Urban land in Zimbabwe is potentially a highly valuable asset, although its value is just farmland with the urban value only coming when proper town plans have been laid out, roads, water pipes, sewers and electricity servitudes developed, and schools sites and recreational land reserved.
Land barons just try and short circuit the whole process, slice up farmland and sell it off without any planning or development. Sometimes this land belongs to the Government or a urban council, and the barons sneak in by corrupting officials or take over a moribund co-operative; generally speaking the Government or the council should be the developer, even if they use contractors..
Some land is private, where like informal settlements on public land it is invaded, and Epworth is the largest single disaster on private land, or a crooked developer tries to sell everything off. Private development is encouraged, but there are a pile of rules, like approved town plans, the setting aside of land for schools and recreation, which must be handed over to the public authorities as a free gift, and the expensive development of services. So we have now seen barons and corrupt officials invading recreational land.
Increased demand for urban land across the country has been driven by multiple factors including high rates of urbanization, increased rural-urban migration, urban population growth and desperation for housing by ordinary citizens.
For years, land barons have corruptly swindled home seekers of their money running into millions of dollars. By selling land they never owned, and selling it before anyone has put in the expensive services and plans, they can make very large profits, because basically all they are doing is defrauding ordinary people.
The pain and misery has been unbearable for these home-seekers, who in most cases have failed to recover anything from these illicit land dealers.
Most parts of the country are replete with controversial land developers and cooperatives that have been behind scams to steal money from helpless homes seekers. They pretend to be helping home seekers yet depriving them of their hard earned cash.
Several cooperatives and land developers have appeared in court on charges of converting funds to personal use, fraud and other related crimes. Examples of their malpractices are too many to mention.
Thousands of people have lost money through double or multiple allocations and selling of fictitious stands in other pure criminal scams. There is massive fraud involved and many have been left sitting high and dry — with no money and a stand to build a house.
It is in this context that we welcome moves to take the necessary court actions to seize assets acquired by land barons using proceeds from their illegal sale of state land and council land to desperate home-seekers nationwide. This can also be extended to those who invade private land, acquire it corruptly or even have clear title but still cheat those they sell stands to.
Efforts by President Mnangagwa to stamp out corruption in the urban land sector is welcome and demonstrates his commitment to justice and fairness as well as creating an enabling environment for the majority of the poor to have fair access to land for housing purposes.
The President has been frank and forthright.
He openly said his Government will stand with the people duped by land barons in urban areas and provide requisite sanitation facilities in needy areas, while the culprits who milked citizens of their hard-earned cash will be punished.
“I received the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the sale of State land in urban areas,” he was quoted saying recently. The report contains glaring excesses which we must correct and bring the guilty parties to account without fear or favour.
The Government, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Zimbabwe Republic Police and the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission must interest themselves in the findings of that report.
The party stands with the victims who suffered and lost their hard-earned money at the hands of the unscrupulous, corrupt and greedy land barons.
The law will take its course without fear or favour in this regard. The message is loud and clear and it is quite pleasing to see that the net is closing in on these illicit land dealers who have amassed properties running into billions of dollars through ill-gotten wealth.
President Mnangagwa’s drive to weed out land barons must be fully supported and embraced by all state agencies.
If the whole nation and the State agencies rally behind the President, there is no doubt that the country will be able to improve how its land governance – policies, processes and institutions by which land, property and natural resources are managed.
The rules are there. They have always been there. But in recent years corrupt municipal and Government officials have cheated. And this is not a party political matter. The arrests and remands have been split between supporters of governing and opposition parties, with some criminals being apolitical. But the magistrate of judge trying the case does not care how you vote, only how you steal.
Additionally, there is need for computerisation of land records to increase efficiency, shorten delay and curb corruption. State – wide computerisation of land registries and local governments can help improve efficiency and minimise corrupt tendencies. Such a data base would label each stand clearly with whatever planning permission had been granted, if any, and would clearly state what services were provided. At least a prospective home-owner could look and see what the actual legal and development state of the stand was.
It’s not a panacea but it’s a necessary step to improve land records and the avoidance of double allocation of stands and vices that had gripped the urban land sector.
Tightening security over records and imposing harsher penalties on land barons could also be another important thing to do.
More investments in computerisation are required as well as strengthening the IT security mechanisms in state agencies.
With better IT solutions, it is possible to improve the registration of land sales, managing inheritances and as well as understanding strategies of tackling problems we face as a nation in the urban sector.