HARARE – Thousands of Hatcliffe residents in Harare have been living at the mercy of Zanu PF aligned land barons and unscrupulous housing cooperatives who sold them houses in irregular settlements in the aftermath of Operation Murambatsvina, leaving them without access to basic amenities, investigations have revealed.
Over 18 years ago, the government launched Operation Murambatsvina, whose literal translation is getting rid of trash, ostensibly to clear urban areas of illegal structures and this resulted in the displacement of over 750 000 people, according to the United Nations.
Following ringing criticism from home and abroad, the then government of Robert Mugabe in June 2005 – a month after embarking on Operation Murambatsvina – launched Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle (Better Life) to provide housing to those who lost homes during the slum clearance campaign.
According to research by Amnesty International at the time, only 3 325 houses were constructed during Operation Garikai and under pressure to meet the ballooning housing demand, the government relaxed conditions for housing development in urban areas.
Local authorities such as the Harare City Council were allowed to allocate unserviced land for housing development to cooperatives and land developers.
The move opened floodgates for land developers and housing cooperatives that took advantage of Zanu PF’s desperation to claw back urban support to amass land that they claimed they will use to win back voters in cities for the ruling party.
In Hatcliffe, in the northern part of Harare, a slew of Zanu PF aligned housing cooperatives and land developers were given vast tracts of land in an area known as Hatcliffe Consortium, which has become a source of headaches for thousands of families that bought housing stands.
An investigation by ZimLive in partnership with the Information for Development Trust (IDT), a non-profit organisation supporting investigative journalism in Zimbabwe and southern Africa, has revealed that nearly 20 years after the cooperatives and land developers started getting State land in Hatcliffe, they are yet to fully develop the sprawling settlements where they parcelled out over 4000 stands.
The beneficiaries of the housing development in the Hatcliffe Consortium area, some who have paid for their stands in full, still do not have access to running water, sewer services, electricity and roads.
Others are in danger of losing their properties because of rampant double allocations and land developers that keep changing goal posts while taking advantage of lack of title deeds. None of the property owners in the area have title deeds.
Investigations revealed that the majority of the victims were members of the Pilgrims Rest Housing Scheme led by Nyasha Chikwinya, who was once the Women Affairs, Gender and Development minister during the Mugabe era.
Chikwinya was also the Harare North MP, which included Hatcliffe, on a Zanu PF ticket for a long time and in 2005 she was the ruling party’s women’s league leader.
Land developers such as Alpha International Land Developers owned by controversial businessman Jonathan Gapare and Divine Homes, which is linked to businessman Nhamo Tutisani were some of the groups that were given state land that they in turn sold as housing stands to members of the Hatcliffe Consortium.
The Local Government ministry on October 10, 2008 allocated 109 403 hectares of state land to Gapare’s Alpha International Land Developers, documents in our possession show.
On March 17, 2009, the same ministry allocated 84 027 hectares of land with an intrinsic value of US$ 2,1 million to Chikwinya’s Pilgrims Rest Housing Scheme while Tutisani’s Divine Homes was allocated 878 housing stands.
One of the conditions for the land allocations was that the developers and housing cooperatives would develop the areas to ensure that residents had access to water, sewer system, electricity and roads.
Developers defy government
It has emerged, however, that the conditions were wantonly disregarded by the politically connected developers and cooperatives as they cashed in on the sale of stands, a development that is now haunting the Hatcliffe Consortium home owners that remain without access to basic services.
Documents obtained from the three land developers and interviews with disgruntled beneficiaries revealed that the developers sold the stands at varying prices depending on size.
For instance, 200 square metre stands from Alpha International were sold for US$6,000 and 400 square metre stands went for over US$9,000.
Divine Homes offered stands for US$4,500, and Pilgrims Rest sold 800 square metre stands, mainly on wetlands for US$5,500.
Some of the agreements of sale for the stands were verbal and this has allowed the land developers to demand monthly subscriptions for the properties, which were not stipulated in the agreements of sale.
Irate residents said they were still being forced to pay monthly subscription fees even after having paid for the stands in full and despite not having access to basic amenities.
