The Epworth Local Board has demolished 400 houses in the last fortnight as it seeks to bring order to the sprawling settlement outside Harare.
BY XOLISANI NCUBE
Since its creation in the late 19th century after the arrival of Methodist missionaries, Epworth has not had a proper settlement plan despite growing over the years to accommodate over 200 000 residents.
It has been home to mostly unemployed residents who live on less than $1 a day.
The settlement has no proper road network, house planning, sewer system or water reticulation plan.
The local authority has been powerless to stop a free-for-all human settlement where anybody could build structures wherever they wanted to settle.
This is the mess that the board has finally decided to bring to an end. However, the move has come at a cost for residents.
Several hundreds of residents have found themselves all of a sudden homeless this winter.
Their houses were demolished by caterpillars and other earth-moving equipment brought in by the local authority.
Our news crew visited Epworth last week and witnessed both the development and the calamity.
Most of the houses that were being brought down were built with pole and dagga — making an easy job for the giant demolishing machines —but that did not make the human suffering any less.
The affected people included elderly residents who said they had lived in their homes for over 30 years only to be rendered destitute in the blink of an eye and “without warning”.
Peter Machando, who settled in Epworth relatively lately said: “When we came here in 2005, we were told that we must not build permanent structures because the council wanted to plan and allocate stands to people systematically.
“However, the process took too long and some of us decided to build better homes.
“Now my three-roomed house — my life investment — has been demolished and I have nowhere to start from.”
He said before the demolitions started, residents had been advised to move out since their homes stood in the way of planned roads.
But residents were not given enough time to rebuild and move out, Machando said.
“As you can see, many people have makeshift structures, which they call home and destroying these and telling them to rebuild proper homes is a tall order,” said Daniel Foya, the chairperson of Epworth Residents Development Association.
“To us, this is a political move, which might cost someone votes if not properly managed.
“Council wants to be seen to be doing something to justify their existence, but they are not taking into account the state of our economy.
“We expected the local authority to do this exercise after providing means to rebuild homes, not driving their bulldozers through the compound.
“We now have children sleeping in the open because most parents here do not have money to rebuild their homes.”
Victor Kamba, founder and co-ordinator of Combined Epworth Residents Trust, said they would soon make the local authority accountable for its conduct.
“We have realised that without pressure from residents, the local board will take the suburb down the drain.
“You can’t just take a bulldozer and bring down homes without compensating the affected people.
“This is illegal and inhuman,” he said, adding that the people were aware that the so-called settlement regularisation was just an election campaign gimmick.
It is alleged that in the build up to the demolition, councillors and local authority officials allocated alternative housing stands to people who had settled themselves on land earmarked for roads.
Ward 7 councillor, Vengesai Muchoni, who was negotiating with residents in a bid to convince them to remove their belongings so that the bulldozer could raze down their homes, said the exercise “was a painful but necessary evil”.
“We engaged the people first and discussed with them the need for us to have roads and a properly planned settlement.
“I am sure they appreciate what the local board is doing in that regard,” he said.
“We want to cover most of the road network here before next years’ election and our vision is to ensure we have planned settlements so that people are able to have proper home addresses.
“This is a worthwhile achievement. We know it is going to be costly for the people but we have to do it.
“We have to develop our area and have street names. We yearn to be like other towns and cities so that we can attract investments for our area.”
Epworth has been growing at a very fast rate and is touted to be one of the most highly populated settlements in Zimbabwe.