The demolition of 190 houses in Harare’s Budiriro high-density suburb opened debate on the thorny issue of land barons that have over the years turned housing systems in urban areas across the country upside down.
Criminals that used the ruling Zanu PF as a cover took over land in different cities, which they parcelled out to desperate home seekers that were deceived into joining bogus housing cooperatives.
The government allowed the illegal housing schemes to flourish because in its calculations this would help Zanu PF to gain supporters in urban areas where it has struggled to win elections for the past two decades.
Elsewhere in this publication, we report in detail how a possible 32 000 homes that were built in Harare without the necessary council approval could be demolished after the government gave the local authority the nod to take action against the illegal settlers.
According to Harare mayor Jacob Mafume, the government wanted the demolitions to be done as soon as possible.
Such action is likely to trigger a humanitarian crisis that was last seen in 2005 when the government embarked on the infamous Operation Murambatsvina, which literally means getting rid of the filth.
Harare’s housing mess is a creation of the ruling party and the government as much as Operation Murambatsvina, which cost some 700 000 Zimbabweans their homes or livelihoods, was the product of short-sighted policy formulation by the then regime of Robert Mugabe.
Government officials say illegal settlers that are found mainly in Harare South and the northern parts of the capital paid as much as US$3 000 to the land barons.
Last week a list of the cooperatives whose members could soon lose their homes through the demolitions was publicised by the government.
Surprisingly the authorities have not shown the same enthusiasm that they exhibit when arresting opposition MDC Alliance councillors over the alleged land scams in dealing with the land barons menace.
It goes without saying that only credible investigations and prosecution of people behind the rampant theft of land around the country’s cities will cure the problem of illegal settlements.
Selective application of the law will only fuel suspicions over the government’s sudden interest in ridding the cities, especially Harare, of illegal land occupation.
All the land barons regardless of party affiliation must be accounted for and the desperate home seekers that were duped into joining the Zanu PF-affiliated cooperatives deserve justice.