Rapid population growth including rural to urban migration has choked Harare, a city unable to absorb the rapid influx of new residents. At the heart of the issue is an affordable housing backlog of about half a million homes. The result has been a proliferation of bogus land dealers and illegal housing structures all across the city.
Unregistered and often fraudulent housing cooperatives are of real concern. They offer a way out for so many people desperate to own and develop a small plot to call home in the capital, but as so many victims have discovered, end up causing confusion, anger, financial strife, and heartbreak. So how should residents and would-be home owners ensure their safety from unscrupulous dealers taking advantage of a demand-driven marketplace?
Alec Muchadehama, a renowned Harare lawyer, told Harare News that the cases of people being duped by unscrupulous groups and/or land barons masquerading as housing cooperatives is a growing cause for concern in the city. He added that whenever there is some form of circumvention of the law in setting up such organisations, there will always be a legal problem down the line.
Muchadehama, of Mbidzo, Muchadehama and Makoni Legal Practitioners, said cooperatives, if well set up and in accordance with the law, offer a number of advantages to members, chief among them being that members share the costs of land purchase and development as a group rather than as individuals. He warned that residents should watch out for fraudsters who hold some formal-looking sheets of paper, but who have no actual properties behind them – a relatively easy scam to set up.
A typical example is that of Taurai Hoko of Chitungwiza, who said his hope for having a house of his own turned bleak after paying subscription for months, only to discover that the money was not being used as promised. “Quite a number of us joined a housing cooperative. After months of no action on the ground we approached a lawyer, only to find out that the cooperative was a no show,” he said.
He said the matter is yet to be finalised and urged members of the public to be wary of these bogus elements among us.“These things are really happening,” he lamented.
Muchadehama urged the would-be members of such entities to always check with the relevant ministry if the cooperative they want to join is registered before they become members. “After verifying the registration, it is important for one to visit the cooperative in person and see if it exists on the ground, not on paper alone, and establish whether it has the proper structures as prescribed by the Act,” he added. “Where it claims to have acquired land from either the City Council or Government, it is wise to verify such claims with the said authorities before committing to the organisation. By doing so one is sure that the land the cooperative say is its own is indeed legitimately theirs.”
Muchadehama explained how the Act governing cooperatives requires them to have a constitution, to carry out elections, audits and meetings. “In this regard the would-be members should go as far as attending those meetings so that they know if what they want to join is indeed a bona fide housing cooperative,” he said.
Residents are urged to check with the Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprises and Cooperative Development if a Co-op is registered or not. Call 731002/3/6/8 and ask for The Registrar of Co-ops or call Mr S Hlatywayo The Director of Co-ops on 758378/0712 874 851. They can also call Mr C Tumbare who is Acting Deputy Director of Co-ops on 792680/0772 927 102.