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Health time bomb in land barons’ paradise

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RESIDENTS have urged Masvingo City Council and Masvingo Rural District Council to solve their differences and ensure that inhabitants of Victoria Range are provided with essential services before disease outbreaks ravage the suburb, which was built illegally by Zanu PF land barons.

MORRIS BISHI

Located close to Masvingo urban, the suburb was established by 16 land barons on land owned by Masvingo Rural District Council. The area lacks critical amenities and services like roads, water, sewer and refuse collection.

Masvingo United Residents and Ratepayers Association (MURRA) spokesperson Godfrey Mtimba told The NewsHawks that Victoria Range remains a health time bomb since its establishment and urged the two local authorities to resolve their differences and provide required services to residents of the suburb.

He said if the administrative dispute is not quickly resolved, the increasing population will result in disease outbreaks.

“As MURRA we urge Masvingo City and its sister rural authority to sit down and solve the issue of Victoria Range urgently. We know they have been denying authority for many years but that is not helpful to residents so they should agree on the way forward so that critical services are provided to the suburb. The population in the area is increasing on a daily basis and that will cause disease outbreaks since there is no water, toilets and refuse collection,” said Mtimba.

Recently, the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) despatched a team to the country’s oldest city to investigate land barons who the established the suburb, which has an estimated 15 000 houses.
Zacc spokesperson John Makamure told The NewsHawks that investigations into the Victoria Range saga are progressing well and no arrests have been made so far.

“Our team was in Masvingo recently investigating issues around the establishment of Victoria Range.
Investigations are ongoing and we are yet to make arrests. We will notify you about new developments in due course,” said Makamure.

In 2005, the land barons allowed home-seekers to build houses on unserviced land, in violation of established procedure.

Masvingo mayor Colleen Maboke told The NewsHawks that the city council has nothing to do with Victoria Range.

He said the land barons who sold the stands to homeseekers are the ones with the obligation to provide services to their clients. He said the city council benefitted nothing from the parcelling out of stands and cannot be expected to divert money paid by law-abiding residents in other suburbs and use it to provide services to an illegal settlement.

“We have nothing to do with that suburb. We don’t know where the barons got that land which they sold to homeseekers. They have an obligation to provide all required services and as a city council we have nothing to do about that,” said Maboke.

Masvingo Rural District Council chairperson Albert Mangena was equally forthright. He said although the land belongs to the rural district council, they have nothing to do with the illegal establishment of the suburb.

He said the land barons were given the land by the government and developed the area without any input from council so it is not the authority’s obligation to provide services.

“The barons collected stand fees inclusive of services such as sewer, water and roads, meaning they are the ones who should provide such services. As a local authority we received nothing in terms of money, so how can we provide those services?” asked Mangena. 

A senior government official in Masvingo told The NewsHawks that since the issue is now under Zacc investigation, the government can only await the outcome of the probe to figure out how the issue can be solved. He said it is a mystery how the land ended up being in the hands of the land barons without the input of the two local authorities.

Ghodhati Dunira, the director of Vashandi Housing Cooperative, one of the land developers in the area, told The NewsHawks that Victoria Range is owned by both Masvingo City Council and the Rural District Council since the two benefitted from the project in one way or the other.

He said all the developers were given land through the ministry of Local Government. He blamed Masvingo City Council for failing to provide water to Victoria Range.

“We were given land through the ministry of Local Government and we are in the process of providing services like water and sewerage as well as proper roads. City council is failing to provide water due to shortage of proper lines but in our area we have taps and we are now about to finish construction of sewer trunks. This is a crisis which needs all authorities and developers to work together so that residents are provided with needed services to avoid outbreaks of disease. I met a team from Zacc and we provided all the information they requested and l think since we were given the land by the ministry our hands are clean,” said Dunira.

Another land developer, Wellington Mahwende, a Zanu PF councillor, who is also the city’s deputy mayor, told The NewsHawks that his area, Lot A of Victoria Range, is different from other areas since they managed to provide beneficiaries with water and they are waiting for city council to construct proper trunk lines for sewerage. 

Victoria Ranch is situated on the western side of Masvingo city on what used to be peri-urban land in terms of the municipal masterplan. The land used to be owned by Carswell Meats. However, it was expropriated in 2002 and declared state land.

The land was considered an idle asset by the Masvingo Rural District Council. Since its conversion to residential use in 2006 under the National Housing Delivery Programme, it is managed neither by the Masvingo City Council nor the rural district council despite the availability of a memorandum of understanding between the two local authorities.

Politically, Victoria Ranch falls under Masvingo West constituency.

Victoria Ranch is located 8km southwest of Masvingo city centre. It shares boundaries with Mucheke and Runyararo West high-density suburbs. Land barons who sold the stands to homeseekers in 2012 without providing critical amenities and services. It consists of nearly 15 000 stands, equivalent to 30% of the city‘s housing stock. 

In 2019, some of the land barons were subjected to serious questioning during the Justice Tendai Uchena-led Commission of Inquiry into the Sale of Land in and Around Urban Areas since 2005.

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