Chombo ordered to halt demolitions
The Zimbabwean by Nelson Sibanda
Zanu (PF) appears to have developed cold feet over the planned demolition of illegal structures in Harare and Chitungwiza, fearing another local and international backlash similar to that of Operation Murambatsvina of 2005.
Highly placed sources told The Zimbabwean that the party’s Central Committee and Politburo had directed Ignatius Chombo, the Minister of Local Government, to shelve the planned blitz – dubbed Murambatsvina 2 by irate residents – because of the negative effect it would have on the party’s brand.
Large numbers of urban residents likely to be hit by the clean-up are believed to be Zanu (PF) supporters, eking out a living on unplanned market stalls and shacks they built after party officials defied municipal by-laws as a vote-catching gimmick before the July elections.
The sources said Chombo was further slapped with an official gag order to stem what the party considered to be a flurry of sensational statements whose net effect was to cause anxiety among the poor settlers. The task to speak on the issue has now been delegated to Madzudzo Pawadyira, the head of the Civil Protection Unit. Pawadyira would neither confirm nor deny his new role as the ‘demolitions mouthpiece’.
“Chombo’s statements had become too many and inconsistent. He had developed a habit of giving unfortunate statements to the media without gauging the public mood and costs to Zanu (PF),” said a source close to Chombo who declined to be identified.
The central committee is said to have voiced its concerns over the plan, saying its implementation would dent the party’s image in a significant way.
Operation Murambatsvina in 2005 attracted the ire of the nation and roped in the United Nations after 700,000 homes and small business, mainly in the informal sector, were demolished.
Zanu (PF) sources said any new plan would send a confused message over the government’s commitment and Zanu (PF)’s election pledge to reduce homelessness. Efforts to get official comment from Chombo were fruitless.
A team from Chombo’s ministry, led by his deputy, Joel Biggie Matiza, has begun to consult local authorities and potential victims in Harare and Chitungwiza to investigate the gravity of the settler problem and to seek ways to soft-land the crisis. “The process would cover engagements with affected families until we find common ground,” said Matiza.
“Like what was done in Epworth, roads would be constructed according to the situation prevailing on the ground,” said the source. Another option on the table involves the allocation of alternative stands on council land to the settlers.
Harare, for instance, has identified 60,000 stands for low income earners, some of whom might have to be moved. “If they can afford the price and proposed payment arrangements, they would be given a grace period to relocate before their illegal structures are pulled down,” said a source.
In Chitungwiza and other cities, only structures built under power lines, on wetlands and on sewer mains would go while those in relatively safe places would be regularised.
At a consultative meeting held by the ministry ahead of the demolitions at Chitungwiza Unit L and St Marys recently, angry residents vowed to resist government plans to pull down their shelters. Some Zanu (PF) supporters accused their party of using them as election tools and dumping them afterwards. They demonstrated in the streets, vowing to resist the operation and take legal action if need be.
St Marys residents blamed Chombo for watching people constructing houses only to order the demolitions soon after elections. “We thought Chombo’s fact finding team would bring good news that water and other services had finally returned to the town. Instead, the mission has the guts to advise residents that government’s priority after getting into office was to destroy poor people’s shelter,” said former MDC legislator for St Marys and MDC99 President, Job Sikhala.
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