EACH time Joseph Kapito trudges over a ridge that separates his “new” home from the demolished Whitecliff squatter camp, he curses his misfortune when a ho
using project looms into view.
Kapito does not need to have enough money to burn a wet mule to know he was short-changed. Neither does he need a financial wizard to convince him and scores of other families living in a derelict squatter camp that tricksters, masquerading as agents for local authorities, swindled them.
They already know that.
The families yearn for the wheels of justice to gather a bit more momentum.
To most of the families, losing a house may be regarded as a misfortune. But to lose both a house and their money looks more like a catastrophe.
From a distance the eyesore that once was Whitecliff squatter camp along the main Harare-Bulawayo highway on the outskirts of the capital, appears all but demolished.
Yet women skirt piled rubble daily to get to abandoned wells, ringed by lush banana plants to draw water back to the new settlement.
When you climb further up the ridge a similar, ramshackle camp has mushroomed to sprawl across the valley below — literally rising from the ashes like a proverbial Phoenix — inbetween imposing rock outcrops.
Rickety hovels interspersed with huge boulders hidden from public view dot the valley.
At night fires twinkle across the valley as families prepare their evening meals.
But look back from the top of the hill, and witness how neat rows of newly-constructed houses squat on the vlei like oversized dog kennels.
The incomplete houses depict failed government efforts to put back together the damage it wreaked on poor families during its brutal Operation Murambatsvina in May 2005.
The slum clearance blitz left more than 700 000 people roofless and an estimated 2,4 million without a source of livelihood, according to international humanitarian aid agencies.
Whitecliff housing scheme on the vlei has become a source of disaffection among the homeless desperate for decent accommodation in an environment of rising building costs.
“We have waited our turn to be allocated new houses but luck seems not to be coming our way,” complains Kapito, displaying documents that show he followed all set procedures to merit allocation.
It never dawned on the architects of Operation Murambatsvina that the long-term costs of their blitz would far outweigh the intention to spruce up cities and towns.
Demolishing thousands of houses which authorities say were built without official approval drastically reduced the country’s housing stock.
It worsened an already severe housing shortage in urban centres still staggering from government inertia to cut down on a piling backlog.
It could take a while for anything to come Kapito’s way.
Government officials and some unscrupulous ruling party functionaries have colluded to allow undeserving beneficiaries jump the queue ahead of the victims of the slum clearance programme for self-enrichment.
Kapito’s plight is no different from scores of others left roofless by government’s callous blitz.
He built a temporary shelter from the shattered debris of his demolished home for his wife and son, sundering part of his furniture to fashion rafters for the shack. Inside, the shack has not enough room to swing a cat.
A 20-litre plastic water container and a clutch of pots, plates and pans battle for space in one corner of the dimly lit shack.
Other families only managed to put together thatch structures bound together with tree bark.
Similar hovels roll down the valley as far as the eye can see.
“The rains are upon us. When it rains our troubles begin,” Kapito says cautiously edging into the crude cabin in case the whole contraption comes unstuck at the seams to retrieve evidence of how he was conned.
In the event of a downpour, the hovel leaks like a sieve, leaving the family drenched and with nowhere to seek refuge.
The hovel survived last year’s rains but it is doubtful it could withstand another battering again this year.
Unscrupulous ruling party officials consorted with government officials to rip off the hapless, homeless families, demanding as much as $30 000 from each of them, using the ruse that the fee would facilitate speedy allocation at the incomplete housing scheme.
One woman sold a beast to raise the money — quite possibly for the tricksters to have made enough money to burn a wet mule.
More than 604 families now squatting in the valley as prospective beneficiaries have petitioned cabinet ministers over the scam.
In July this year, the city provincial administrator, Justin Chivavaya and Harare West district administrator, Nelson Mawomo, were arraigned facing allegations of corruptly allocating 300 houses and 115 stands to undeserving people.
Chivavaya is out on $20 000 bail.
Some of the families have been coming to court religiously over the past two months hoping the wheels of justice would gather pace.
Each visit has given them renewed hope as court officials have taken a keen interest in the case and promised a fresh look at it.
“The net has widened to include a Commissioner of Oaths who authenticated some of the forged documents exonerating officials from blame for a fee,” says Clever Dave, another victim of the blitz.
Thrice he has attended court during preliminary hearings that have emboldened him to pursue the case with renewed determination.
“All we want is for justice to be done. We deserve better than the way we have been mistreated and ridiculed by these tricksters,” Dave says.
Another victim, Ernest Nyakatawa, said party officials who connived to con them were holding meetings to intimidate the complainants.
“They label us opposition supporters who are running away from paying rents in Kuwadzana suburb,” Nyakatawa said, dismissing the partisan rancor as a mere smokescreen.
“No party official wants to take action to reverse such clear anomalies and we marvel when we see posh cars parked outside houses that were meant for the poor and low income earners.”
Kapito said a self-styled agent of the corrupt officials would phone demanding “juice cards” (a euphemism for the bribe).
“After persistent pestering for ‘juice cards’ I paid him $2 000 on June 25 and another $4 000 four days later. I think he was using the words ‘juice cards’ so that the demands would not incriminate him,” Kapito says, pointing to four hovels abandoned by people who were allocated houses although they were not on the initial list of beneficiaries.
Kapito and others have invested hope in the fact that this week the court remanded four of the people — Nolia Ndhlovu, Passway Mubaiwa, one Mawuka and Commisiner of Oaths G Mugijima in custody until January 27 next year. They will appear in court for routine remand on December 1.
A Commissioner of Oaths who certified fake affidavits was allowed bail.
The case of Whitecliff squatters is microcosmic of the pervasive corruption that shrouds the allocation of houses built as government turned up its nose on UN agencies’ offer for assistance and suggestions on how to house the poor it had made homeless.
There is an outcry among the poor in towns and cities countrywide as soldiers, civil servants jumped the queue to claim houses meant for poor families under the Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle housing programme.
Local government minister Ignatious Chombo this week said his ministry had made bids for $50 billion in the budget for next year.
Under phase one, Chombo says, 5 742 houses had been allocated. Out of these 2 579 had been occupied out of a target of 7 478 houses with at least 1 736 houses at various stages of construction.
Government this year allocated a total of $1,3 billion to the project with the Public Sector Investment Programme chipping in with a similar amount largely for infrastructure development.
Chombo’s announcement that government had acquired 65 farms around the capital Harare for housing developments and that it would strive to provide low-cost housing to urban dwellers sounds surreal to people like Kapito and Dave.
Both fear the scheme could fall prey to similar corruption as happened at Whitecliff.