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Reasons for Mnangagwa’s ruthless house demolitions



GOVERNMENT’S ruthless demolitions of poor and vulnerable people’s houses across the country and other structures to deal with illegal land occupations and buildings is mainly driven by three factors: politics, power and money, informed sources told The NewsHawks.


The sources said President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi are using power and politics to create a new land market where money would be the main determinant of land occupations and settlements, not Zanu PF’s chaotic policy of seizure and possession.

“The minister has made it clear to us in government what’s going on here. Land belongs to the President, which means he uses his power for its spatial distribution, and his politics of patronage and loyalty influences the dynamics of it,” one government official said.

 “But in the end, money will take centre stage and the land will now be sold at market rates, creating a new land market which is driven by power and politics. It’s a symbiotic relationship.”

Since the beginning of February, there have been reports of demolitions of illegally built houses and settlements in peri-urban communities including, for example Gutu and Mushandike in Masvingo province, Chipinge in Manicaland, Dema and Goromonzi in Mashonaland East and different other places where people had acquired stands from land barons and traditional leaders mainly for housing.

Although victims of “Operation Murambatsvina-like demolitions” may get a temporary reprieve as the bulldozing of houses grinds to a halt amid a huge public outcry, the fact remains in authorities’ minds that land belongs to Mnangagwa who indeed wants to show that “land belongs to the President”, which is why he is flexing his political muscle.

Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi

Demolitions are not new and have similarities. In the days and weeks after “Operation Murambatsvina” (Clear Filth) was launched on 19 May 2005, police burnt, bulldozed and destroyed tens of thousands of properties around the country. 

The destructions resulted in the mass evictions of urban dwellers from housing structures and the closure of various informal sector businesses throughout the country.

According to the United Nations, 700 000 people — nearly 6% of the total population — were forcibly evicted from their homes, made homeless or lost their source of livelihood.

The evictions and demolition of houses and market stalls, and the manner in which they were carried out, constituted serious human rights violations, according to critics and civil society groups.

Yet the demolitions’ brutality is not new and has been influenced by many political, social and spatial development considerations, which entail changes in the distribution of activities in spaces and linkages between them through conversion of land and property.

The context of the demolitions is the inter-related process of illegal land allocations, with razing down of houses at the nexus of social contracts around chaotic distribution informalised by the ruling Zanu PF party-state and government, particularly after the 2000 land reform programme.

 In this current  situation, sources  say Mnangagwa wants to use demolitions for political purposes to create a new patronage system in which political affiliation, persuasion and loyalty become central to land allocation and distribution. 

 This is necessary as he contemplates a third term or putting a proxy in power after 2028. Politicised demolitions would force people to support Mnangagwa and Zanu PF, or at least pretend to do so, to get and keep land without paying or without forking out sub-market rates.

The sources said it is also the government’s intention to sell the land after demolitions to create a new market in which ordinary people pay fair value for land that Mnangagwa and other Zanu PF leaders got free.

The sale of land would bring money for the virtually dry state coffers, local authorities and officials who would be managing the corrupt system, a new cash cow.

A source told The NewsHawks: “To be sure, the demolition of informal houses and structures is not a new phenomenon in Zimbabwe and elsewhere. What is new is some of the political actors, policy approach, frequency and intensity, as well as the motives and visibility which do vary. What is new is the intensity, frequency, agency (visibility and changing dynamics of its triggers and mechanisms of its unfolding in specific contexts).

“There are three objectives of the demolitions: politics, power and money. These are the real underlying motives. From the top, that is the Office of the President and Cabinet down to the minister’s office and government officials’ positions, they are all aware of the agenda. The President and the minister of Justice know very well what this is all about. It’s an elite project being driven by those who own land and houses which mostly they didn’t even buy in the first place. It’s hypocrisy of the worst order.

  “Of course, the rule of law must apply whenever there are illegal activities and criminality, but it must be applied even-handedly not just on the poor and vulnerable as the situation shows at the moment.”

Illegal land occupations and developments, followed by demolitions, go as far back years as Churu Farm in 1992, demolitions after 2000 including Murambatsvina and after 2010 up to now. 

New social movement of the poor in Harare and other cities emerged soon after the context of  jambanja  (the Fast-Track Land Reform Programme) to provide or facilitate access to peri-urban housing plots for thousands of “urban poor” residents or the subaltern.

This put into the spotlight the government’s land-use frameworks and policies, spatial development issues and demand and supply dynamics of access to land, especially for housing.

While the land occupations and settlements are illegal, the demolitions are equally unlawful. Since 2015, local authorities, particularly in Harare and Chitungwiza for instance, have embarked on a spree of house demolitions.

 The local authorities have contended that the demolished houses were built “illegally” either on land that was reserved for other purposes or without the necessary procedures having been adopted.

 The constitution of Zimbabwe has a number of provisions against arbitrary eviction, and provision of adequate shelter as well as the standards against which administrative decisions and conduct is to be measured.

 There are numerous constitutional provisions that should be complied with in order to bring the ongoing house demolitions within the scope of the constitution.

 More specifically, section 74 provides protection against arbitrary eviction in the following terms: ”No person may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances.”

Arbitrary eviction may be defined as the: “… permanent or temporary forceful removal of individuals, families and or communities from their homes or land which they are occupying.”

Invariably, arbitrary evictions occur when there is no regard paid to due process and there is no mechanism followed to hear those who will be affected.

 Likewise, in the context of demolitions, a demolition would occur when a part or whole of a dwelling is destroyed against the will of the occupants and without following due process.

Therefore, where homes are demolished without a court order the demolitions will be a direct breach of section 74 and any law that authorises the demolition of houses without a court order contravenes section 74.

In this respect, it is common cause that where government, local authorities have carried out demolitions without court orders, and municipal by-laws under which the demolitions are taking place and make no provision for the obtaining of a court order as a pre-requisite, are in direct breach of section 74.

However, section 74 does not define what exactly the term “home” means and entails, as no judicial interpretation of the provision by the Zimbabwean courts has been made.

 The evictions and demolitions are done without compliance to section 68 of the constitution which provides for the right of every person to administrative justice through judicial conduct that is lawful, prompt, efficient, reasonable, proportionate, impartial and both substantively and procedurally fair.

 That is why the courts have from time to time intervened, although politics always trumps the law.

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