This article is not in any way meant to be offensive but just to unravel some of the facts behind wetlands invasion in Harare.
By Edgar Gweshe
Those privy to the case of Hillside Park Wetland will know that the person who is seeking to develop on the area was former Cabinet Minister, Petronella Kagonye who is seeking to construct a wedding venue.
Her intentions have been met with resistance from Hillside residents who have since petitioned the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) seeking to stop construction on the wetland area.
The residents also launched a court appeal with the assistance of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and in May 2019, High Court Judge, Justice Tagu ordered Kagonye’s firm, Glorious All Time Functions Private Limited to stop construction on the wetland.
The High Court in May 2019 ordered that Kagonye’s ‘planned development on stand number 19594 Harare Township in the District of Harare measuring 1. 0195Ha is hereby declared unlawful’.
As part of the High Court judgement, Kagonye was ordered to ‘cease all construction work related to the development and remove all machinery on site’ and to ‘pay the costs of the application on a legal practitioner and client scale’.
Kagonye however filed an appeal against the High Court judgement with the Supreme Court and before determination of the appeal she was back at the Hillside Park wetland (in February 2020) continuing with her construction work.
Her actions were indeed a flagrant violation of the May 2019 High Court order.
As a result of Kagonye’s violation of the High Court order, the Hillside Park Association, with the assistance of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights launched an urgent application for execution of the May 2019 judgement by the High Court to suspend developments on the Hillside Park Wetland until determination of the Supreme Court appeal by Kagonye.
On Tuesday, March 10, 2020, ZLHR’s Fiona Iliff and Paidamoyo Saudombe appeared before Justice Maramba who granted the request for execution of the High Court order which stopped Kagonye from developing on the Hillside wetland.
Kagonye was ordered to comply with the High Court order pending determination of her Supreme Court case appeal.
Without knowing where Kagionye was deriving her power from (to violate a court order to stop construction on a wetland) one is justified to conclude that abuse of office, political power/connections is among the leading causes of wetlands invasion and destruction in Harare.
That a former Cabinet Minister would choose to ignore a court order and cause harm to the environment is a huge cause for concern.
Her actions leave us doubting commitments to protect wetlands by politicians.
Quite often, regulating authorities have found their arms tied in trying to deal with rowdy politicians who abuse their power to invade wetlands in Harare. And from personal experience, I have also discovered that in some instances, residents are afraid of appending their signatures to petitions against these powerful and rowdy politicians.
Kagonye’s case is not an isolated one though.
Our dilemma is that quite often, we have politicians pledging to protect wetlands yet they are among the major culprits in terms of wetlands destruction in Harare.
On wetlands protection, our politicians are indeed indicating left and turning right. Their commitment is highly questionable and as long as that trend continues, the war to save our wetlands will be a lost cause.
Even land barons who have been implicated in wetlands invasions have been riding on political connections hence some of them are untouchable.
I am very doubtful that President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is on record calling for wetlands protection is unaware that politicians, the majority of whom ride on their allegiance to Zanu (PF) are mostly behind the destruction of wetlands in Harare.
In any case, there is need for him to act against rowdy politicians.
Under these unfortunate circumstances, residents of Harare have the courts to turn to in the fight to protect wetlands which are our water sources.
Our biggest challenge in terms of wetlands protection also is the fact that those who have been mandated with looking after the water sources have turned to be the culprits in terms of destruction and invasion of the wetlands.
This could justify why there is a lackadaisical approach to update the outdated Harare Master plan (which was last updated in 1992) as well as to develop the Local Environmental Acton Plans (LEAPs).
Politics has indeed come with heavy costs for the environment.
Edgar Gweshe is a Journalist based in Harare. He writes in his personal capacity, He can be contacted on [email protected]