Municipalities are battling against housing co-operatives who, in some cases, are relying on political muscle to elbow out councils from fulfilling their duties, resulting in many court cases .
But now a high court judge has harshly criticised the “land barons” who are usurping the authority of the country’s local authorities and illegally parcelling out housing stands, resulting in the spread of illegal settlements, such as those dotted in and around Harare.
Judge Nicholas Mathonsi issued a scathing attack in his judgment in a case in which the Chitungwiza municipality sought an interdict against the United We Stand Co-operative.
The co-operative has been doling out stands illegally in Chitungwiza and Seke since 2008 and has been carrying out council responsibilities such as inspecting buildings and collecting revenue from residents.
The state-owned media claim that the co-operative is owned by councillors and high-ranking government officials.
Mathonsi granted the Chitungwiza municipality the interdict, not only stopping the co-operative from parcelling out stands but also barring it from approving plans, inspecting buildings and collecting revenue.
Court rules against demolition
Recently, the government has been ordering the demolition of unauthorised structures.
But the court also ruled against this, saying the demolition of even illegal housing violates provisions in the new Constitution.
The Chitungwiza municipality, which is responsible for allocating housing stands, collecting revenue, approving plans and inspecting buildings, complained in its application that the co-operative “has now clothed itself with municipality authority to allocate land to its members without council approval, to sell stands to individuals for a price and to collect revenue”.
Mathonsi said the co-operative, by its actions, had constituted itself as a “parallel municipality structure” and even had its own architects, town planners, building inspectors, civil engineers and housing officers.
“This country is a constitutional democracy which prides itself with its adherence to the rule of law. Lawlessness of any kind will not be tolerated,” he said.
“Illegal land mongers and barons cannot be allowed to take root in our midst and delegate to themselves the responsibility of municipalities, including the collection of revenue and the selling of municipal land leading to a proliferation of illegal structures. Such conduct should be firmly and decisively suppressed in the interest of good order.”
He said that the head of the co-operative, Fredrick Mabamba, had failed to explain in his opposing affidavit the legal basis upon which the co-operative is entitled to allocate land in a municipal area.
In his affidavit, Mabamba accused the municipality of “sheer jealousy that another black Zimbabwean is making it in the area of land development [and] should not be used by some elements in the applicant’s camp to elicit the help of the court”.
But last week the municipality was barred from proceeding with the demolition of houses that it said were built on undesignated sites in the Zengeza Five area.
Residents appealed to the Chitungwiza civil court for a restraining order and argued that they entered into sale agreements for stands with the second respondent, Glory to Glory Housing Co-operative.
Through their lawyer, Marufu Mandevere, the Chitungwiza Residents’ Trust sought an interdict barring the authority from demolishing their houses.
The magistrate, Marehwanazvo Gofa, granted the residents’ application and dismissed council’s arguments that the court had no jurisdiction over the issue and that residents had followed incorrect procedures.
The magistrate said the residents were correct when they said the homes were their only shelter and demolishing them was an infringement of their constitutional rights.“Illegal land mongers and barons cannot … delegate themselves the responsibility of municipalities”