EDITORIAL COMMENT : Nyatsime stand holders need to work with council Chitungwiza Municipality

Homeowners in Chitungwiza’s new Nyatsime suburb need to work with Chitungwiza Municipality as it untangles the mess that has arisen, partly through its own fault and neglect, on the two farms assigned for this extension of the town.

The residents decided not to co-operate when the municipality asked them in February to submit all their documentation for stand allocations, building plans and went to the Administrative Court to get that demand for information reversed.

The court, after hearing all the legal and other arguments, found that the municipality has a right to find out who is living where, and on what grounds each resident is there, and if they have started building, on what basis was that building done.

The court also made it clear that all it was authorising was the collection of information.

The municipality will then need to consider what action might be required after the information is collected, but as the Administrative Court made clear, any eviction and any demolition requires a court order.

Nyatsime is a good test case for the Government policy of regularising what can be regularised.

The Chitungwiza Municipal Council needs to accept that it must conform to that policy, and do what it can to fix the mess in a way that minimises destruction or eviction. One the other hand residents have to accept that they need to conform to law and negotiate how that can be done with the minimum of disruption.

The municipality, which is the land owner, first wants to know who is on each of 2 975 stands that are properly demarcated and how did those stand holders get these stands. This is not unreasonable, especially considering how many councillors and officials are in remand for corruption-related charges.

Some were properly allocated. Some were allocated, it is suspected, by corrupt councillors or officials. Some were handed out by land barons who had zero right to allocate anything. And some, it appears, are occupied by people just moving onto the land.

If Nyatsime is anything like other similar new suburbs, properly zoned for residential and with some layout plans, then besides those on proper stands numbered on the layout plans there will be others who have just grabbed, or been allocated by land barons, extra stands that are not on the plan and are illegally slicing up the land reserved for public open spaces, recreation, schools and the like.

This will mean as the information is collected that a good number of people will be found to have some legal right to the stand they occupy, with an offer letter if not with a lease.

Then there will be others on legitimate stands, but unable to produce a proper offer letter and each of those will have to be dealt with on individual merits.

And finally there will be people occupying land that is not zoned for housing and they will have to move.

The second problem facing the municipality after it has found out who is holding the stands in Nyatsime and on what grounds, and who is just camping there, is the development.

Apparently there are no approved building plans. That is not surprising as the suburb is yet to have its basic services, sewers, water mains and roads.

Regularisation and bringing Nyatsime into line with the law is going to be a complex process. But the majority of Nyatsime plot holders seem to have a good argument for full regularisation although, as we stress, they need to work with the council, if necessary with some oversight and refereeing from the Government.

The land barons, self-appointed agents and others trying to skim cash from plot holders must be dumped.

We believe that the council has to start with what is there.

Those who are on proper stands, even if these were allocated dubiously, seem to have a right to develop those stands although they now need to make their peace with the municipality and sign the leases the municipality wants and needs.

It needs to be accepted that the basic services have to be put in place and that this costs money. In fact the servicing is what makes up almost the entire cost of any building stand, since farm land is free or very cheap.

Revenue from leases needs to be allocated to the servicing, and guarantees of revenue coming each month could even allow the municipality to borrow to speed up the servicing.

Generally speaking public housing provision follows the rule of zero profit but zero loss.

The expansion of sewage treatment works and of the bulk water supply mains to the suburb come out of rates, and obviously Nyatsime residents have to start paying their share.

As this legal process is being concluded for those with a legal lease on a proper stand, then the regularisation of the buildings needs to be tackled.

That requires plans to be drawn up and buildings examined. But this is possible.

Again it requires residents to work with, rather than against, the council.

What will not be possible will be regularisation of land holdings on land not zoned for housing.

Here the complex setting off of humanity against legal requirements is tricky.

Obviously such people need to move. As each case is considered it might be possible to allocate another stand to some.

To some degree these are policy rather than administrative decisions.

One point that those occupying a proper stand have to accept is that it is not in their interests to ignore the council, and not in their interests to combine their interests for regularisation and eventual title deeds with the interests of land barons and those who just moved in onto open space.

The courts have given the municipality the green light to find out who lives where and on what grounds.

And residents should be willing to comply with those demands for information.

Negotiations are then possible on how allocations and leases can be regularised, remembering that court orders can be obtained to enforce rational behaviour by both council and residents.

Then the process can be done of servicing and of sorting out which buildings on legal stands can be approved and which cannot.

Not everyone is going to win. But those who are largely compliant with at least the intentions of the law appear to have a strong case with the municipality, the Government and the courts to eventually be regularised, although they need to recognise that this process will not be free.

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