EDITORIAL COMMENT: Land barons must be brought to book

land sale

The mushrooming of illegal settlements in most cities and towns is a ticking time bomb. Most of these settlements do not have basic services such as water and sewer reticulation. Residents of these illegal settlements depend on shallow wells and Blair toilets thereby putting lives of many people at risk.

Land barons who are illegally parcelling out the land, are largely to blame for these illegal settlements. The problem has spread to peri-urban areas and most home seekers in these peri-urban areas are people from cities and towns who are now commuting to work from these illegal settlements.

What is however pleasing is that the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing is seized with the problem. The Ministry has in fact started a clean-up exercise to rid the cities and towns of these illegal settlements.

Local Government Minister, Cde July Moyo said recently that Government will not support the construction of houses where there are no services such as water and sewer reticulation.

Cde Moyo said councils had the responsibility of providing the required services and those settlements without such services had therefore not been approved by councils. He said his ministry had embarked on a programme to clean up such illegal settlements and recently he deployed experts to Umguza district in Matabeleland North which is one of the worst affected districts.

Cde Moyo said the experts who include officials from the Department of Physical Planning, Environment Management Agency and Land officers, are expected to assist in coming up with proper settlements.

He, however, said the re-planning of the areas will be done in such a way that home-seekers will not be prejudiced. Cde Moyo said there were 15 unplanned settlements in Umguza district alone and those settled illegally were allocated land by either co-operatives or land barons. Umguza district is near Bulawayo and most of the beneficiaries of the illegal land allocations in the district are residents of Bulawayo.

The same exercise will be done in other cities and towns as well as affected rural districts that are close to cities or towns. Recently President Emmerson Mnangagwa swore in a seven-member Commission of Inquiry into the sale of State land in and around urban areas since 2005.

The Commission which is chaired by Justice Tendai Uchena, is expected to complete its work by September but has an option to extend the period by another three months. The Commission will investigate and identify all State land in and around urban areas that was acquired and allocated to the Local Government Ministry for urban development since 2005.

It will also investigate and ascertain the status of such land in terms of ownership, occupation and development as well as establish methods of acquisition or allocation by current occupants and owners of such land. We want to believe that those involved in the clean-up of illegal settlements, will work closely with this Commission whose information is very vital in deciding the way forward.

The land barons, as rightly observed by Cde Moyo, are largely to blame for these unplanned settlements and the Commission will establish who these land barons are and how they were parcelling out State land meant for urban development. There is a need to really get to the bottom of this problem of illegal settlements.

We want at this juncture to commend Government for demonstrating its commitment to finding a lasting solution to this problem by setting up the Commission. The Commission will submit its findings to President Mnangagwa. The illegal settlements lack sanitation facilities and as such are major sources of diseases outbreaks.

The mushrooming of illegal settlements should therefore be stopped and those that have been abusing State land to line their pockets by illegally selling land to desperate home-seekers should be brought to book.