The revised Regional, Town and Country Planning Act being worked on by Government, which imposes a stiffer penalty on land barons is most welcome, but more needs to be done to ensure the menace is nipped in the bud. We have watched in astonishment as land barons act as if they have free reign, especially in urban areas like Harare and Chitungwiza. At first we thought land barons are the easiest of criminals to deal with, because the occupation of any piece of land should have a clear paper trail. Without any official papers, the occupation of such a piece of land becomes an outright criminal act.
How we were wrong?
We have watched in amazement as swathes of land are taken up by barons who do not give a damn to their illegal actions. It is like the land barons are being awarded a free reign in our cities. Now that under the revised Act, anyone found guilty of occupying or illegally selling State land, as well as settling people on undesignated places will spend five years in prison, we hope the land barons will be forced to respect others, especially home seekers. The Act will include that repeat land barons will be jailed for 10 years. We hope that these new penalties will be deterrent enough and scare the hell out of the land barons and would-be offenders.
The illegality has become so entrenched in our society that more needs to be done to holistically tackle it. There have been reports, for instance, that the land barons do not act on their own. There are genuine fears that land barons are created in council offices and those bad apples within councils who benefit from the criminality should be exposed and suffer the same fate with the land barons.
To demonstrate the rot that has affected the system, land barons do their criminal activities openly. They advertise in newspapers, selling stands under the nose of officials in local authorities, and in some cases we have seen councils connecting water in such areas, while ZESA Holdings installs electricity pylons. Before embarking on such an action, someone in those higher offices should investigate the legality of the sprouting suburb before resources are spent putting infrastructure on areas that will eventually be destroyed. Local Members of Parliament and councillors should also not act like accomplices by turning a blind eye to the sprouting settlements.
There is also need for councils and Government officials to carry out awareness campaigns to ensure people are aware of the procedures when one acquires a stand. Another way of helping the law deal with the land barons is to empower councils, so that they are able to service stands and sell them to the home seekers. Criminals have taken advantage of the vacuum created by the councils’ failure to adequately serve their residents with residential stands.
We expect the amended Regional, Town and Country Planning Act to be applied without fear or favour in dealing with the illegal land dealers. A city that is infested with land barons cannot attract investment, since the presence of such unscrupulous people is a sign of lawlessness. It only takes a criminal mind for someone to take over a certain piece of land and start parcelling it out without any approval from the authorities. Because they are criminals, we do not expect any protection to be accorded to the land barons, there should be no sacred cows.