Harare City Council’s Property Seizures: A Misguided Approach Amid Economic Struggles

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The Harare City Council’s (HCC) decision to seize over 50 properties from low-income residents who are struggling to pay their monthly rates has sparked widespread criticism. This move has been condemned as harsh and insensitive, especially given the financial difficulties many households are already facing.

By Tonderai Ndoro

More than 4,000 ratepayers with outstanding balances exceeding 60 days have been served court summonses, signaling the council’s aggressive stance on debt recovery. Should these residents fail to settle their accounts, warrants of execution will allow the council to seize their properties and assets.

This heavy-handed approach has raised serious concerns about the well-being of the affected residents, who risk losing their homes and possessions due to economic hardships beyond their control. Political commentator Levy Magura warns that these actions could exacerbate the already precarious economic conditions in Harare, leading to increased poverty, homelessness, and social unrest.

“This could lead to a humanitarian crisis,” Magura cautions. “The council’s actions may perpetuate a cycle of poverty, making it even more challenging for residents to recover from their financial struggles.”

Mavis Moyo, a lecturer at a local university, echoes these sentiments, arguing that the council’s measures are unjust and disproportionately harsh. “The move is too severe and unfair, especially since the council is not providing adequate services to these communities,” she says. Moyo advocates for alternative solutions, such as payment plans or community engagement, to support residents struggling to pay their rates.

Critics argue that the opposition-led council appears unsympathetic to residents’ struggles, prioritizing revenue collection over their well-being. McDonald Murombo, another political commentator, points out the irony that the economic sanctions the opposition supported are now hindering residents from paying their rates. “The residents are being penalized for a situation that the opposition created for political gain,” he notes.

A former opposition councilor, who chose to remain anonymous, suggests that the council should address the root causes of non-payment, such as unemployment, poverty, and lack of access to basic services. “Attaching homes is an extreme measure, particularly when other options have not been fully explored,” the former councilor says. “The council could engage with residents to understand their challenges and prioritize service delivery in marginalized areas.”

The opposition’s actions have been contrasted with the Zanu PF government’s approach. In the past, Zanu PF has directed the council to cancel residents’ debts to alleviate their suffering during economically challenging times. Currently, the government is stepping in to provide services that the opposition-led council has failed to deliver, demonstrating a commitment to the residents’ well-being. Furthermore, the government plans to issue 100,000 title deeds to homeowners in Chitungwiza, Southlea Park, and Epworth under the Presidential Title Deeds and Settlement Regularization Programme, offering security and stability to these residents.

As the situation unfolds, the council faces increasing pressure to balance its debt recovery efforts with the need to protect its residents’ welfare. Critics urge the council to adopt a more compassionate and sustainable approach, addressing the root causes of non-payment and supporting the well-being of all residents.