There have been power tussles between central government and Harare City council amid allegations and counter allegations on who was behind the demolitions of homes in Budiriro and those looming in Chitungwiza. Our Senior Reporter Blessed Mhlanga (BM) sat down with Harare Provincial Development coordinator Tafadzwa Muguti (TM ) to discuss these and other issues and below are excerpts of the interview.
BM: There has been a lot of controversy around demolitions in Harare and Chitungwiza. Can you clarify these issues so that people can really understand what is going on?
TM: The unfortunate issue is that whenever there is development which is going to take place in any country, it means corrections have to be done. Whenever there is change, it means there was a situation which needed to be transformed. Let me start off by saying that our laws are very clear. We have the Regional and Town Planning Act which carries a section called development control. This development control has been with us since independence in 1980.
I will give you a point to reflect on, that even as you were growing up when your house was being built, inspectors would come at various stages; that’s development control. When you acquire a piece of land, certain permits have to be put in place, certain plans have to be approved, and that’s development control. Now the Regional and Town Planning Act is then enforced by the ministry of Local Government and Public Works and all local authorities. All local authorities, including the City of Harare, Chitungwiza, Epworth and Ruwa and any other in the country have what is called a Development Control Department.
What does the Development Control Department do? It looks at the Master Plan of the City and it looks at the developments which are happening within the city. So if a certain space is supposed to be for a school, you can’t wake up in the morning and decide to build your supermarket, there with be no approvals whatsoever. They (Development Control Department (DCD) are allowed by law to give you the orders and to actually evict you from there. But apart from that, you could also be a rightful land owner who builds substandard infrastructure. The DCD is allowed under that law to enforce the law. Now, if you look at the point in question; that of Harare Metropolitan province, we have had a lot of these illegal developments partially on the fact that we allowed what was called the housing cooperatives to go in and mobilise and give people land. Some were authorised, but many were not authorised.
What it resulted in is that we now have a situation where we have a lot of these illegal developments. Now the procedure is that once you have been given an order not to build and you continue to build, the municipality in question has the right to approach the courts to stop you or remove you.
Now we are not talking about one acre, we are talking about
150 000 hectares of land which was illegally possessed by people who were just malcontents within society. Now they have since won most of those court orders and as of February 2019, they had close to 35 court orders that they actually won. Not only that, but notices were then served to those people who were sitting on those pieces of land to evict them within nine months. So by October 31, 2019, the eviction notices had actually been served.
However, straight into February when the people were supposed to be evicted, the country went into lockdown and Covid came and that’s where we are today. So it’s not that there is someone being cruel, there’s someone being evil. I do agree with cabinet that the timing needs to be carefully managed. Let’s enforce the rule of law with the face of righteousness or within the act of humanity and in this case, it’s unfortunate that most of the people who are sitting on illegal land did not acquire the land directly from the authorities, but they got the land through third parties who purported to be having the paperwork in place.
BM: But how did this happen? These structures did not just sprout overnight. Why are they just being removed now when authorities sat and watched them going up?
TM: Well, first and foremost, we cannot correct a wrong with another wrong. The fact that you have committed a crime for so long and you’ve not been caught out does not make it legit. I think that’s the first thing we need to point out; that what is wrong is wrong. However, you will notice that when I was appointed I went around all local authorities addressing councils, addressing management, and one of the things that I was really hammering on was development control which is a function of local governments. Now as a local authority you seek with what we call the Land Bank, that means you can account for every single piece of square inch of land that you have. At some point local authorities in Harare lost that capacity.
BM: How did that happen?
TM: They lost that capacity firstly by failing to adequately track, audit and account for the land that they have. So if development control is fully effective, let’s say you own a piece of land which is 500 hectares, surely if someone came in and took a hectare, if you are constantly checking the boundaries of your land and constantly auditing, you can certainly tell that something has happened. That function was no longer happening, but partly because of corruption where you wake up in the morning someone knows that this piece of land belongs to the local authority and they being a councillor or an official would actually then manipulate the process to go and acquire the land or to actually look the other way whilst that land is being taken by people.
So the biggest question that I still have today is: Was there no desire to protect your land which is actually your largest asset?
BM: I have spoken to a number of players in the local authorities management and they are saying that politics was the major issue where politicians, successive ministers of local government Ignatius Chombo and Saviour Kasukuwere, dished out this land and councils could not do anything.
TM: But if we say politics alone, politics is not a person, it’s not a persona. In this situation we have the Justice Tendai Uchena commission which I can’t dwell on right now for obvious reasons. There are ongoing investigations, but what I do know and what we have since found out is that it always takes two to tango. The reason why I said this is that even if the minister today says that we have brought Mr Mhlanga and his cooperative to give them land, the Land Bank still sits within the local authority. So there are people within the ministry of Local Government and people within local authorities who all connived.
I will give you a point where in Budiriro you’ve seen the floods that have just happened. When I went there I was expecting to see a group of illegal settlers. Those people are so legal, they have got all their paperwork in place, their plans have been stamped, everything is above board, but look where they are staying; right in the river. So it shows you that at a certain time there was so much rot within ministry of Local Government and local authorities.
BM: Why is it that there seems to be politics being played where you find on social media government officials blaming the MDC and vice versa yet you only talk of just legality and illegality?
TM: I think the problem in Zimbabwe which I see has emanated over the years is that we have come to a position where in leadership we are failing to take one thing seriously. That is the point of accountability and accountability starts with the general citizen. We have to wake up in the morning and call a spade a spade. What is wrong is wrong, what is right is right and you’ve heard me saying even on social media that the truth will set us free. What we are finding today is that people are used to all these elements of mediocrity occurring and someone taking political mileage from it and I’m quite bolstered that Cabinet took a position because it was getting a bit nonsensical that you wake up in the morning and all the leaderships are busy throwing mud at each other.
When we look at it, the law is very clear, is the person settled there legally or not? So essentially there are rulings from the courts. It’s not someone who woke up in the morning and said let’s move all the houses; someone had to go to court not because they were evil, but someone from council is failing as Development Control manager.
There is someone who is actually paid to do that process. So if someone is doing their job and then you wake up in the morning and as politicians we are now politicising that, are we helping the framework for governments? As it is, frankly I don’t think council officials would wake up in the morning and celebrate and pop champagne for destroying homes. I think there is a process which is in place and that process needs to be perfected.
BM: Let us go to this issue, the aspect of service delivery. Many people have been complaining that councils are not giving them value for money. Where is the problem?
TM: Firstly, there is always a genesis to mismanagement. I will give you a point in question. Currently our council, let me give the City of Harare as an example. We are two years behind in terms of financial accounts, so our last set of financials is 2018, 2019, 2020 and if we are not careful we are going to go into three years. That alone is a serious contradiction to the Criminal Codification Act where essentially it is a crime for you to fail to produce public financials. You cannot account for funds that you are not aware of. I think from a government’s point of view, you can’t plan to it.
The second part which is quite sad to note, is that, we have almost 30% of formalised residents who are carrying the service delivery load for 70% of informalised residents. So the people who stay in Mabelreign, formalised parts of Warren Park, Mufakose you name it, Hatfield, those who pay their bills, those who have a receipt, those who have their bills for water and so forth, when they pay their service charges, that’s the bulk of money which is supposed to cater for the 70% who are not paying. That’s why our argument is that instead of demolitions, perhaps we should try and formalise those who are not on wetlands, try and create regularity, even if there are penalties so that we increase the amount of people who are paying revenues.