Lydia Maunge appeared totally disillusioned. With her baby in her arms, her life belongings strewn in the open in front of her, she looks blankly into the sky as rushing clouds pregnant with rain get thicker each moment.
BY BLESSED MHLANGA
She has nowhere to go, nowhere to call home because what was once her home is now a pile of rubble following the recent demolition exercise by the government.
Maunge stays at an illegal settlement in Harare’s Aspindale industrial area, west of the capital.
As she narrates her ordeal, the strain of pain and anguish is evident in her voice.
She had watched as years of hard work was brought down by bulldozers at the orders of the Harare City Council.
“We were given this land by Zanu PF and our co-operative, Leopold Takawira [named after a liberation war hero and Zanu’s wartime deputy president] is led by mostly war veterans,” Maunge said.
“We were asked to part with a lot of money towards developing this land and I invested my entire life savings to build myself what I thought would be a reasonable home, but my children and I have now been left at the mercy of the open heavens.”
Her story brings to the open the curious paradox surrounding illegal settlements that have sprouted in Harare right under the nose of city fathers and government.
The council does nothing as the settlements go up and people sink in thousands of dollars to put up massive structures of their dream houses, only to come months later ordering bulldozers to pull down the houses, leaving hundreds of people homeless.
Aspindale settlement is situated in the midst of a huge swathe of land, about 180 hectares owned by business tycoon and friend of Zanu PF, Billy Rautenbach.
War veterans invaded the land after receiving an offer letter issued to Innop Investments, a company owned by Zanu PF legislator Innocent Pedzisai, who proceeded to parcel out 850 stands which were then sold to members of the co-operative.
“Beneficiaries”, including Ma-unge, then developed the stands and built houses.
Commenting on the Aspindale illegal settlement saga, Local Government minister and Zanu PF political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere said Harare was not a village or a farm that could be taken over using offer letters.
“This is my area and I am the one who has jurisdiction here,” he said.
“Those letters from [Lands minister Douglas] Mombeshora don’t work here. If you want to use those letters, go and get land in a village.”
The other side of the land was also taken over by another co-operative, Joshua Nkomo housing co-operative and another by Marimba co-operative.
A total of 200 houses were demolished following a court order and another 800 were due to be destroyed last Wednesday, but were saved after Kasukuwere entered into a deal with Rautenbach and stopped the demolitions.
Rautenbach had demanded $15 million for the land or he would demolish the houses.
The compensation meant that Innop Investments would have to pay $35 per square metre while charging the occupants $49 per square metre.
These rates are far beyond the reach of many of the beneficiaries, so a deal was struck where Zanu PF, which had settled the people, offered to compensate Rautenbach with an alternative piece of land.
However, those whose properties have already been demolished will get no compensation. They have to bear the brunt of populist Zanu PF actions.
Along the Harare International Airport road is another settlement with a total of 3 000 people who have built mostly small low-cost houses.
President Robert Mugabe has ordered that they be removed from there because the land is earmarked for airport expansion.
The place was invaded by another group of war veterans at the height of the land reform programme led by Zanu PF central committee member Smith Marara who claims that Harare South is his and his word is law in that area.
“This is my area and what I tell people here is what happens,” he said.
“I have told them to start demolishing their homes and relocate to Stoneridge and that’s what they are doing because we don’t want to anger the president.”
The settlement near the airport is being demolished not because it is illegal or poses health problems to the people there, but because Mugabe said it should go.
He described it as an “eyesore in a prime area”.
Mugabe issued the order to have the families evicted after officially opening the airport road early this month as he prepared to welcome Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Isaac Madziwa said they settled in the area with the blessing of Zanu PF and never thought they would be evicted.
Now the same Zanu PF government is pushing them out to another area.
Civil servants lost a lot of money to war veterans who led the invasion of the property.
A medical doctor Mavis Nyamuta, who was a member of the housing scheme said she paid $2 000 for a stand in the name of a housing co-operative.
“There was a committee which was elected at first and they told us there was a scheme for civil servants,” he said.
“They then asked for money and we paid. I paid $500 at first then monthly instalments which amounted to more than $2 000. I stopped paying when I began to suspect it was a fraud.”
Harare council engineer, Phillip Pfukwa said the illegal settlements issue could not be resolved by council alone because it was a political problem.
“It is not like we have not been acting on illegal settlements; but there are other areas which we could not touch,” he said.
“For instance I could not have been here if I was not being shielded by the minister.
“This political goodwill will go a long way in assisting us to deal with these illegal settlements.”
Curiously, in the 2013 elections the illegal settlers were crucial in securing parliamentary seats for Zanu PF in Harare where MDC had been ruling supreme since 2000.
The constituencies include Harare South and Harare East where there was a sudden growth of housing co-operatives during the inclusive government era.
A number of Zanu PF linked land barons were arrested soon after the elections but the cases soon fizzled out.