Over six thousand home seekers at Retreat settlement near Waterfalls could lose a total of $3,600,000 after their stands were parcelled out to other home seekers in yet another of Harare’s on-going land scams.
Harare News visited the settlement recently where home seekers – who are part of housing cooperatives – had been allocated land by the Apex Board. These stands measure between 450 and 600 square metres, and cooperative members had already begun to build on them. But recently these same stands have been allocated to a new group of home seekers, who have stepped in and have begun to build their own structures side by side with those originally allocated. In some instances, three different claimants have built houses side by side on a single patch of land.
“There is disorder here. People are just coming and building on each other’s stands, to the extent that they are even evicting those who have applied for housing through the housing cooperative structures,” said a cooperative home seeker who identified himself only as Masoka.
Masoka, whose stand was given to another home seeker whose new building now blocks the entrance to his own, says the situation is so dire that fighting often breaks out and home seekers literally wield axes against each other.
“We are completely shut out of the settlement. We cannot access our stands despite having paid $8,000 in membership contributions and planning and surveying fees.
Another home seeker who only wanted to be identified as Shingirayi added, “We are still contributing money to the cooperative at the same time as paying for lawyers going to the courts to defend the appropriation of our stands.”
“It is organised chaos! Even though I am the chairman of one of the housing cooperatives in the area, someone still came and built on my stand!” said Edward Matarutse, chairperson of Pachedu Housing cooperative. “We have put the matter before the courts, but they have still not set a date. Our main worry is that members of our cooperative cannot develop their stands yet they are still paying for other developmental services,” added Matarutse.
The Apex Board was formed under a government directive to administer land to cooperatives. Board chair Tonderai Nkomo says the board was responsible for allocating stands to 27 cooperatives at Retreat settlement, formerly Retreat Farm. The problems began when board members Antony Muchato and Samuel Rwodzi decided to break away and form a parallel splinter board called the Harare South Housing Union. This new board then began allocating the same stands to people who were not part of the original cooperatives.
“These are the people creating problems to take advantage of prospective home seekers, “said Nkomo.
When asked for comment, Muchato dismissed allegations that land was being sold as untrue. He said there is a group of disgruntled people who are not pleased with the developments taking place in the area.
“I was a member of the Apex Board, and still assist home seekers as a leader of the Harare South Housing Union,” said Muchato. Muchato now claims he oversees all matters regarding allocation of residential stands in Harare South.
Asked what the original home seekers should do in this situation, Muchato told Harare News that alternative land has been found for them.
“Which alternative land?” responded Matarutse, “The cooperative structure clearly spells out that members listed when a housing cooperative is formed are the deserving members. Where are these people who are now evicting us from our stands coming from?”
Matarutse says the area the breakaway Harare South Housing Union board wanted them to go and occupy is not surveyed or planned, and that it has serious gullies and rocks which make new development very difficult and expensive. “Considering the fact that our cooperatives are composed of people who belong to the lower class, who struggle to even have three meals each day, we don’t have the money to start again at the suggested area,” said Matarutse.
Harare has been rocked by several reports of double allocations, lack of development and embezzlement of funds by cooperative leaders in Hatcliffe, Caledonia and Chitungwiza, forcing government to intervene.
Due to the high numbers on the city’s housing waiting list, desperate home seekers have sought refuge in housing cooperatives, with many falling prey to bogus outfits. Harare’s housing backlog currently stands at an estimated 500,000 houses. Of late, Harare has seen an increase in illegal land developments fuelled by the unavailability of affordable housing to accommodate a growing population.