By Byron Mutingwende
HARARE – The City of Harare has come under fire from human rights defenders and residents whose houses it demolished on grounds that they were built illegally.
This came out at a meeting organized by the Ethics and Accountability Forum of Transparency International Zimbabwe policy dialogue on Thursday that was held at the Southern African Political Economies (Sapes) Trust compound under the topic “House demolitions, land barons and corruption: Harare and Chitungwiza.”
The City of Harare recently razed to the ground some houses in Budiriro, Glen Norah and Arlington Farm near Harare International Airport, leaving thousands of residents homeless and exposed to the vagaries of weather in this rainy season.
Commenting on the demolitions from a constitutional and human rights perspective, Lloyd Kuveya, the director of Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said the actions done outside the law and without consideration for the rights of the occupants were a violation of the Constitution of Zimbabwe and international human rights instruments.
“Section 74 of the constitution of Zimbabwe states: No person may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances,” Kuveya said.
He said several human rights instruments protect the right to adequate housing and freedom from arbitrary demolitions. These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; International Covenant on ESCR (Article 11); ICCPR (Article 17); Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 27) and CEDAW (Article 14).
The above instruments guarantee freedom from arbitrary demolitions and forced evictions, right to adequate housing and freedom from discrimination.
Kuveya said arbitrary demolitions constitute gross violations of a range of related related rights to adequate housing, food, water, health, education, security of the person and home, freedom of movement and freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Allowing this to happen also demonstrates the state’s failure to respect, protect and fulfill fundamental human rights and freedoms.
“Demolitions intensify social conflicts, hatred, civil disobedience, inequality and marginalization of vulnerable sectors of society.
One Shepherd Machokoto (55) from Tembwe Housing Cooperative in Budiriro – a victim of the demolitions, would occasionally interrupt his tale with uncontrollable sobs as he recounted how corruption by the land barons was robbing livelihoods of many home-seekers.
“I joined the cooperative in 2010. The cooperative is chaired by Caleb Kaoye, In the long run, there emerged some factions. One is led by Ephraim Mabuse and the other one by Ngonidzashe Muchechetere.
“These two people formed their cooperatives inside Tembwe Housing Cooperative. When the demolitions on land earmarked for a school started, they connived with council officials to demolish 13 of our stands including mine despite the fact that our stands are 900 metres away from the school site. We lost everything during the demolitions. My wife has since developed a heart problem and I am finding it difficult to feed my family and send my children to school since I am unemployed. I had invested my savings into building a five-roomed house which was raised to the ground within minutes,” Machokoto said, sobbing.
Machokoto alleged that the Mbuse faction is related to a woman boss at Cleveland Building (City of Harare’s planning headquarters) – a Mrs. Charumbira, whom he said gave orders to have their houses destroyed so that she would accommodate her relatives whose houses had been demolished because they were on a school site. The 13 stands destroyed were serviced and numbered.
An analysis by experts has shown that a number of circumstances have led to arbitrary demolitions in Zimbabwe. These include desperation to own homes by Zimbabwean citizens; the role of corrupt land barons and some local government officials in sanctioning illegal settlements and political expediency on the part of some government ministers and members of parliament who “authorize illegal settlements” to please the constituents.
A lack of access to a clear legal framework enacted by Parliament to ensure security of tenure for land ownership and prosecution of fraudulent land purchase deals; ignorance or lack of respect for city council by-laws and a dysfunctional anti-corruption commission or the absence of a land disputes tribunal to resolve fraudulent and illegal transactions have also been blamed for the chaos.
It has also emerged that as home-seekers buy stands ineligible for occupation, the government responded by carrying out arbitrary administrative or development-induced demolitions and forced evictions.
This resulted in loss of property, involuntary displacements of people and disruption of social life. The victims of the demolitions were exposed to unfavourable weather conditions after destruction of their shelter.
“There is need for a progressive constitutional court to deal with violations of human rights and a progressive national human rights commission to deal with complaints of human rights violations. The new Constitution guarantees the right to demonstrate and present petitions as provided for in section 59.
“We also need a dynamic Parliament which makes some effort to hold leaders to account. There is need for greater coordination and broader advocacy strategy among CSOs across the country in challenging arbitrary demolitions and forced evictions,” added Kuveya.
Irene Petras, the executive director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said demolitions were occurring countrywide and needed to be stopped.
“ZLHR has found that most cases of housing demolitions involve cooperatives or families resettled during the land reform exercise (evidence of the highly politicized nature of the settlements and subsequent removals). When the vulnerable and marginalized are considered as no longer useful to the politicians such abuse starts,” Petras said.
Petras said what emerges from legal interventions is that the Constitution is the supreme law and no subsidiary laws can be relied on which contravene the protection offered in the Constitution.
“The court order is not a given – there is need to have compassion and reference to another constitutional right – that of human dignity before evictions and demolitions. The bigger problem which requires our attention is that demolitions and arbitrary evictions will persist as there is no culture of constitutionalism. There is need to insist on this through awareness and education, and the overcoming of fear.
“Legal action whilst fighting impunity and holding state and non-state actors merely treats the symptoms. It is not a long-term remedy. It burdens the courts and lawyers and draws on resources, which are already difficult to come by, both for litigants and the state.
“Politicians and land barons will continue to oppress, abuse and manipulate the poor, marginalized and vulnerable for as long as there is no agreed and clear policy on, and long term solution to, urban planning and allocation, housing and resettlement.”
The chairperson of Combined Harare Residents Association, Simbarashe Moyo said the demolitions were a violation of residents’ rights to shelter and protection of the Constitution. He urged the City of Harare to desist from using archaic by-laws enacted as way back as 1979 before independence to destroy people’s houses on the pretext of maintaining order.