When title deeds get choked in the policracy of poverty

By Rejoice Ngwenya,

Norton. Sunday, 21 November 2021

Temba Mliswa’s Parliamentary activism probably falls in the realm of political icons like Sydney Malunga, Josiah Chinamano and Julius Malema. Here I am not talking classical political credibility. This obviously would be a subjective area of judgement. But when you delve into old fashioned, hardcore effective Parliamentarism – his rankings are well above the plummet line of mediocre legislative delivery prevalent in Zimbabwe’s two houses. It would seem to me Parliamentary effectiveness comes with a whiff of controversial character as well, because Malema’s adversarial and confrontational debates do equally draw a substantial audience in his native South Africa. Mliswa is never too far, neither does he shy from controversy – both in and outside the House. He thrives on disclosure and blossoms from both solicited and unsolicited attention. If anything, he is one legislator who has successfully yanked the books of legislative public scrutiny. Some say Mliswa wields ‘superficial courage’ with reckless abandon only because his constituency independence immunises him from myopic Parliamentary caucuses. Others argue he is a gung-ho political ninja driven by kamikaze escapades. However, today, I have no interest in profiling emotional intelligence of those I have neither worked or lived with. I want to talk about poverty as a function of political bureaucracy – what I christened Policracy. But why have I evoked Temba Mliswa imagery in my introduction? There’s an old adage that “good politicians not only have people at heart but are close to the people”. And so, when my research team and I fanned out in the country to unravel the mysteries of title deeds in Zimbabwe’s poverty-stricken inner cities, we could not resist the temptation of sampling Norton. At one time, Mliswa’s Norton constituency boasted one of the largest paper converters in Africa, literary waiting to conquer the world. The ‘town’ attracted big name investors like legendary musician Oliver Mtukudzi. I was therefore keen to trace the economic footprints of property ownership, knowing that Norton has been – like most Zimbabwe’s farming towns – savaged by economic turmoil attributable to rampant commercial farm invasions. I also knew that it had experienced exponential residential property growth having been a preferred destination for thousands of property speculators from Harare – a mere sixty kilometres up the road to the east. Long after my researchers have left, I remain talking to Norton citizens in their natural habitat, trying to appreciate their economic challenges and am convinced ‘property ownership poverty’ is a widespread national scourge. Zimbabweans are a product of a capitalist system that glorifies, appreciates, embraces and understands the importance of private property ownership. Yet their national government – and unfortunately local authority technocrats – have allowed political bureaucracy, legalistic dogma – to thwart property ownership ambitions of millions of inner-city citizens. Everywhere my researchers have been to, the answer is the same: “I want to own this place, legally, but the whole process is warped and refracted by senseless Policracy”. I know this because I have also spent a little chunk of time talking with Mliswa who has first-hand knowledge of how this malady and debacle poisons the ambitions of poor but prospective property owners in his constituency.One needs to understand that millions of Zimbabweans displaced from gainful employment have poured the little savings they have in ‘property’; thus, the last thing that should happen is them losing their investment only because property ownership laws and political stupidity remain grounded in feudal mantra. As a property rights activist myself, I do appreciate the dangers of legitimising exploitative ‘land barons’ who invade private property and use gangster template to allocate land. But my research perspective is citizen-prism, bottom-up. The citizen who ‘buys’ subserviced property is completely innocent, if not naïve, thus they need to be protected. Local authority political leaders and their technocrats usually watch with bemused stupor as these innocent souls put up dwelling structures. The bickering continues at boardroom level as citizens pour in millions of dollars into untitled inner-city structures, some brick-under-tile. And that is where my point resides: it is easier to regularise than to destroy. If only Policracy is eliminated. Listening to Mliswa explain the conundrum, it appears just sitting down with institutional planners and changing a few regulations can easily empower millions of small inner-city home owners. Just like everywhere we went, inner-city home owners are title-less, hopeless and marinated in poverty. Imagine what a 300 square metre title deed can do to one’s ‘expansionary’ economic ambitions! Property ownership is not just about ego, but it gives one potential financial independence, independent self-worth and free market exchangeability. Which local authority or politician would not like millions of citizens like that?As an ardent convert of constitutionalism and rule of law myself, I am well aware of the regulatory and legalistic procedures aligned with property transfers and ownership. But here’s my point: how is it that someone can live in Mzilikazi, Glenview, Dangamvura, Mucheke or Nhowe for fifty years but still be on lease of council property? What it simply means even if someone ‘got’ a small stand through a political ‘baron’, they would still suffer from the same bureaucracy as the one who is on ‘regulated and serviced’ inner-city dwelling. Thus, at the end of the day, getting title deeds is not how one accessed the property in the first place, but how Policracy chokes the system that makes it possible for inner-city citizens to get title deeds. I know that ‘people’s leaders’ like Parliamentarian Temba Mliswa – and no doubt hundreds of others all over Zimbabwe – may have neither ready explanations nor quick solutions, but with a bit of innovative flexibility, laws and regulations can be changed to accommodate millions of poor citizens in these inner cities. Just throwing the law book at them is simplistic escapism, devoid of empathy. The town planning world has enough knowledge on GPS and drone technology to simplify land surveying and valuating. I write this because mina, I’m simply a man of truth.

Rejoice Ngwenya is a social and political commentator