SCORES of Arcadia residents were left homeless yesterday after the Harare City Council demolished 39 houses allegedly illegally built two decades ago on service land meant for drainage pipes and sewage systems.
The residents accused council of being disorganised and corrupt, arguing it was the local authority which allocated them land in the first place.
“We are not happy with what has been done. They knew we were here. We were not given time to vacate. They just came this morning with their bulldozer and told us they were bringing down the houses. The corruption is now too much,” said a woman only identified as Mrs Barker.
“I have been living here for the past three years and some have been here for almost 20 years, but now they are saying we built on their land, that’s ridiculous.”
One council official who was at the scene of the demolitions, who refused to identify himself, said residents had encroached into the service area.
“They (the residents) built in the service area which is meant for service and placement of the sewage system. If they have questions and need clarification, they should talk to the director (of planning),” he said.
Council spokesman Michael Chideme said residents were given warning letters before the demolitions.
“We know they were there, but that is not an excuse. The warning letters were there to let them know of our intentions,” he said.
But African National Council of Zimbabwe national chairperson Victor Noormahomed, who was present during the demolitions, likened the council action to the infamous Operation Murambatsvina which left over 700 000 homeless in 2005.
“Council authorised everything and now they have made a mistake just like what they did with Murambatsvina,” he said.
Noormahomed also claimed that the demolitions were triggered by the ouster of former Finance minister Ignatius Chombo who for a long time was in charge of the local government portfolio.
“They (council) are only doing this because Chombo was fired. When he was Minister of Home Affairs and later Minister of Finance, council was okay with the houses. But because there are new leaders now they are destroying people’s houses. It’s not right,” he said.
Another resident, who only identified himself as Mike, said they were paying rates to council for their demolished structures.
He also claimed to have bought part of the service area from council, but could not immediately produce the documentation.
“We paid our rates and water bills to council. I bought the land from council and now I’m only left with a small area as they have taken another portion of my land. I paid for all the land, this is illegal,” Mike said.
He also claimed that council was protecting some of its employees who had also built their houses on the so-called illegal land.
“One of the council officials lives here and his home is also built on the so-called illegal land. They don’t pay rent or water bills, they do not even have addresses or official building plans. Why are they being left there?” he said.