
This was her second morning after her family members found themselves without a roof over their heads.
She is however, not alone in this despair. Her neighbours too have had their properties razed down by the local authority which accuses them of building houses on land reserved for a school.
“Where will I go?” Makona asks looking at the sky. “All our family savings went into building this house. We were recently fired from work together with my husband and now our property has been destroyed.”
Alice Machokoto, Makona’s 38-year-old neighbour is still sifting through the rubble in search for her medication which was buried together with her other belongings.
“The medication is expensive but even if it cost just one dollar, I do not have that money. I am diabetic and I am also supposed to be taking medication for blood pressure, but I do not have anywhere to get that medication now. My husband is unemployed and we do not have anywhere to go,” she cried.
Another victim, Nemiah Magure said: “The leaders of the Tembwe Housing Cooperative are now telling us that if we want new stands we need to pay $5 000 yet we have already lost over $3 000 each to acquire the stands we were sitting on.”
Last Thursday, Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere warned that over 20 illegal settlements in Harare would be destroyed.
Kasukuwere has already roped in the services of the Zimbabwe Republic Police to assist Harare City Council in carrying out the demolitions.
The ongoing demolitions have evoked memories of Operation Murambatsvina carried out in 2005 that left over 700 000 people homeless.
Itai Rusike, executive director of the Community Working Group on Health said the demolitions had a serious effect on those on medication as it affected their routine.
Council could however not ascertain the number of
people likely to be affected but so far more than 100 families have had their homes destroyed while a number of land barons have been arrested.
In the midst of the suffering however, the blame game
continues, with deputy Harare mayor Thomas Muzuva recently accusing the ministry’s Urban Planning Department of fuelling the mess.
Residents on the other hand, are blaming land barons who capitalised on the city’s housing shortage and “sold” every piece of open land that they identified to unsuspecting and desperate home seekers.
“Police will also assist members of the public to recover all the money that was stolen from unsuspecting home seekers,” said police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba. “We urge the public to stop paying land barons because their demands for payment are illegal.”
Some of the illegal settlements targeted for demolition are in Kambuzuma, parts of Harare South, Westlea, Glen Norah and Caledonia Farm.
Josephine Ncube, the city’s acting town clerk said: “Contrary to what some people are saying, we have not been sitting while the construction of these illegal structures took place.
“Our development control unit has been issuing stop development orders to all illegal housing settlements in Harare and in the majority of cases our officers have gone on the ground to talk to the developers to stop further construction.”
Many of the settlers however, showed NewsDay stamped
letters purporting to come from the Harare City Council offices.
Ncube added: “The land we are talking about was planned for schools, clinics, recreational facilities and business centres while some of it is unsuitable for construction work. Wetlands were invaded and parcelled out as housing land.”
She warned that anyone who defied council would be putting their investments down the drain.
Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) chairman Simbarashe Moyo said: “This only confirms that we are being governed by crooks.
“What is more painful is that at the end of it all, it is the long-suffering resident that loses out,” he said.
Precision Muzadzi, leader of a political outfit calling itself Voice of the People, blamed Zanu PF for the mess, insisting that the ruling party created the land barons by dishing out land during election time.
“Land barons are Zanu PF people that surface around elections, canvassing for votes with land. It’s sad that after swindling and fleecing poor people, Zanu PF demolishes their houses. It’s inhumane and a crime against humanity,” Muzadzi said.
Several Zanu PF officials have been implicated in illicit land deals with others already being tried in court for abusing the name of the First Lady Grace Mugabe in order to acquire land.