Rescue us from Chirwa!

PRESS RELEASE: The Mbare residents brought a complaint against the Harare City Council. Mbare residents have reported that eight identified council officials based at Remembrance house in Mbare are engaging in corrupt activities which are prejudicing them of shelter and decent accommodation.

Transparency International Zimbabwe’s ALAC centre is in receipt of reports alleging that eight council officers in the employ of Harare City Council at Remembrance building are engaging in corrupt activities that are causing gross human rights abuses to the community. Residents allege that the eight have formed a well orchestrated syndicate to unprocedurally ‘repossess’ houses from residents who have stayed in these council houses since the late 1970’s claiming that the houses belong to council and for that reason people staying in the houses should move out. However, what baffles the protesting residents is that no official instruction to evict tenants or repossess houses has been issued by any higher authority.

Legally, a tenant is entitled to a three months notice before eviction. There is no clear criterion being used to evict families from council houses. Before engaging ALAC, some of the residents approached the Minister of Local Government, Ignatius Chombo, the Town Clerk and the Director of Housing seeking to complain about these random evictions being conducted by unscrupulous Council officials at Remembrance building but the director has expressed ignorance as to why people are being evicted. ALAC has copies of letters written by Minister Chombo to the effect that people should not be evicted unprocedurally neither should people be accommodated in houses that they are not entitled to but this has fallen on deaf ears.

What boggles the mind is that it seems there are some Council employees with unimaginable powers and immunity from reprisal. This matter has been brought before different offices of authority including the office of the Minister of Local Government, but the evictions continue and the perpetrators are walking scot free.

Residents have reported that one notorious Modern Chirwa who resides at House No. 31B, 24th Street Mbare has been on a rampage evicting residents from houses they have stayed in for more than three decades. Mbare residents further allege that this man has become a ‘law unto himself’ as he does not give heed to authorities in the area. Chirwa, a mortuary attendant goes about mobilising gangs and thugs to beat, intimidate and evicting people from Council houses. Women are among the unfortunate victims who have fallen prey to this syndicate led by Chirwa. To avoid eviction, women are being asked to pay US$500 or to trade sexual favours. ALAC is in possession of sworn affidavits by women who have fallen prey to Chirwa.

Residents have brought forward many cases implicating Chirwa as a corrupt and ruthless man. They are all prepared to testify against him once he is arrested. Amongst the cases are alleged acts of:

MISREPRESENTATION AND ABUSE OF COUNCIL AUTHORITY

The residents report that Mr Chirwa has on several occasions moved around the Mbare suburb collecting fees as much as US$20-00 from residents who want to have their water reconnected by City of Harare. This is abuse of City Council authority as he is not employed to collect money on behalf of the City of Harare. "Chirwa does not even work in the water department" lamented one resident. ALAC made enquiries into this issue and learnt that not only does Chirwa collect such ‘reconnection fees’ but also has the ‘influence’ to have the water reconnected for the residents who would have paid the bribes. This implies that Chirwa is not working alone but is part of a bigger and influential syndicate at Remembrance building. What pains the most is that the City of Harare Water and the Housing Departments have not taken any action to stop this, despite complaints by residents, signalling that they are aware of what is happening and might be involved in the sharing of the money collected from poor residents.

ABUSE AND MISUSE OF STATE RESOURCES FOR PRIVATE GAIN

Residents further allege that Mr Chirwa is using Gwinyai school premises for his personal gain. Chirwa uses the school premise for parking his personal vehicles without rendering any remuneration to the school. Some residents have linked Chirwa to promiscuous activities going on at the school during the night and parents have raised concern over used condoms that are found at the school premises from time to time posing a health risk to the school pupils. However, ALAC could not immediately establish whether Chirwa is engaging in sexual activities at the school as reported by residents. Residents further claim that Chirwa threatened the Headmaster with unspecified action should he seek to stop him from using the school premises. Chirwa is allegedly using/abusing the name of ZANU PF to further his selfish personal interest at the expense of Mbare residents.

