Uproar over Harare demolitions

Thousands of residents in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare and surrounding areas are facing eviction from their homes as local authorities embark on an operation to demolish all illegal structures.

At the end of last month, city authorities turned 70 residential and business buildings into rubble overnight in the dormitory town of Chitungwiza, 25km north of Harare, and served 324 settlers in the high-density suburb of Glen Norah with 48-hour eviction notices. 

However, the demolitions in Glen Norah did not proceed, as residents armed with axes, knobkerries and other objects faced off with police who eventually retreated.

Last week, hundreds of houses in Epworth, a high-density settlement southeast of Harare, were also demolished before a high court ruling on 10 October granted residents a temporary reprieve.

A government audit of illegal structures made public in December 2013 found that more than 14,000 residential stands in and around Chitungwiza had been illegally sold by housing cooperatives, councillors and village heads, all of them with ties to Zimbabwe’s ruling party ZANU-PF. Much of the land where stands were illegally created for the building of homes and businesses, had been earmarked for other purposes such as for clinics, schools, cemeteries, roads and wetlands.

Following the release of the report, Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Deputy Minister Biggie Matiza was quoted in the state-owned daily, The Herald, as committing to a “well organized, humane” process in demolishing the illegal structures that would ensure all affected families were offered alternative land. 

"I will not leave my home. I am living in fear that the demolishers can come and I can't even sleep"

However, residents like Eleanor Magaya, whose house in Chitungwiza faces demolition, have not been offered alternative land. “I will not leave my home,” she told IRIN. “I am living in fear that the demolishers can come and I can’t even sleep. They have served us with a seven-day ultimatum to vacate the area as it is reserved for recreational purposes and built on wetlands.”

Magaya showed receipts of payment she made for the stand to former ZANU-PF Chitungwiza Councillor Frederick Mabamba, who was behind one of the housing cooperatives identified in the government audit as illegally selling stands in the area.

“We were even given the go-ahead to start building and occupy the land before the general elections [in July] last year,” she said.

Businessman Boniface Manyonganise has started reconstructing his demolished building in Chitungwiza claiming that he got it lawfully.

“I will demand my compensation later, but for now I need to rebuild my business premise to continue operating,” he told IRIN.

In a statement, Harare City Council Spokesperson Leslie Gwindi urged residents who had been served eviction notices to voluntarily leave or face forced removal.


However, residents are adamant they will not leave stands they had paid for. “We will remain here, even if they kill us, let them kill us here,” said Nomatter Matikiti, a Chitungwiza resident who had been served with a seven-day eviction notice.

Before demolitions in Epworth were suspended, local human rights NGO Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) reported that 33 people had been injured there.

Harare residents have been experiencing severe housing shortages for a number of years with an official housing waiting list of 500,000, although the actual number of residents in need of housing but not on the waiting list is thought to be much higher. 

Dzimbahwe Chimbga, ZLHR programmes manager said: “The demolitions are quite devastating and disturbing as most of these people have only these homes and no other place to seek refuge. The demolitions have happened at a time when not only is the economy ailing, but rains have also started.”

The country is currently experiencing a severe economic crisis which has seen wide-scale company closures and downsizings, forcing many Zimbabweans to rely on the informal sector to make a living.

The demolitions have evoked memories of the 2005 Operation Murambatsvina urban clean-up campaign which left an estimated 700,000 people homeless across the country. 

“It’s difficult to see the difference between these demolitions and Operation Murambatsvina, as the people were served with short notices and under very unclear circumstances,” said Chimbga.

Political motives?

Chimbga alleged that so-called land barons with links to the ruling party had illegally settled people, not only for financial gain, but in an effort to boost support for ZANU-PF in the run-up to the 2013 elections. However, local authorities in affected areas have been overwhelmed by the pressures on resources from the new residents and can no longer sustain service delivery.

“Once these people had been used by their political party during the last elections, there was no need to maintain them,” Chimbga told IRIN. 

Organizations representing residents facing eviction, together with ZLHR, filed a court order on 7 October to stop demolitions in Epworth until affected residents could be relocated or offered alternative accommodation.

On 10 October, the court ordered the Epworth Local Board (ELB) to stop the demolitions citing section 74 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to shelter, and a law which requires local authorities to obtain a court order before demolishing illegal structures. 

The judgement pointed out that land barons had taken advantage of desperate home seekers and that the ELB had turned a blind eye to the illegal structures mushrooming in the area. 

