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Govt dumps nearly 2 000 beneficiaries of shambolic ‘Operation Garikai’ housing scheme now haunted by evictions, property demolitions

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By James Muonwa l Mashonaland West Correspondent


CLOSE to 2 000 beneficiaries of an ill-conceived government housing programme dubbed ‘Operation Garikai/ Hlalani Kuhle’ face evictions and having their properties demolished in Karoi’s Claudia suburb, which sits on disputed land.

The suburb was established in the aftermath of the internationally condemned 2005 demolition exercise, ‘Operation Murambatsvina/ Kick Out Trash’ conducted countrywide, which left thousands homeless.

As a remedy to the destructions in Karoi, Mashonaland West province, desperate home-seekers, including civil servants, were haphazardly settled by the government on a 107-hectare piece of a privately-owned peri-urban farm owned by the Mashandudze family.

Following a long-drawn court challenge, the family obtained rights to evict the ‘illegal settlers’ and demolish their houses, some of which were already complete.

In a bid to avert the impending evictions and demolitions, a fortnight ago Karoi Town Council (KTC), which later hijacked the housing scheme, summoned residents’ association representatives, the Mashundudze family, councillors and developers to iron out differences.

Although the meeting was inconclusive, it was resolved town authorities should meet affected Claudia residents and explain the way forward.

Resultantly, on Sunday parties to the disputed project convened a heated meeting at Chiedza Primary School, where Claudia residents objected to a proposal to pay the Mashandudzes US$10 per square metre development fees for 60 months, at US$45 monthly, towards the construction of roads, sewer and water reticulation infrastructure, among other services.

Acting Karoi town secretary, Tongai Namisala had the unenviable task of making the unpopular announcement, which triggered heckling from the sizeable crowd.

 

Residents fumed saying they were in the dark over ownership of the contested land on which they had built houses.

“We paid US$2 per square metre towards the purchase price of our stands. Whose land is it, council or is it still private land? We want to know where that money went to. The Bill of Quantities (BoQ) by the constructor is extortionate at US$10 per square metre for 60 months. Are we not paying for the stands twice?” asked one affected resident.

Some disgruntled Claudia residents who attended the meeting

Some proposed that the Mashandudzes fund servicing of the area and recoup their investment later.

Claudia Housing Association Chairman, Willard Makumbirofa, who represents 1 400 of the 1 981 households affected by the standoff, told NewZimbabwe.com the housing scheme was shrouded by numerous grey areas, some of which reek of corruption by some parties.

“We are literally alone and abandoned and now dealing with the whims and caprices of the private property owner. We are at their mercy yet we paid for the land to KTC, which now seems to be folding its hands while we are thrown under the bus,” said Makumbirofa.

Another Claudia resident expressed concern over the status of a bank account in which development fees were deposited.

“There is secrecy around the status of a private bank account in which beneficiaries deposited various amounts as development fees. If one dares ask they are threatened and intimidated,” said the resident who requested anonymity for fear of victimisation.

Claudia Housing Association Vice Chairperson, Mildred Mhande said the protracted land dispute was draining beneficiaries of scarce resources.

She said the failure of the Local Government ministry to come to the rescue of the beneficiaries of the Garikayi /Hlalani Kuhle programme, who were knowingly settled on private property, is a clear testimony the exercise was not authorised in terms of the legislation relating to expropriation of land for urban development.

Joshua Mafemba, an uncle to the Mashandudzes, confirmed a court determination putting finality to the land ownership status.

“The courts settled it, the land still belongs to us and these people illegally settled on our land have to clearly understand this. We are humane and making concessions, we want a win-win for all of us and they must not see us as people out to fleece them.

“The market price for development fees ranges around US$17 but we agreed on a downward variation and initially settled at US$12, which is the Local Government rate, but further negotiated to US$10, what more do they want?” said Mafemba.

According to the latest position arrived at courtesy of the deed of settlement, residents who resist paying US$10 face eviction and have their houses razed down.