SOLICITING BRIBES FROM DESPERATE RESIDENTS

Chirwa is working in cohorts with some council officials (names supplied) at Remembrance building to strip desperate residents who will be facing ‘eviction’ their hard earned money. It is alleged that Council officials at Remembrance will refer "targeted evictees to the notorious Chirwa who will then solicit money from them (as much as US$1500) which is then shared amongst the syndicate. Apparently, Chirwa who is only a mortuary attendant at Nazarene clinic has entitlements to 13 houses in Mbare (where he collects rentals monthly), and owns a fleet of cars [among them BENZ and BMW models] and kombis. Residents want an explanation as to how he has aquired all these movable and imovable properties and yet he is only a mortuary attendant. Residents report that about 40-50 women have been victims of sexual abuse by Mr Chirwa but they are afraid to come out and testify if he is still roaming free as they fear for their lives. "He is a very dangerous man" said one terrified resident pleading to ALAC officers to never disclose his/her name.

Mbare residents have appealed for someone "up there" to save them from Chirwa who they believe is acting in pursuit of his own personal interests at the expense of people’s lives and liberty. "He uses the party name to get anything", said one resident, "but we don’t believe that he is doing it for anyone, not even ZANU PF, but himself." Some residents, who confessed to be staunch ZANU PF supporters, said that "it is not in the interest of the party to evict its supporters or anyone in the constituency for that matter, because they are the people who vote for us."

Extracts from complaints by Chirwa’s victims:

Victim No.1.

Victim alleges that some council officers came to her house (address withheld) claiming that they were inspecting houses with outstanding balances due to council. Victim informed the officers that she was a tenant and had actually been on the waiting list since 1985 but to no avail. Victim was advised to pay the outstanding balance and was promised that she was now directly liable to pay rentals to council and not to the woman she had been paying to, since it was illegal for anyone to sublet council houses. Victim was later surprised to receive a letter notifying her that she was being evicted. Victim went to seek clarification at the council offices and was referred to some senior officials who referred client to see Mr Chirwa to address her concerns. Victim saw Mr Chirwa who explicitly told client that if she wanted to remain in the house she either pays $US500 or sleeps with him. Victim refused this arrangement and went to the Deputy Minister of Local Government where she was given a letter stating that she should not be evicted. One of the council officers went ahead and evicted the client. Victim was only reinstated through a court order.

Victim No.2

Client advised that he obtained a house from council which he has been staying in since 1988 and has been staying there for more than 20 years. One day the victim had gone to work and his wife had gone to visit their sick daughter on returning to their home they were surprised to find their door ajar and a strange woman in their house. Client inquired why the strange woman was in their house and where their property had been put since most of their belongings had been removed. The woman told client and his wife that she had been put in the house by the council and when she came there was no property in the house. Client went to visit the District Administrator Mr. Mawume and client was told that a mistake had been committed by the officers who had removed client’s property. Client requested to know what had happened to his property but Mr Mawume could not give an explanation. Client was referred to a senior official (name withheld) at Remembrance but no action to redress the situation or an explanation was ever given.

Victim reported the matter to the police and the matter was assigned to Constable Marindira but a docket was never opened and no investigations were conducted to find out where council put client’s property as police gave the excuse that they did not want to interfere with Council business. To this day the matter was never resolved. Victim and his family failed to find accommodation and since the family’s means of living was based in Mbare clients could not move to any other area. Victim failed to afford decent accommodation and moved his family into a former beer hall toilet that has been out of order for some time located in the high density suburb.

Client and his family consisting of four children under 18 years and three grandchildren under 15 years have been staying in the toilet for the last two years as they have nowhere else to go and council has not made any efforts to assist the victim in securing another house. Victim is pained by the fact he had been paying rent for this house since 1985 and his name is recorded in the council file but he was just evicted and lost most of his property and no reason was ever given.

Clients also alleged that a certain senior official in the housing department (name withheld) intimidates the public with a gun which she always displays in her office to threaten anyone who challenges or questions her actions. Victim alleges that a woman residing in Mbare was recently taken to Zindoga Shopping centre by Mr Chirwa who told her that she faces eviction unless she sleeps with him.

Victim No.3

Victim advises that she was summoned by a senior female official in the department of housing and told that she had to move out of the house. She was referred to Mr Chirwa to plead her case if wanted to stay in the house. She went to see Chirwa who informed her that she had to pay $US500 or sleep with him. Client advises she refused but Mr. Chirwa became aggressive until client called out neighbours for help. Mr Chirwa is still persisting in his sexual advances and client does not know what to do.

