HARARE – Fear has gripped Harare residents as government’s planned demolition of illegal structures in the capital begins tomorrow.
Coinciding with the onset of the rainy season, authorities will on Tuesday be moving in to clear slums across Harare, where 4 million people live.
Since last week, the operation to clear slums, which started in Ruwa, has met with widespread opposition.
Many of the slum dwellers have dug their heels in and responded furiously against the operation.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has said the events are part of an unfortunate pattern in Zimbabwe and has urged the authorities to stop this act of war and threatened to sue Ignatius Chombo, the Local Government minister, if he forges ahead with the exercise.
Tendai Mahachi, the Harare town clerk, confirmed the demolitions will begin tomorrow and will be targeting tuckshops, unplanned buildings and all other structures that are illegal.
Mahachi referred further questions to Leslie Gwindi, the Harare City Council spokesperson, whose mobile phone was unreachable.
With reports that the exercise is set to begin tomorrow, Kumbirai Mafunda, the ZLHR spokesperson, told the Daily News that legal action will be taken early this week, if government remained defiant on its planned action.
On Wednesday last week, the human rights organisation wrote to Chombo, demanding that he stops the demolitions forthwith.
The rights lawyers gave Chombo a 72-hour ultimatum for him to reverse the decision — which he has failed to comply with — after noting provisions of the new Constitution which makes the demolitions illegal.
Section 74 of the new Constitution states that: “No person may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances.”
Precious Shumba, Harare Residents Trust (HRT) director, condemned the planned destruction of illegal structures.
“As HRT, we are saddened that the government has taken this drastic stance on illegal housing settlements, when it is common knowledge that these housing developments were being undertaken by known Zanu PF officials and MDC councillors and very corrupt council officials,” Shumba said.
He said officials had allocated homeless residents stands in violation of the Regional Town and Council Planning Act and the Urban Councils Act.
He said the issue was not about the timing of the demolitions, but the continued abuse of authority.
“What is mostly shocking to HRT and most likely to other civil society organisations is the inability of central government to enforce provisions of the planning laws, government housing developments and other planning initiatives,” Shumba said.
“Most of the local authorities have neglected their legal mandate to uproot all illegal housing developments. The nation has seen the rise and rise of partisan officials joining hands with corrupt political leaders to subvert the law.”
With claims by Joel Biggie Matiza, the Local Government deputy minister, that government would demolish houses built on wetlands and on top of sewer mains, the authorities seem hell-bent on unfurling the campaign tomorrow.
“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,” Matiza said at a meeting last week.
“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.”
While Zimbabwe’s vocal civil society is outraged at the planned action and have condemned the operation, criticism even seems to herald right from the highest echelons of the Zimbabwean government.
Miriam Chikukwa, a minister of State for Harare Province, has called for cool heads saying government should not treat people like “animals.”
It is feared clashes could break out as bulldozers roll-in tomorrow to clear the illegal structures in a move that echoes the widely-condemned 2005 Operation Murambatsvina.
Morgan Tsvangirai’s opposition MDC condemned the Ruwa demolitions last week, which it noted violated the people’s constitutional right to shelter.
“The (MDC) party strongly condemns this callous move by the controversially elected Zanu PF government especially during the rainy season,” the MDC said in a statement.
“Sadly, this happens at a time when over 40 percent of the adult population has no personal residential properties, while the tuckshops have become the only source of income for most residents who have no jobs.”