Hell in illegal wetland housing
Patrick Chitumba, Midlands Bureau Chief
MR Talent Zimuto (55), a long-distance truck driver plying the Durban-Lubumbashi route spends up to 10 days on the road with little sleep.
He knows very well the risks in his chosen job, the ever present threat of hijackings by criminals in South Africa or being harmed by rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but he is willing to face the risks just for the love of his family that he must provide for.
He drives a haulage truck loaded with sugar, electricals and hardware from Durban, South Africa to Lubumbashi, DRC. On his way back it can be carrying copper but sometimes it can be empty.
After having been on the Gweru City Council (GCC) housing waiting list for 15 years, just providing food, clothes, education and health for his family was no longer enough for him.
Gweru council had nearly 34 000 people on its housing waiting list as of January 31 this year.
The local authority last sold stands to the public in 2018.
It has not been able to sell more stands ever since due to a moratorium that was put in place to pave way for an audit into alleged illegal sell of land.
Mr Zimuto said knowing that he and his family were lodgers and subject to abuse by their landlords, he decided to approach a local land developer for a stand so he could have a place he, his wife and four kids could really call home.
Mr Zimuto said the land developer (name withheld) offered him a 300square metre stand for US$6 500 which he is still struggling to clear.
“I was offered a stand; I went to see it and wasn’t happy because I thought it was too close to a stream. The area was a wetland. The developer said all I needed to do was to put in a big slab and my worries would be over,” he said.
Mr Zimuto said he managed to build a big slab and finished constructing his house before his family moved in at the end of October last year.
“All hell broke loose from January because every day, I would receive calls that there was flooding at the house. The problem was said to be intensifying every day and I then realised that the stand was just too close to the stream. It was in a wetland. Later we realised that over 100 of us had stands in waterways and wetlands and as long as it rained heavily, we will be in danger of flooding,” he said.
To Mr Zimuto, the term wetland meant nothing to him until floods started to torment his family.
Wetlands are areas where water covers the soil, or is present either at or near the surface of the soil all year or for varying periods of time during the year, including during the growing season. They occur where the water table is at or near the surface of the land, or where the land is covered by water.
The Environmental Management Act (Cap 20; 27) goes further to define wetlands as:
“Areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including riparian land adjacent to the wetland”.
February 2 each year is World Wetlands Day. This day marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on February 2, 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar. The Ramsar Convention is an inter-governmental treaty to promote national action and international co-operation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. Zimbabwe is signatory to this Convention.
“I am one of the thousands of Zimbabweans who are victims of land barons who allocated us stands in wetlands. We had no choice because we all wanted a roof over our heads. As for me, I am a truck driver and from Johannesburg, Messina, Beitbridge, Gweru, Chinhoyi, Karoi, Chirundu, (Zambia) Lusaka, Chingola, Kasumbareza Border post then Lubumbashi – it’s all about providing for my family and it’s a pity when land developers take advantage of us,” said Mr Zimuto.
In an interview, Gweru mayor Councillor Josiah Makombe said his council has not sold any stands in wetlands.
“As the City of Gweru, we do not have any official communication about allegations that we allocated residential and commercial stands in wetlands and subserviced areas.
“We have only read about those allegations in newspapers. Our waiting list stands at 33 900 as at 31 January 2021. Council last sold stands to the public in 2018 and in serviced areas which are not wetlands. We have not been able to sell stands since then due to the 2018 moratorium,” he said.
Clr Makombe said in terms of the law, the local authority is supposed to give a land developer a certificate of compliance once certain requirements like servicing the said area have been met.
He said there were a lot of land developers in Gweru who sold stands to individuals while some got stands from Government programmes.
“Council gives certificates of compliance to developers who meet standards, hence before residents buy any stands, they should ask the developer for a certificate of compliance. One can get a certificate of compliance when all conditions on the subdivision permit are met; these are mainly surfaced roads and entrance; tapped water per stand; approved lay out plans and approved drawings for all civil works,” said Clr Makombe.
Unfortunately, housing developments such as Woodlands, Claymont Park, Ascot Extension among others seem not to meet the above requirements.
“I don’t think that those developers have compliance certificates,” said Clr Makombe.
“However if they do, we would have to look at their authenticity. But if they are there, they could have been given way before our assuming office. My current administration cannot tolerate such operations.”
Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu last week gave a chilling warning that all wetlands in local towns and cities will disappear within 20 years if municipalities continue on their current model of development.
His ministry is working towards finalising the Zimbabwe National Wetland Policy and the Ecologically Sensitive Areas Management Guidelines, whose gazetting was aimed at cultivating a culture of sustainable management of wetlands.
Environmental Management Agency Midlands province manager Mr Benson Basera said his office was busy compiling reports as to how and why land developers allocated stands on undesignated areas.
Local Government and Public Works Minister July Moyo on Sunday demanded an explanation on how home seekers in Gweru were allocated residential stands on wetlands by both council and private property development companies.
“From our tour of the affected areas in Gweru, it was clear that the problem is that those who were affected were located in wetlands, while other land barons just went on to parcel stands in areas which have not been developed,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Zimuto is very sure that he will not get a refund for the stand he got in a wetland.
“I want to put a precast wall hoping that run off will not flow into my yard. I know I will not get any other stand or a refund,” he said.