House demolitions victims forgotten

House demolitions victims forgotten

A house being demolished in one of the illegal settlements in Harare

Farai Mabeza
A MIDDLE-aged woman, cle-arly distraught and at the same time fed up by the blame games, mudslinging and banter between politicians Douglas Mwonzora and Jacob Mafume, stood up at the back of the room to make her contribution. She had only one question.
“What we want to know is what do we do as people whose houses were demolished? We don’t care about whose councillors did what; or whatever,” she said.
The meeting had been convened by the Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) to focus specifically on the people affected by the demolitions of illegal settlements in and around Harare.
With political temperatures heating up within the ruling ZANU-PF party, and now dominating every inch of front page news, people who were caught up in the eye of the storm risk becoming forgotten.
Most of the people do not even know how they are going to begin rebuilding their lives.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights director, Irene Petras, told the meeting that focus should be on the lives that were shattered and not just on the properties that were destroyed.
“We are not talking about just bricks being brought down but about lives being disrupted.
“The real cost of the demolitions is in the lives of those affected, the people on medication, the children going to school,” Petras said.
While it is clear that many believe in pursuing the legal route to get some sort of recourse for the victims, particularly compensation, Petras believes that human rights empowerment is more important.
“You need to deal with the ability of the people to understand that they have rights, the right not to be moved without a court order. There is not enough money to represent everybody in court. That is why we do representative cases,” she said.
Mwonzora, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T)’s secretary general, advocated a more radical approach.
“I am not telling anyone to do this, but this is what I would do. If I saw a truck coming to destroy my home, without any court order, I would stone the truck and its occupants. These things happen because us, the people of Zimbabwe, allow them to happen,” he said.
With the people at a loss on how to salvage their lives, Petras urged civil disobedience.
“If my house has been destroyed, the person who has destroyed it must provide an alternative or I will go to Town House or wherever their offices are and stay there until I am provided with a new house. I think that will help to show the human toll of these demolitions,” she said.
CHRA chairman, Simbarashe Moyo, bemoaned double standards by political leaders.
“I have realised that Harare South is one constituency created out of illegal settlements but it is being regularised. Why this selective application of the law?”
Harare has seen a spike in illegal settlements over the last decade fueled by corruption at the city council and by land barons and housing cooperatives, who pledge allegiance to ZANU-PF, yet in actual fact they are out to swindle desperate residents of thousands of their hard-earned money.
The city council has said that residents should respect its land use policies. Some of the homes were constructed over sewage pipes or on wetlands.
Many of the affected people, like the majority of their countrymen, have lost jobs over the past few years and no longer have the financial means to build new homes.
The MDC-T has the majority of elected councillors in Harare, but they say that council staff members, who support, or fear ZANU-PF regularly ignore council decisions.

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