Faced with spreading mass protests President Robert Mugabe’s government is now doling out stands to the ruling party faithful youths, something that observers say is a “well calculated plan” to entice voters ahead of the 2018 elections.
Last week Zanu PF youths were promised stands almost without charges by the government, and the land is not being administered by the local authorities as should be the case.
Apart from invading land in areas such as Harare’s suburbs of Kuwadzana and Mabvuku with no consequence, the youths have also been given land “legally” by the party’s political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere, who is the minister of Local Government.
Residents associations and city fathers warned that Zanu PF stops at nothing to ensure electoral victory.
Analysts say there is a method to the Zanu PF tactics that dates back to two decades ago.
Sixteen years ago, Zanu PF embarked on a chaotic land reform programme that saw thousands of white farmers violently removed from farms, the land was parcelled out to war veterans.
Given land, the war veterans went on deliver victory to Mugabe albeit in contested circumstances.
In 2013, then local government minister Ignatius Chombo wrote-off a $2 billion debt from all 92 local authorities in Zimbabwe as a way of luring urban votes in Zanu PF’s favour.
To date local authorities have not recovered from the write-off with Harare’s current debt standing a nearly $500 million.
Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni predicts that the “land invasions” are a prelude to worse things to follow.
“There is a lot of politicking around the issue of housing and land and more invasions are likely to happen towards election time,” Manyenyeni said.
At the recently held Zanu PF Harare Province Inter-District Conference, First Lady Grace Mugabe told delegates that the party had failed its electorate by backtracking on promises, particularly on land.
Grace said Zanu PF is to blame for the suffering endured by people whose houses were indiscriminately demolished along the Airport Road early this year in a move that left thousands of families stranded and homeless.
She said officials are sleeping on duty, considering that they leave people building their houses and only later move in to destroy them.
Grace said there must be proper planning in the allocation of residential stands and that houses must be built in terms of city by-laws.
“Handisi kuti kuruza kwakanaka but tinoruza nekuzviitisa,… (I am not saying losing is good but sometimes we are to blame…)
“Patinenge tatadza basa ngatibvumei kuti apa takaresva, takaresva big time. We should not forget kuti ndiyo electorate yacho, mangwana tinonokumbira kuti ndiisirewo X, tiri kuda kuti 2018 tichinje pfungwa dzevanhu maitiroavo, vatide, vasativenge (When we fail, lets shoulder the blame and accept that we have failed, we did fail a lot. We should not forget that these are the people that will vote for us, so we want to change the people’s mindset so that they stop hating us and love us instead),” she said.
Mugabe added that the Airport Road incident should not be repeated and must serve as a reminder for officials not to slack on the job.
let’s take blame…Tiri kuvaka here musangano kana kuti tiri kuputsa musangano? (Are we building the party or we are destroying it?),” the increasingly powerful First Lady queried.
“…hatidi kurwadzisana kusvika pakaoma pakadaro…iwewe munhu uri kukwarakwara uri kutengesa muriwo kuti uvake imbayako, mangwana yopunzwa, that’s unfair (We do not want to punish each other like that. People are struggling to raise money to build those houses that are at the end demolished),” she said.
At the recently ended housing symposium President Robert Mugabe ordered Kasukuwere to clamp down on illegal settlements arguing that they are a health hazard.
“In the recent past, the country has witnessed the development of informal settlements, the bulk of which have been on undesignated land…such settlements which lack the requisite water and sanitation facilities are a potential health hazard,” he said.
Combined Harare Residents Association (Chra) chairperson Simbarashe Moyo said the situation in areas like Harare South was political because the residents in the area had been promised freedom of shelter in return for votes.
He said the area had become so disorderly that residential stands were being parcelled out in the adjoining cemetery.
Moyo said because there is no access to running water, residents have resorted to shallow wells which are now being contaminated by septic tanks in the area.
“The creation of Harare South was not matched with developments in the area. Politicians have put so much pressure on council to now fix the mess they created. The area is a serious health hazard. To add on to that Harare South continues to expand towards Chitungwiza and Beatrice,” he said.
Chitungwiza Residents Trust has, however, said the planned regularisation of these so-called informal structures in Chitungwiza’s Nyatsime area could be bait for votes in 2018.
The residents’ pressure group said politicians should desist from interfering with the technical work of qualified urban planners in the development of our town.
“We condemn the illegal occupation and partisan distribution of urban land for residential purposes, we will not as residents, allow a situation where some greedy politicians and desperate political parties abuse access to land or residential stands as bait for votes ahead of the 2018 national elections only to revert back to the house demolitions and informal settlements mantra post the plebiscite,” Chitrest said.
Movement for Democratic Change shadow local government minister Eddie Cross said Zanu PF has been using State control over former commercial farms on the outskirts of urban areas to settle hundreds of thousands of desperate homeless families in politically controlled and sponsored housing cooperatives.
Cross said in Harare, eight commercial farms acquired during the fast track farm reform programme have been used to settle over 1 000 housing cooperatives linked to Zanu PF. The nearly 200 000 families settled in these farms have paid for their stands and up to $20 a square metre has been charged.
The Bulawayo South legislator said families settled on the land are forced to join Zanu PF and their areas are then incorporated, illegally, into neighbouring urban Wards and Constituencies and special polling stations set up during elections.
“All urban areas are being subjected to this effort to influence elections, like in Masvingo, Zanu PF has occupied a 6 000 hectare property to the south of the City and is settling 13 000 stands that are being ‘sold’ to occupants at a total cost of $52 million.
“None of the families so settled has any tenure rights, the only record of payments being a receipt issued by hand by the financial beneficiary who has no responsibility to provide any services- leaving the families with no water, roads, sewer, schools or clinics,” Cross said.
Civic activist Mfundo Mlilo said there is nothing developmental about dishing out land that cannot be serviced for building.
Mlilo said the gimmick is meant to confuse the electorate because the state is obviously broke and land is the only resource available.
He added that haphazard parcelling out of land is a clear campaign strategy however it will cause conflation of state and city land.
”It is a broader patrimonial strategy of the party ahead of 2018. The appointment of Kasukuwere was not incidental-it was a calculated move to put the commissar in charge of local government. The city will pull back and the Urban Development Corporation will run the show,” he said.