Land barons, indigenisation failure in property sector

Land barons, indigenisation failure in property sector A bulldozer destroys a house that was illegally built on State land along High Glen Road in this file pic

Robert Zhuwao Correspondent
THE widely-condemned demolition of houses in Harare, which were patently illegal, as the courts have ruled as such, raise a critical question in the housing sector, that is besides the deplorable actions of the local authority. One protagonist in the sad tale has been the indigenous land entrepreneur in the name of housing cooperatives and the so called land barons.As things stand, current developments give the notion that indigenisation has failed in the sector.

The black or indigenisation element in the sector has been more defined in terms of greed, dishonesty and irregularity. In fact, the term “land baron” more than sums up the derogatory eye with which the indigenous land entrepreneur is viewed. It is now a metaphor for shady land dealings.

I am drawn back to 1998 when cases of people losing money to indigenous property developers started surfacing. Culprits who masterminded the scams and destroyed people’s dreams often got away scot free as the matters were treated as civil cases, forcing the applicants to give up due to the high legal costs.

Almost 20 years later, desperate home-seekers still fall prey to the same scourge, coupled with the political sabotage/bickering in the system. Opposition led councils are accused of deliberately frustrating efforts by perceived ruling party organisations trying to participate in the property development sector, while on the other hand, the councils accuse their superintendent ministry headed by the ruling party, of equally trying to frustrate councils’ efforts in urban development.

This politically dysfunctional discord is central to the dilemma the housing sector finds itself in.

Thieves masquerading as political activists have taken advantage of this fragile relationship to dupe desperate home-seekers of their money. The sheer number of affected home- seekers raises a red flag.

Matters to do with construction have a paper trail as various players are involved from town planners, surveyors, architects, builders and allied contractors. Government and council need to desist from playing politics, come together, follow the paper trail and secure compensation for these families.

If the developer is at fault, let compensation be sought from the developer and if there was collusion, then hold all liable.

The two bodies need to demonstrate that they are there to serve the people. For those that invaded the land spaces, it is trespassing; they should have been arrested upon the act.

New legislation needs to be considered to thwart a repeat of similar incidents. Land surveyors, architects, builders; need to be found liable should a hand of their services be found in such situations.

Confidence for indigenous players in property development needs to be regained if their participation in the industry is to remain relevant.

Events of this magnitude often times have a huge social impact and psychological trauma on the affected families.

Compassion should come to bear to warrant an exhaustive investigation into events that keep leading to the demolition of people’s homes.

A commission of enquiry headed by a judge, the resident minister, representative organisations in the sector, police, council and Government, comes to mind.

Styled along the lines of the Sandura Commission of the late eighties, closure and reparations can be sought for the victims. Costs for such a commission need to be self-funded, hence the offending party must pay for costs.

Measures to protect the poor and vulnerable are paramount in this regard. Confidence in the capacity of indigenous developers needs to be regained. The quality, service and standard of indigenous players in business need to be introspected by all who call themselves businessmen.

The bar for calling one a businessman needs to be set higher to rid the sector of briefcase businesses, hustlers, conmen, chancers and outright thieves masquerading as businessmen.

Robert Zhuwao is a businessman and national president of the National Business Council of Zimbabwe (NBCZ). E-mail: [email protected]

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