Sydney Kawadza Senior Features Writer
The demand for housing and land to construct residential properties continues to grow. This demand has seen an increase in construction projects in and around Harare and especially the southern parts of the metropolitan city. The coming in of housing co-operatives and stabilisation of the economic climate has raised the hopes of more than 500 000 people on the city’s housing waiting list.
More than 20 000 residents have benefited from a number of housing co-operatives at Southerly Park, Hopley, Ishewokunze and Amsterdam Park, just to mention but a few.
While the increase in construction is a positive in the battle against the ever ballooning housing waiting list in the city, it has brought in a new headache – the problem of sand poachers.
With everyone seeking to maximise profits, sand poachers have resorted to unorthodox means of extraction resulting in thousands of acres of land being destroyed in the Harare metropolitan province.
Harare South is one of the worst affected areas. The building of houses in this area has come with its own challenges, chief among them land degradation due to rampant sand abstraction in Amsterdam Park.
More than a 100 “sand poachers” have descended on the area where they dig river sand.
Their clients are people building their houses not only in the adjacent housing schemes but as far as Waterfalls, Glen View, Budiriro, Kuwadzana and even Dzivaresekwa.
The illegal extraction of sand in the area is, however, happening in broad daylight right under nose of the city authorities.
The sand poachers have dug up a large area stretching deep into the housing stands of Amsterdam Park.
Their activities are threatening to spread into areas reserved for burial purposes at the Granville Cemetery and to date some of the poachers are working a few metres from the gravesite.
Residents say the illegal sand poachers’ activities have gone for a long time without control from relevant authorities.
“Their activities have gone for quite some years without monitoring and these people are slowly losing regard of other activities in the area like the way they are encroaching into the graveyard,” Samson Nemushonga said.
“At the moment the people who are engaged in sand extraction from that place could be commended for trying to earn an honest living but there needs to be some kind of control so that the land is damaged for good.”
However, there are some people who believe the sand extractors have the obligation to preserve the environment.
Mr Mutsvangwa Mhuruyekunze said their activities have also provided employment for youths and even family men who were struggling to eke a living.
“There are people who have been extracting sand from this place for a long time but then it was illegal. We have, however, moved and engaged authorities to give us the necessary documentation so that we earn an honest living,” he said.
Mr Mhuruyekunze said there are more than 120 people at the site.
“There are youths who have found employment at this site.
“We had a licence issued in 2010 but it has since expired. We are, however, eager to get proper documentation so that our activities legal,” he said.
Mr Josphat Chiminya, who is also involved in sand abstraction, said while the money was not all that attractive they would rather regularise their activities.
“We earn about US$15 per cubic metre but these prices could improve if our activities are regularised and we have a basis to negotiate comparable prices.
“I have been working here for many years and have managed to pay my children’s school fees. We hope to continue earning our living from this place,” he said.
He, however, dismissed fears that their activities would spill into the Granville Cemetery.
City authorities recently opened up an area close to the site for burial purposes.
Meanwhile, Desperate Home Seekers Housing Co-operative chairman Cde Trust Rutsvara said the area was reserved for residential purposes and authorities should find a suitable site for the sand extractors.
The sand abstraction site is in the Amsterdam Park area.
President Mugabe last week made an application for the compulsory acquisition of the land for urban development at the farm formerly known as Amsterdam Park.
The area measuring 102,4 hectares has close to 5 000 residential stands, some of which have already been occupied by Harare residents who are already building their houses while some have moved into their completed houses.
“We understand there was a time these people had licences to extract sand from the site and it has since expired but the area is reserved for residential purposes so the authorities should find a suitable place for them to do their activities,” he said.
Cde Rutswara said sand extraction provided employment for youths who earned a living through the activities.
“Government is advocating for economic empowerment for the people and these are Zimbabweans who have found jobs through sand extraction. They need regulation so that their activities are legitimate,” he said.
The housing co-operative leadership, he said, had advised people at the site to be wary of their environmental obligation.
“They know that their activities could be hazardous to the environment and the graves next to the site but they still have to pave way for the housing projects set for the area,” he said.
The Environmental Management Authority said they were aware of the sand abstraction at the site urging the people to register so that they have controlled extraction in conformity with the country’s laws.
EMA spokesperson Mr Steady Kangata said there are regulations against land degradation.
“Any country that is going through serious development definitely needs sand for infrastructural development, but we have seen that sand abstraction leads to serious land degradation and we have come up with regulations to ensure that there is sustainable abstraction,” he said.
Mr Kangata said Government had also come up with statutory instruments against land degradation.
“There is the S.I 7 of 2007 of the Environment Impact Assessments and Ecosystems Protection Regulations as amended by S.I 4 of 2011 that says anyone who engages in sand abstraction for commercial purposes should be in possession of a licence.
“That means anyone who extracts a tonne or more for commercial purposes should be in possession of a licence. However, for one to have a licence EMA would assist the proponent with coming up an environment management plan showing how the area is going to be rehabilitated.
“We do not have land as EMA to give people who are interested in sand abstraction so the forms they fill should be endorsed by local authorities,” he said.
Mr Kangata said even the people who provide transport services for the sand abstractors should also have licences.
“The vehicles should have a fitness certificate from the Vehicle Inspection Department.”
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