HomeEnvironment‘Ratepayers have authority over land’

‘Ratepayers have authority over land’

With the Harare City Council (HCC) exhibiting autonomous authority over developmental projects on land in the capital city, many Zimbabweans find themselves having to stand and watch even as the most absurd of developments are taking place.

Report by Chipo Masara

The HCC has been on a spree, selling to developers land in the capital city, with some developments having faced much criticism and even fierce protestations.

The objections however, have not been enough to deter HCC from its developmental path. If anything, all the opposition appears to have given the authority renewed vigour.

Regrettably, most are negative developments that spell out disaster and will have highly devastating effects, to be felt by all residents of Harare.

A good case to point would be the sale by the council of land on wetlands — major sources of water supply for Harare.

As the council should know by now, wetlands are ecologically sensitive areas that are a very crucial part of the ecosystem, especially with regards to the role they naturally perform (free of charge) in water supply and its purification.

What we see as water problems currently being experienced by not just Harare, but the whole of Zimbabwe, will be nothing compared to a scenario whereby all wetlands would have been destroyed.

Already, the country’s water table has gone down from 15 metres down to 30 metres in the past 10 years.

Despite such glaring facts, which the HCC should well know by now, the authority remains adamant in its vision: to see all the previously left out areas — especially the wetlands — sold off to land developers that may do with “their” land as they see fit.

EIA should be conducted before land development takes place

Before any land development can take place, an environmental impact assessment (EIA), which should be accessed by anyone that wishes, should be conducted.

This requirement is not being adhered to. In most cases, EIAs are only mentioned long after developments have long begun — mostly on unsuitable land.

Municipals must seek ratepayers’ approval

To date, the Belvedere wetland, near the National Sports Stadium; Borrowdale Race Course and Gunhill/Highlands wetlands, have all been sold off to developers.

Some plan to build malls on them, while some plan to turn them into leisure centres, and so forth.

A Chinese-owned shopping mall now stands on what used to be the Belvedere wetland, while big plans have been drafted for the other wetlands.

But while such developments are taking place, do the people who are bound to feel the full brunt of the effects — the general public — have any say?

With regards to the on-going wetland abuse for instance, the generality of Harare, that have had to endure perennial water shortages with the little water available being filthy, look set to face even bigger water problems.

According to Chris Magadza, an ecologist, “all municipal land is the property of ratepayers, not municipality officials. The municipals should seek approval from the ratepayers before any developments commence.”

Most of the developments that are taking place on most land in Harare, especially on sensitive areas like wetlands, have been going on without any consultation with the ratepayers, or the residents of the concerned areas.

For instance, residents of Gunhill and Highlands professed ignorance of the developments currently taking place at the Gunhill/Highlands wetland as they say they just woke up one day (about three months ago) to find bulldozers working on the wetland.

In the case where proposed projects are seen to have a major negative environmental impact, many people seem content with leaving institutions such as the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) to handle it.

Unfortunately, where misappropriation of land by the city council is concerned, organisations like EMA do not seem to have the kind of teeth needed to stop HCC.

Even though EMA is on record for fining the council for wetland abuse, the practice has not stopped. In fact, it has but worsened.

Mostly due to HCC’s autonomous tendencies in respect to land development in the city, many believe the council has absolute power to determine what to do with any piece of land.

This is a wrong conception.

According to the city bylaws, the ratepayers should be notified of any proposed project, which should only see the light of day after getting the green light from the said ratepayer.

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