Diana Nherera Suburban Reporter
A MEETING called to discuss the illegal housing developments and invasion of wetlands in Ward 16 in Harare has revealed that council officials are involved in the approval of the projects.
A coordinator of residents who are opposing the illegal developments and invasion of wetlands Mr Briggs Bomba said the developers tried to walk away from the meeting held recently at Sherwood Golf Club. Residents from Meyrick Park, Monavale, Sentosa as well those from Belvedere, Milton Park and surrounding neighbourhoods attended the meeting. City of Harare and Environmental Management Agency officials also attended the meeting.
“We called a community meeting here, called the district officer, called the city planner whose signature was on all these letters, called the councillor to come in and eventually they were trying to walk away from the situation. But from the paperwork that was there you could see that these are people who had corruptly acquired land that was part of the golf course. Because there was such a campaign with all these other golf courses joining in and the general community in Harare at large speaking against this land grab, those people disappeared but there are still letters that have City of Harare (officials’) signatures,” said Mr Bomba.
He said although the developers had chickened out of the meeting, they still have legal claim to the land because they have all the paperwork.
“So what we have now realised is that even when it appears as if the land barons have withdrawn, they have only withdrawn in terms of their physical presence but we have now realised they are still in the background moving from office to office still altering maps at the Surveyors General’s Office. (They are) still getting all these letters that they need to get from the different offices so that if there is a five-year silence and nothing that is visible during that time, there is still paperwork that is actually changing the maps in the area.
“People are still acquiring land and just being very quiet about it but they are already changing the facts in the background so what we are trying to do as a committee is to say we want to push for total transparency around what is happening with land allocations and developments in this area. … also around how procedures that are mandated in the council by-laws, Environmental Management Act, Water Act etc. how these procedures are being followed. We want all of that to be publicly available information so that the communities know what is happening and we don’t have to wait five or 10 years and then we are surprised when someone shows up with paperwork and claiming ownership of land.”
Environmental Management Agency principal officer Harare Province Mr Gilbert Mugunzva told the meeting about some of the actions they had taken on some developments such as those on Quendon Road (now called Eddison Zvobgo Road) and Westminster Avenue in Mabelreign. He said the person responsible for the Quendon developments was fined.
Mr Mugunzva said besides fines, EMA can serve or issue an environmental protection order.
“This is more punitive than the fine as it stops them from developing. And in most of these wetlands where we have stopped developments, it’s through the environmental protection orders which is an instruction to the developer to stop or to redesign the project.
“It would be very good if EMA was involved in the planning stage. That is what we should try and advocate for to make sure our interests as environmentalists and as residents are taken care of,” said Mr Mugunzva.
Residents said the Westminster developer who is said to have diverted a stream is continuing with some stand owners building up to window level despite being served with the order.
Mr Mugunzva said violating an environmental protection order is an offence and violators can be taken to court.
He said he visited the site in question three times this year.
“And the stage where we served the environmental protection order, we stopped the development. On the diversion of the stream, we are working something together with Zinwa.
“We showed them and complained to them that this is what happened. I showed them all the places where the illegal diversion was done and they said they are going to do something,” said Mr Mugunzva.