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Harare's chickens coming home to roost

25 Apr 2020 at 07:50hrs | Views
FOR the umpteenth time, Harare City Council is trying to restore order in the city. It is taking ad-vantage of the COVID-19 crisis and the void created by the lockdown to destroy illegal structures.

On the whole it is a smart move to do it now because illegal is illegal and ought not to be tolerated notwithstanding unemployment and poverty and the harshness of it all. However, these current attempts like all other previous attempts will fail because while it is easy to knock down makeshift shacks it is not so easy to knock down poverty.

The shacks will be back before some people even know they had gone. Its not even the aggressiveness of poverty that will cause this latest attempt to fail but the Harare City Council itself because it is not an honest player.

For years the council has been actively encouraging the culture of illegal structures and haphazard human settlements. Its insincerity and dishonesty, never mind ineptitude, to run a big city will cause most things it does to fail.

Decades of politicking and wilful decimation of municipal laws and the systemic corruption in the council created the culture of illegal structures.

Through bribes and vote buying, politicians championed the open-ing of illegal markets and unplanned settlements throughout the city. The capital city does not even have a properly convened planning department or if it does it is so inept that it is also just a bystander.

The city has gone for years without a town clerk because of high level politicking. The ubiquitous illegal markets and settlements were allowed to mushroom unchecked from the late 1990s when party politics took over every facet of Zimbabwean life.

The settlements emerged from the big farms outlying Harare which had been re-possessed by the government for urban development during the land reform programme.

In the south, farms like Hopley, Stoneridge, Saturday, Retreat, to the east Caledonia and Hatcliffe to north were all turned into massive unplanned unregulated and chaotic settlements for the masses of the urban poor.

People were encouraged to form housing co-operatives which were used as a conduit for corruption and land deals.

Tiny housing stands on unserviced virgin land measuring be-tween 150-200 square metres were dished out to desperate home seekers by politicians and councillors and their proxies. Poor people are the stuff politicians dreams are made of.

They are easy to exploit and are a politician's best weapon and political capital.

The provisions of the Regional Town and Country Planning Act are precise and clear. All town plans should provide for public utility services such as roads, railway lines, pipelines, power generation and sup-ply, purification and supply of water, radio and telecommunication services, drainage and sewerage facilities.

Land developers must satisfy that the land they require is adequate to provide for housing, educational facilities, health facilities, police stations, roads, traffic flow management, parking facilities, sewerage or drain-age services and the supply of electricity and water. However, all town planning books, statutes, and best practices were thrown out of the window.

There were easy votes and money to be picked from poor people so clever and well connected people made good money from land they did not own or had not developed.

In these unplanned settlements there are none of the standard prescribed services expected of urban living like piped water, sewerage systems, water reticulation and waste disposal services.

People make a plan and burn their household waste or lust dump it at the end of the lane or on vacant stand. The houses are not inspected or certified by municipal building inspectors.

Basic services such as roads, flood drainage and fire service systems are non-existent Septic tanks and shallow wells are put on land too small to hold them and there are rows upon rows of tens of thousands of such a set up. It is a total mess and a ticking health bomb lust waiting for a spark to explode.

If COVID-19 hits as predicted it will do what cholera and typhoid failed. It has the capacity to wipe out entire settlements from the map of Harare. Oblivious to the danger about to hit them life goes on for the residents of these settlements and the chaos around them is normal life for them.

They are only happy and grateful to the corrupt councillors and politicians for giving them a chance to own their own houses and not have to pay rent Now that COVID-19 the most infectious disease so far this century is here, the chicken can only come home to roost.

Every bad decision, every bribe ever taken, every corner ever cut to expedite the issuance of permits, every shady land development deal in Harare will culminate in COVID- 19 fatalities.

Too much was allowed to go wrong for the sake of politics and manipulating poor people in exchange for their money and votes under the guise of empowering them. However, all it did was to squash them together in barely habitable settlements as sitting ducks for a disease that will wipe them out unless a miracle happens.

Miriam Tose Majome is a lawyer at Veritas and she writes in her personal capacity. She can be contact-ed on and Twitter @MajomeMiriam

Source - newsday
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