Some of the thousands of properties earmarked for demolition

some of the thousands of properties earmarked for demolition

BACKGROUND OF THE DISPUTE

According to the Zimbabwe Legal Information Institute (ZimLII), an online repository of legal information, the High Court heard a civil trial involving the now late Dorothy Mashandudze, executrix dative to the estate of late Mistopha Nyamayaro Paradzayi Mushandudze, KTC, Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA) Housing Cooperative, Cheuka Housing Cooperative, Local Government ministry and others (HC 1719 of 2012; HH 214 of 2016).

During the trial, it was heard that following Mistopha Mashandudze’s death at Hurungwe on January 31, 2004, his widow, Dorothy, was appointed executrix dative by the Master of the High Court in terms of Letter of Administration dated April 27, 2006.

She then administered the estate which included the Karoi farm known as Chiedza Farm Lot 1 of Glaudia Farm measuring 391.5320 hectares in extent.

In 2006, a group of people invaded the property and started clearing land by cutting trees prompting the now-late widow to confront them.

During cross-examination, she insisted that she had neither sold the farm nor had given permission for anyone to take occupation of part or whole of the property.

She claimed that the farm occupations were not authorised either by her as executrix dative or by Master of the High Court, and were therefore illegal.

It, however, emerged during cross-examination that during his lifetime the deceased had disposed of some piece of land to KTC for sewage ponds and sewage pipes for which he had been paid in cash and kind, that is ZW$100 000 plus a low-density residential stand. She however maintained that the farm remained theirs.

It was further heard, the fourth defendant, the Local Government ministry, moved onto the farm and built several housing units under the Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle to accommodate victims of ‘Operation Murambatsvina.’

However, the first defendant, KTC, further pleaded that its illegal acts were subsequently ratified by the plaintiff who agreed to sell the farm at open market value. Council further averred that the housing cooperatives were allocated land by it and the illegality of the transaction was sanitised by the plaintiff, who subsequently agreed to sell the farm to the local authority.

Council and housing co-ops, in their joint plea, admitted the local authority surveyed and issued residential stands to third parties without the farm owner’s consent.

The local Government and Master of the High Court did not file pleadings, but the latter filed its report in terms of which it indicated that it did not authorise the disposal of the farm.

Local Government, for reasons not so clear, did not file any plea or seek to participate in the matter.

Two former KTC officials, ex-chairperson Stella Boni and then town secretary Maxwell Kaitano, testified saying the then-late Governor Nelson Samukange ordered occupants onto the property before the project was handed over to the council.

During the trial, the plaintiff denied having been offered an alternative farm by the Ministry of Lands.

Kaitano conceded that no actual expropriation took place but steps towards expropriation had been taken, that is application to Local Government for compulsory acquisition had been made, but expropriation had not yet been approved.

The ministry had not responded at all to the application for takeover of the farm and Kaitano believed that the plaintiff had reneged on the arrangement whereby a chosen valuer would value the land and such valuation would be the basis for the compensation to be given.

This according to Kaitano could not be pursued as the council was then surprised that she had dragged it to court. He further testified that the council did not need the entire farm, but about 87 hectares only. He also conceded that the local authority had, in fact, not purchased the farm from the plaintiff.

Later, the court directed that the plaintiff serve the Local Government ministry and the fifth defendant with all the pleadings and pre-trial conference documents even at that late stage in case they might indicate an inclination to participate in the matter even at that late stage.

Despite service of process and pleadings as directed by the court, the ministry did not indicate an intention to participate in the matter. The Master of the High Court, however, filed its report in terms of which it confirmed that no one had sought or been granted its consent for the disposal of the disputed farm.

The Local Government ministry’s indifference could be understood as it had also not responded to an application by KTC for the expropriation of the farm for urban development as confirmed by Kaitano in his evidence.

The Lands Ministry did not acquire the said farm for rural resettlement or urban development as the farm’s deed of transfer remains in the late Mashandudze’s name to date.

The application by KTC to have the farm expropriated for urban development purposes made to the ministry was not granted by the same. The Local Government did not even respond to the said application.

It was ruled that in the absence of expropriation, the issue of reasonable compensation then does not arise. The plaintiff did not sell the farm to the council and all those in occupation of the farm were doing so illegally, and needed to agree terms with the land owner.