HARARE – Government is sharply divided over an edict to demolish illegal houses in Chitungwiza.
Miriam Chikukwa, the Harare Metropolitan Province minister, on Wednesday publicly clashed with deputy Local Government minister Joel Biggie Matiza over the proposed demolition of illegal houses in the sprawling dormitory town.
In an address to a public meeting at Unit L Community Hall, the two ministers did not agree on what to do with the over 10 000 houses built by residents after land barons parcelled out stands and sold them without full council approval.
Earlier in the week, the local authority had assured residents that it had no intention demolishing the houses but rather to regularise them saying government had not given the directive.
But Matiza proposed partial demolition where some of the houses that are situated on sewer mains and under electricity cables as well as on wetlands would be demolished while Chikukwa argued that the move would set the Zanu PF party against its supporters.
Chikukwa openly chose to side with the residents in the tension-filled meeting, exposing the divisions over the issue.
She proposed that a non-confrontational solution be reached to avoid antagonising the urbanites.
“It will be wrong for us to treat these people like they are animals yet they are our people. We need to treat them well considering that they were duped by greedy council officials,” Chikukwa said, much to the delight of residents who gave her a round of applause.
Chikukwa’s sentiments resonated with the newly-formed and vociferous Chitungwiza Residents Trust whose members jeered at Matiza when he said government was not prepared to fold its arms while the sprawling town was being turned into a squatter camp.
Matiza had indicated that government would not hesitate to demolish houses built on wetlands and on top of sewer mains.
“There is no way we can let a situation where a house is on a wetland, on top of the sewer system and directly under electric cables,” he said.
“It’s a danger to residents and their children so we have to re-organise that. Our duty is to ensure that laws are respected so we will act.
“The process has just started and we will not fail. In a weeks’ time our team will have completed the task of auditing the extent of the rot and we will be coming back again to see how their recommendations can be implemented.”
He was however forced into a major climb down when the residents heckled him.
Boniface Manyonganise, former MDC councillor for ward four, was barred from making a contribution as residents booed him saying he was one of the chief culprits in illegally parcelling out land. Matiza pledged to have the land barons prosecuted.
Speaking to the Daily News on the sidelines of the consultative meeting, Chitungwiza Residents Trust coordinator Donald Makuwaza said the fact that government seems to be in a quandary on the way forward showed that someone was personalising the issue.
He said residents would resist destruction of houses without alternative accommodation.
Makuwaza suggested that government destroys only those houses that cannot be regularised because of their location.
“Residents will only cooperate with government if they come up with an alternative,” he said.
“It is inhuman for them to just demolish houses which Chitungwiza municipality gave us and people are paying their rates to the local authority.
“They must identify those houses that they cannot regularise say because they were built on sewer mains but they should provide a alternative accommodation for the affected residents.”
An investigation report on the Allocation, Change of Use, Subdivision and Repossession of Stands by a team appointed by Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo last year revealed massive corruption in the sprawling town leading to the dismissal of several councillors including Manyonganise.
In 2005 government embarked on a slum clearance drive code-named Operation Murambatsvina in which authorities demolished illegally-built homes forcing thousands of people out of Harare.
A UN report condemned the two-month campaign that saw about 700 000 people losing their homes or livelihoods in the operation calling it a “catastrophic injustice” to Zimbabwe’s poorest.