“Having allowed these illegal settlements to take root, at the expense not only of the settlers but also of organized urban planning and public health, local authorities are now waking up and by force and power demolishing the structures without regard to the law and human dignity,” stated the judge.

Con artists target job seekers

Con artists target job seekers

Over the years, Harare residents and visitors have fallen prey to individuals and  groups of highly sophisticated con artists who target unsuspecting job seekers.

downtown harare

Investigations by Talking Harare have established that with the increasing number of job seekers in a country whose unemployment rate is said to be over 80%, ruthless con artists have emerged and these employ different methods to trick job seekers and get away with cash or property.

One of the ways used by this group of people, a method which has withstood the test of time, is to convince people moving around town, especially downtown area, that there is a lucrative business deal with huge monetary rewards of up to US$500 or even US$1000. To be part of the business, one would be required to pay a deposit fee of only US$20 and get promises of quick riches. Once the victim pay the money, the corn artists will disappear into thin air. 

The mushrooming of retail shops and supermarkets in downtown Harare has created ‘advertising space’ for the corn artists who use these to announce ‘job vacancies.’ ‘We have been dealing with numerous complaints from people who have been conned since we opened our supermarket here, but all I can say is that there are people who announce vacancies illegally using our supermarket’s external walls. They hoodwink their victims into thinking that it is the supermarket that is advertising for the jobs and the conmen go on to swindle money from the job seekers who will be told that the money is for training,’ explained a manager of a retail supermarket located along Cameroon Street.

Other posters with ‘job vacancies’ messages placed in strategic places like bus stops and restaurants also announce to job seekers that a certain foreign supermarket is hiring employees such as till operators, drivers, cashiers, cleaners and supervisors. ‘Attractive remunerations await interested candidates’ will be part of the message and mobile contact numbers will be given. Once these groups con their targets, they simply destroy the mobile phone sim card or continue to use it to attract more job seekers.

The corn artists have also devised other strategies including impersonating big companies and institutions such as the Zimbabwe National Revenue Authority (ZINARA). Recently these unscrupulous groups used social media to advertise vacancies for ‘Tollgate Attendances’ and urged applicants to respond on email hrzinara@gmail.com. ZINARA was forced to issue a press statement urging members of the public to ignore such calls for job applications and advised anyone seeking employment with the parastatal to approach the organisation’s human resources department.

Police have also on their part warned members of the public to avoid dealing with strangers and contact nearest police stations to verify on authenticity of such calls for job applications.

Harare attaches residents’ property

Harare attaches residents’ property

Harare City Council has started attaching property belonging to residents who have not settled their outstanding bills. The process, which started Tuesday in Tynwald, has since seen dozens of residents losing household property such as sofas, beds, wardrobes, fridges and stoves.

harare_cityTalking Harare sought comments from different stakeholders on this issue and below are the comments;

‘We have received sad reports that some residents in Tynwald have had their properties attached because they owe the City of Harare some money in water rates. If that is true, then the City of Harare has acted outside the law, because we have information that they do not have a court order to this effect. Water is a right and a human need which cannot be denied anyone, irrespective of their social-economic status.’ Harare Residents Trust

‘The duty of residents lobby groups (with regards to issues of rate payments and property attachments) should be double – sided. So the mandate of these groups should be widened to include urging residents to comply through rate payments and supporting existing council efforts to develop the city. We also need to look at the issue of water from a wider context beyond that of right to water and take into account costs involved for the water to get to the tapes.’ Harare Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni

‘The whole scenario (of council revenue generation and failure by residents to pay bills resulting in property attachments) should point to us that all is not well. Our urban planning systems are fragile and place the burden of revenue generation on residents. Local authorities such as Harare should come up with holistic ways of fund raising through, for example, engaging private companies that are doing well and convince them to provide funds whilst removing some levies from their operations. It is such holistic ways that can unlock funds from the private sector and boost council coffers. Failure to do this will result in acrimony between residents and local authorities.’ Urban planning expert Percy Toriro

‘I owe council US$250 and today  they came to attach my property, am surprised because there was no warning and the amount is too low to warrant such action. I was even trying to run around to settle the bill’ Tynwald resident Norman Tigere

‘I agree water is a basic right but we do not want to get it directly from dams hence we should be responsible enough to pay for its treatment and distribution.’ M Tsuma

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