EDITORIAL COMMENT: Land Barons: Kasukuwere on right track

AT least the correct people are now going to pay and be punished for the illegal housing in several urban areas, rather than the victims. Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Saviour Kasukuwere has taken a fair and rational stance: for the moment the houses are not to be demolished and victims need to be compensated before any action is taken, the compensation coming from those councillors, officials and “land barons” who organised and benefited from the scams.

This seems to satisfy the two requirements that any just solutions would demand, that those who caused the mess and profited from it are made to pay to clean it up, that those duped are to keep a roof over their heads while the mess is cleared up and have their money back to build elsewhere if this is necessary.

Admittedly ignorance of the law is not regarded as a defence, so legally the councils could demolish the houses without compensating the victims, leaving them to sue the people who sold the land should they wish their money back.

But the duped victims had no reason to suspect that the land they bought was not legal. And they are highly unlikely to have the legal knowledge and other skills to track down and sue the sellers and are unlikely to have the finances to pay for lawyers and experts who could.

And they definitely do need somewhere to live while the mess is sorted out. So they need help, rather than carrying the burden of the problems.

It is difficult to understand, without accepting that there were determined efforts by several involved with municipalities to cloud the issues, how the mess got this far. Normally one would expect that when an unplanned and unapproved settlement is started that council officials would quickly see that something was wrong while people were still digging foundations or erecting temporary sheds.

So action could then be taken before any serious damage was done and anyone involved in fraud or criminal activity could quickly be tracked down. In all the cases there will be need for investigations. Not all who built will be innocent, but many probably are. In the end those who caused the problem must bear the costs, whoever they are.

While Zimbabwe does not need any more Epworths, urban councils should be wary about using demolition orders as the first option, rather than the final option. In many cases, such as unplanned extensions to houses, it is legally possible to rectify the errors, give advice on how to do so and advice on how to modify these structures so they meet by-laws.

In other cases councils need to be aware of just what is happening in their areas, so illegalities can be stopped before there is any serious harm. It is much better to stop an illegal structure being built in the first place rather than try to knock it down once it is there, especially when there could be a lot of unnecessary suffering caused by a hasty demolition.

The law is the law, but it needs to be applied with some care and sense.

This appears to be the minister’s stance. He is carefully not condoning illegal structures, but he wants the mess cleared up in a way that does not see the poor bearing all the costs and the lucky rich getting away scot-free. We think his approach makes sense, to solve the problem, but with the minimum of suffering by the innocent.

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