Most houses in the affected areas have pit latrines and residents rely on unprotected wells for water because their properties are not connected to Harare City Council’s water and sewer infrastructure.
Jerimos Chigome, the leader of the Premier Park Residents Association and also Hatcliffe Consortium leader, described the situation in the sprawling suburb as dire as he accused unscrupulous land developers of taking advantage of desperate home seekers.
“The first challenge we have are developmental issues,” Chigome said.
“We paid the land developers in full, but there is no servicing in terms of roads, water and sewer system.
“During the rainy season we face a myriad of challenges as the roads become inaccessible.
“There is nothing tangible that the developers are doing to convince us that they are developing the area.”
Washington Dune, who acquired his stand through one of the land developers, accused Pilgrims Rest of trying to elbow him out of property bought by his wife through underhand means.
“I was allocated a stand in 2016 by Pilgrims Rest properties under Nyasha Chikwinya,” Dune said.
“On 6 April this year I was served with a letter of repossession for one of the properties owned by my wife and they claimed to be using some city by-laws.
“We did our investigations and discovered that there was no such by-law. I was asked to pay US$24,700 in 30 days, an amount I could not pay.”
He said the incident showed that residents were prone to losing their properties at the stroke of a pen as there was no security of tenure under the Hatcliffe Consortium housing scheme.
Zvanyadza Zvomarima, who was allocated a 600 square metre stand by Alpha International Land Developers, accused Gapare’s company of trying to evict her for allegedly not paying the US$450 monthly subscriptions.
She began building on her stand in mid-September, but on October 13 Alpha Holdings destroyed the foundation due to non-payment of monthly subscriptions.
Zvomarima filed a police report on the same day under RRB number 5674136, but there has been no progress in the investigations.
On October 19, Alpha International Land Developers engaged with Zvomarima to seek a resolution.
An audio recording of their meeting revealed that Alpha International representatives admitted demolishing Zvomarima’s structure out of frustration over her refusal to pay the monthly fees.
The government has been aware of the shenanigans in Hatcliffe since 2012 as shown by its half-hearted interventions starting with a visit to the area by then Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo, who promised that solutions to the problem were being explored.
On July 23, 2015, Chombo’s successor Saviour Kasukuwere was on the ground in Hatcliffe where he promised to facilitate the establishment of a council office in the area to enable residents to pay rates to the local authority instead of the land barons.
The following year the government announced that the Urban Development Corporation (UDCORP), a parastatal, would take over the development of the area from the cooperatives and land developers after residents’ associations complained about abuse.
UDCORP ordered residents to stop paying the monthly subscriptions to the land developers and cooperatives.
It issued homeowners with cards and instructed them to pay US$10 monthly subscriptions as it created a database to deal with the rampant double allocation of stands.
Land developers and cooperatives, however, defied UDCORP as they continued demanding that residents pay subscriptions directly to them.
Those who failed to comply such as Zwelabantu Mavela are losing their properties to the developers.
Mavela said his family were evicted from their house by Alpha International in December 2022.
“They evicted us and dumped our property by the road,” he told ZimLive.
“As if the pain of being forcibly removed from our cherished home wasn’t enough, they had the audacity to justify their heartless actions by pointing to our inability to pay monthly development fees.”
Zanu PF politicians connive
Harare Residents Trust (HRT) director Precious Shumba said home seekers in areas such as Hatcliffe Consortium were victims of cunning Zanu PF politicians that connive with land developers to take advantage of desperate people.
“Residents in housing cooperatives have this habit of raising issues only when they are being affected, but refuse to be educated about the land barons when they are being allocated illegal stands,” Shumba said.
“On several occasions the HRT has attempted to engage them and even facilitate legal assistance, but the victims always have this tendency of relying on known Zanu PF leaders.
“This makes them abandon public interest litigation options.”
He bemoaned the fact that most land barons appeared to be above the law as they were never arrested even after numerous complaints from victims.
“What is most shocking and frustrating at the same time is the fact that land barons are known and their methods of exploiting the homeless are well known, but the authorities actually protect them,” Shumba said.
“Most of Hatcliffe is state land and council land, but the responsible government ministries and departments are not seriously investigating these cases.
