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Demolition of houses: Fixing the broken tape or mopping water from the broken tape?

09 Aug 2021 at 13:49hrs | Views
The current events unfolding in the country are a clear indication that operation Murambatsvina was not an end in itself. Many houses continue to be demolished in a shocking and traumatizing way.

Demolitions are continuing and there is a high probability of many demolitions taking place in future. The government and local authorities are using the same modus operandi of destroying completed houses. It is astounding that authorities chose to demolish completed houses as opposed to addressing the flawed process of acquiring land.

The approach of demolitions being used by local authorities conveys the notion that there are other institutions or individuals other than local authorities, instrumental in selling land to people illegally. This probably explains the reason why local authorities are responding with demolitions as a way of addressing the illegalities associated with the acquisition of land. However, this also raises a lot of questions as to why those individuals selling land illegally without following the procedures are not brought to book?.

The contention over house demolitions emanates from the fact that the authorities are only seen enforcing the laws only when the land has been acquired and the houses are completed. Demolitions are not the only way to enforce the law pertaining to the acquiring of residential land. Local authorities ought to enforce the law from the process of acquiring land by ensuring that all the procedures have been followed prior to the authorization of building houses.

The demolitions are predicated on the fact that, the land upon which the houses have been built was acquired illegally. Nevertheless, this also triggers the question,  "Who is responsible for selling the land as well as granting the approval to construct houses on that land". It is the prerogative of local authorities especially the city council to regulate as well as sell land to individuals. Probably this is a clear indication that there are other parallel organizations and individuals selling land illegally without the knowledge of local authorities.

Instead of holding to account those instrumental in selling land to the people, the local authorities respond by destroying completed houses where a lot of resources would have been committed to the building of such houses. It is astounding that the local authorities choose to destroy completed houses as opposed to addressing the flawed process of acquiring land.
The consistent use of demolitions as a way of dealing with illegal selling of land is a clear indication that, authorities have no other options of addressing the problem. Demolitions are a huge threat to livelihoods and they often leave the victims traumatized and hopeless. Victims lose all the resources they committed to the acquiring of land as well as building the houses.

Demolitions are unpleasant, and as a nation we cannot afford to see people being victimized, traumatized and being robbed of their dignity daily. This is suggestive of the need of a different approach to prevent the occurrence of demolitions. Demolitions shouldn't happen at all, because they are inhuman and they demonstrate lack of empathy and sensitiveness.

The issue of building houses on illegal land is not an individual problem. This is an institutional problem. It indicates dysfunctional institutions. It shows that something is wrong with the institutions responsible for regulating and selling land.

Demolitions are informed by the "blame the victim approach" which holds the assumption that individuals are the makers of their own misfortune. This approach does not put into consideration that organizations and institutions also account for the problems faced by individuals in the society.

 The shortfall of the "blame the victim approach is that it distances people responsible from the problem. This approach results in those responsible abdicating themselves from the problem on the basis that individuals are the ones creating problems hence they must extricate themselves from such problems. In other words, government and other authorities won't intervene in such cases.
The blame the victim approach is not a viable approach in the sense that it does not address the problem at hand. If this approach is to be used consistently, it means we must anticipate more demolitions. There is need to address the root cause of this problems (fixing the broken tape) as opposed to approaches like demolitions (mopping water from a broken tape).

The use of demolitions as a way of addressing the illegal acquiring of land is a clear indication that the government and authorities are complacent to address the flawed process of purchasing residential land. There seems to be a lack of political will to address the problem.  

Demolitions are not developmental in the sense that, they do not have a bearing in preventing the illegal acquiring and selling of land in future.. Instead of improving the livelihoods of people, demolitions aggravate poverty and leave people hopeless and traumatized.

If the demolitions continue, citizens will have less confidence in their institutions. The government and local authorities ought to come up with clear laws and procedures of acquiring land so as to prevent the victimization of people through demolitions.

The crafting of laws and procedures of acquiring land is not an end in itself, but also to empower citizens by educating them on the procedures to be followed when acquiring residential land. Individuals and groups selling land illegally must be delisted and barred from selling land to citizens. The power to sell land must be with city councils and local authorities.

 In order  to prevent further victimization of people, the authorities need to be proactive, by addressing the flawed process of acquiring land, and delisting all individuals and groups auctioning land outside the law. Citizens must be fully educated on the procedures to be followed when acquiring land as well as being knowledgeable of credible institutions which are certified to sell residential land.   
Joseph Mvero is a social work graduate from the the University of FortHare in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. He can be contacted on

Source - Joseph Mvero
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