Backlash Over Zim House Demolitions

By Professor Matodzi

Harare, August 18, 2015 – Three residents have petitioned the High Court seeking to put to an end the heartless practice by the Harare City Council (HCC) of demolishing of houses in one of the high density suburbs in the capital city.

The HCC with the aid of officials from the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing has in recent weeks been demolishing homes in some parts of high density suburbs in Harare which they claimed were illegally built on municipal land. In Harare, the HCC has razed down more than 100 houses in Budiriro and Warren Park suburbs.

But three Budiriro high density suburb residents Tawanda Mukungurutse, Patrick Chikohora and Cledywn Mutete have taken legal action against the HCC by filing an urgent chamber application in the High Court seeking an order to stop the local authority from demolishing their houses which are at the risk of being pulled down as has been done to other structures as they were acquired in the same fashion as those that have been razed to the ground.

In their application filed by Bellinda Chinowawa of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, the residents argued that their constitutionally guaranteed protections from arbitrary evictions and unlawful administrative conduct are likely to be infringed as the demolitions are being conducted in the absence of a court order.

 “The 1st respondent (HCC) has not sought the order of any court and relied instead on the Urban Councils) Model Use and Occupation of Land Buildings) By Laws of 1979. I submit that the conduct of the 1st Respondent is unconstitutional as the statutory instrument on which it is relying upon cannot trump the provisions of the supreme law of the land. The 1st Respondent should therefore approach the courts before demolishing the homes of members of my cooperative,” Mukungurutse.

Mukungurutse, Chikohora and Mutete charged that they have been paying their subscriptions of $22 every month to Tembwe Housing Cooperative which was confirmed by authorities at the HCC’s Department of Housing and Community Services as a bona fide entity authorised to develop residential stands in Budiriro high density suburb.

The subscriptions, the residents charged were meant for the development of the stands, the acquisition of pipes for water and sewage and other related services including surveying fees, engineering costs and other costs which were meant to partition the stands.

The residents, who have young children who are of a school going age, argued that they could soon be rendered homeless if the HCC is not barred from demolishing their homes.

“I have nowhere else to take my family should my home be demolished. I do not have the means to afford a place to rent as I was laid off from Dairibord Zimbabwe (Pvt) Ltd and subsist by performing manual labour such as digging wells on demand. My income from such activities is around $20 a week and this barely enough to feed my family,” reads part of Mukungurutse’s affidavit.

The latest demolitions have caused serious concern among local rights groups and residents associations who include the Combined Harare Residents Association, the Chitungwiza Residents Trust and the Harare Residents Trust who have criticised the HCC and the government for backing the destruction of citizens’ houses.

In 2005, a government led operation dubbed Operation Murambatsvina left 700 000 people homeless or without livelihoods.