“Consequently, the victims are left on their own without much legal recourse.
“The Harare Residents Trust is urging the residents of Hatcliffe to shun politically aligned helpers and seek genuine help from concerned stakeholders.
“Their major problem is that despite knowing that they have been deceived before, they still put their faith in corrupt politicians, who always hide behind Zanu PF.”
Informal traders, domestic workers
The majority of the people that bought housing stands in Hatcliffe were informal traders, domestic workers and the unemployed, who bore the brunt of Operation Murambatsvina.
Zanu PF chairman for Harare Godswill Masimeremba, who in the past has been asked to help bring the ruling party aligned land developers and cooperatives to order, said they had approached the Local Government ministry asking it to intervene.
“We have raised our issues and concerns with the Ministry of Local Government,” Masimirembwa told ZimLive. “I’m sure they are dealing with the matter.”
Gabriel Masvora, the Local Government ministry spokesperson, said efforts were being made to deal with what he termed dysfunctional settlements in urban areas such as Hatcliffe Consortium.
“The government is indeed very concerned about the plight of urban residents in dysfunctional settlements,” Masvora said.
“There is the enhanced Cabinet committee on emergency preparedness and disaster management and one of its key functions actually is to facilitate regularisation of urban settlements.
“I can authoritatively say that we have a programme that is targeting four local authorities right now.
“The four local authorities are the City of Harare, City of Bulawayo, City of Mutare and Goromonzi Rural District Council.”
He said the regularisation of the settlements will entail the issuance of title deeds and addressing the issue of access to basic amenities.
“Essentially we are killing two birds with one stone by addressing security and tenure issues of the irregular settlements while at the same time also ensuring that there are title deeds that are issued in those settlements,” Masvora added.
“Whilst we are addressing the servicing needs and requirements, that process is ongoing and, I believe, rather authoritatively I can confirm that Hatcliffe is indeed being targeted.”
The government is also closing loopholes in the management of state land by preparing an auditable database of land developers in the country to tackle corrupt elements, he said.
Gapare, the Alpha International owner, said the home owners slowed down the development of the area by not paying the monthly subscription fees.
“Some of the residents were allocated land by housing cooperatives and not us, land developers,” he said.
“Those residents do not have the funds or resources to make monthly payments for the stands they were allocated and for development to take place.
“The way forward would be for residents to come forward and pay so that we develop the area.
“Most of the residents that were allocated stands on our land were in the informal sector and do not have the capacity to pay for our stands.”
Washington Jengaenga, the Divine Homes general manager, also blamed residents for the slow pace of development, saying they were not paying monthly subscriptions.
“Those residents that are claiming or alleging that they were evicted or are complaining about lack of development, I challenge them to provide receipts for payment of developmental fees,” Jengaenga said.
“Residents haven’t been paying and at my house where I stay there is water and sewer reticulation because I paid for those services.
“As an organisation we cannot be working for free where people expect us to develop the area.”
Some of the residents in Hatcliffe Consortium have been paying monthly subscriptions of between US$10 and US$120 to the cooperatives and land developers.
Alpha International documents showed that some property owners stopped paying the subscriptions between 2014 and 2016.
Harare North Housing Cooperative Union chairperson Never Karoro blamed land developers for the problems in the area, saying they handed contributions from their members over to them.
“When the developers came we surrendered our members’ land to them,” Karoro said.
“Double allocation of stands resulted from cooperative members’ failure to pay for the land.”
A report by the Commission of Inquiry into the Matter of Sale of State Land in and around Urban Areas Since 2005 that was presented to President Emmerson Mnangagwa in December 2019, noted that land developers, housing cooperatives leaders and politically-connected people illegally sold US$3 billion worth of urban state land to create unregulated settlements.
The commission chaired by Justice Tendai Uchena recommended further investigations into the illegal allocations of land with Harare topping the number of cases at 156.
A number of land barons have since been arrested, but this has not stopped the emergence of illegal settlements around Harare.
Justice Uchena’s commission also concluded that both land developers and UDCORP were incapable of solving Hatcliffe’s housing crisis.