Victim No.4

Victim advises that she was staying at the house where she is looking after her late relative’s son. On the 8th of June 2008 client was evicted by Mr Chirwa after failing to pay $US500 as well as refusing to sleep with him in exchange for staying at the house. Victim is now destitute and does not know what else to do. Victim reported the case to the police on the 12th of June 2009. Chirwa’s son (name withheld) is now occupying the house after the eviction of the victim’s family.

Victim No.5

A woman (name supplied) alleged that she was evicted from the house by some Council employees working with Chirwa. After pleading her case with them, she was referred to negotiate with Mr. Chirwa. Mr Chirwa told the woman that she had two options, to pay $US600 or to sleep with him and bear him a child or else face eviction. Client reported the matter to Mbare Police station and the police just warned Mr Chirwa and told the woman that there was nothing further they could do since there was no tangible evidence. The woman advises that Mr Chirwa is still persisting in his sexual advances.

Victim No.6

Victim advises that she was forced to vacate her father’s house by senior Council officials. The young woman who is a vendor has no other place to go as she grew up living in this house until her father’s death; she has no rural home. When client resisted eviction she was referred to Mr Chirwa. The victim was told that she had to pay $US500 or sleep with Mr Chirwa. Victim could not raise the required money but she refused to sleep with Mr. Chirwa and was evicted from the house. At the moment the house is being rented to someone who is paying $US100 per month to Mr. Chirwa.

Victim N0.7

Victim advises that his family was evicted from their house for no apparent reason. Mr Chirwa and a group of youths came in the middle of the night and evicted the victim and his family. The victim asked for assistance from the council offices and was told by two senior female officials (names withheld) to pay $US800. Victim’s wife also went to plead their case and was told by Mr Chirwa to either pay $US500 or sleep with him. The house is currently being let out for $US200 by these council officers whilst victim’s family which includes a granny who is in her 80s is living under pathetic conditions.

Victim No.8

Ini ndakabatwa naChirwa nenyaya yokuti ndaida kugara mumba mangu maanga ati ndibude pamusana pekuti akanga aenda kuna Mai ….(name withheld) Vanoshanda ku Council vakanditi vanoda mari inokwana kuita $800-00. Ndakaishaiwa mari iyi Chirwa akati kana musina mari iyi mofunga kaviri kubuda mumba kana kuti ndokuitai mudzimai ndozotaura naMai …. (name withheld) Somunhu anga asina mari vakandibata musure mokudaro ndakagara mumba ndikati zvapera. Ndakazoona bepa rouya richiti ndibude mumba asi Chirwa akandishandisa kare. Ndakabuda mumba apa ndirikunzwa kuti Chirwa ari pachirongwa! Ndirikushungurudzika nepfungwa!"

Rescue us from Chirwa! Mbare residents have spoken and ALAC calls upon all relevant authorities to urgently address their plight:

1. The police to immediately arrest Chirwa and launch an investigation into the allegations of human rights abuses, sexual abuse, corruption and abuse of council authority.

2. Harare City Mayor to take a position or revisit its policy on Mbare houses as currently there are so many loopholes being manipulated by council officials, councillors and unscrupulous people like Chirwa as these allegations have revealed.

3. The Harare City Council to immediately relieve Modern Chirwa from his duties as a Council employee as he is abusing and terrorising residents and ratepayers who are the very people funding council – he is abusing people he is supposed to serve.

4. To investigate senior council officials at Remembrance building since Chirwa’s alleged corrupt activities cannot be sustained without support from council officials. The syndicate he is working with must also be brought to account.

5. Reinstate all families that have been evicted ‘illegally’ by manipulative acts of officials like Chirwa including widows and children of deceased council tenants who have stayed in these houses since 1970’s.

If you are a victim, witness or concerned citizen please call the Mayor of Harare, Muchadei Masunda on 0772 224 437, the Deputy Mayor, 0773 010 187 the Town Clerk Mr. Tendai Mahachi on 0772 233 086 and compel them to act stop Chirwa and his syndicate.