Chitungwiza Council In Illegal Settlements Dilemma
It has been days now since the demolitions took place and heaps of broken glass and bricks lie scattered all over the vast space just behind St Mary’s Chitungwa Police Station.
According to Cecilia Muchemwa, a housewife who witnessed the tragic events unfold over a week ago, it’s been a difficult experience waking up each morning from her little cottage that was spared only to see remnants of her once beautiful house now reduced to rubble.
She never saw this coming.
“Since we have been paying council fees for quite some time now, I felt there needed to be a conversation regarding that first. Council had to explain why and where were they taking our money if in all fairness this is an illegal settlement,” said Muchemwa.
Yet on October 2, hundreds of homes in the area were brought down in a joint operation between Chitungwiza municipal police and Zimbabwe Republic Police.
She said they have been paying monthly council fees for the past five years yet the local authority never told them that the land they were occupying was reserved space.
Upon inquiring why the law enforcement officers were destroying her house on the fateful day, Muchemwa says, “I was severely beaten in a way that ripped off clothes from my body while my children watched,”
Such was the brutal way the operation was conducted before the Chitungwiza Town Council (CTC) gave in to public outcry and stopped the demolitions the next day.
Over 30 sites had been targeted for demolitions before CTC reversed its decision- but the damage had already been done.
The houses are said to have been built on environmentally sensitive spots, areas reserved for development or inhabitable spaces.
But thousands of sprouting illegal settlements in Chitungwiza have left authorities in the satellite town seeking for answers on how to regularize existing residential structures at the same time discouraging the setting up of new ones.
For now, it said it will target structures that are in the preliminary stages of construction while it ponders on what action to take on structures already completed.
“We will destroy structures that are still under construction while we map out how best we can handle those with completed infrastructure,” CTC Deputy Mayor Musa Makweza told this publication.
Regularizing these settlements demands a massive capital injection for setting up water and sewer pipes and electricity and road infrastructure, an exercise the financially distressed local authority is not ready to commit.
Ironically, the council has denied allocating residential stands on reserved space, despite these settlements sprouting under its watch.
A complex and robust syndicate is understood to be behind the allocation of these stands.
“Council did not allocate any land in this area for residential occupation neither did it collect any money from people occupying that space. That area is zoned for a railway line,” said CTC spokesperson, Lovemore Meya.
In the meantime, the structures along the Seke –Harare Highway presents a catch-22 for Chitungwiza council having to make a verdict between consolidating houses sheltering hundreds of families on one hand and accommodating a railway project on the same land on the other hand.
The railway project cited by Meya has also been hanging in the balance since the initial project assessment was undertaken by Richard Barett Traffic and Transport Associates Limited over three decades ago.
Speaking on resuscitating the project back in 2018, head of infrastructure projects at Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe (IDBZ) indicated the need for a new feasibility test for the venture to review and update the previous parameters.
“A lot has changed in terms of the public transport sector, therefore, there is need to investigate the feasibility of an urban rail system between Harare and Chitungwiza possibly linking other greater Harare suburbs beyond a direct link with Harare CBD,” Matete said.
Meanwhile, for some residents, the presence of St Mary’s Police station along the same zone demolished houses are situated qualifies the railway project an aborted venture unless the police station is also due to be demolished.
“We strongly believe these demolitions are politically motivated, how do you explain the destruction of houses behind a police station for occupation of railway line space when the station and numerous infrastructures that precede our settlement are still standing?” queried Vivian Chiriri.