Environmentalists and residents in the capital have welcomed the court’s decision to block property developers from constructing at least 121 cluster houses on the Monavale Vlei.
Administrative Court judge, Justice Herbert Mandeya, delivered the judgment early November in the case in which the Conservation Society of Monavale (COSMO) was involved in a legal battle with property owners Meadows (PVT) Ltd, Patel and Ors.
The property developers had in 2014 sought the approval of Environment Management Agency (EMA) to construct houses, but were refused the rights to do so. EMA rejected the application arguing that since the area was a wetland, it was vital for Harare’s water supply.
Monavale Vlei is a protected area under the international Ramsar Convention — a treaty for conservation and sustainable use of wetlands — to which the country has been a signatory since 2011.
However, the Harare City Council Environmental Management Committee, working on the advice of the council’s Director of Works, Engineer Phillip Pfukwa, gave the developers the go ahead to construct cluster houses.
“COSMO’s appeal against the grant of the permit succeeds. This was on the grounds that the City Council had no authority to grant such a permit unless and until the Director-General of the EMA had issued a certificate approving an environmental impact assessment that approves the project.
“It is not open to developers. The City of Harare cannot by-pass section 97 (5) of the Environmental Management Act,” ruled Justice Mandeya.
The section provides that before council permits any development, a developer must obtain an environmental assessment impact certificate relating to the project from EMA.
Residents have welcomed the ruling.
In a joint press statement, COSMO and Harare Wetlands Trust said they were relieved by the judgement passed by Justice Mandeya.
“That section provides that before any development permit may be issued by the City of Harare, a developer must first obtain an Environmental Impact Assessment Certificate relating to the project from EMA. Without this certificate, no development permits may be issued by the City of Harare.
“Developers should note that the requirement to first obtain an Environmental Impact Assessment Certificate before applying to the City of Harare for a development permit applies to any housing development, regardless of the site of the development and regardless of whether the proposed development is on a wetland or not,” said the press statement.
EMA spokesperson, Steady Kangata, while skirting around on the contents of the judgment itself, said they did not want to see any buildings at Monavale Vlei.
“Monavale Vlei is a very important water supply for the capital and therefore, we do not want to see it disturbed. We do not want to see a concrete jungle all over the city. While we concede that they are the owners of the land, we cannot let them build those houses. They can use the land for other purposes like recreational or develop it into a golf course,” said Kangata.
Protection of Natural Resources (PNR) Director, Josiah Kangoma, echoed Kangata’s sentiments saying the city needs “breathing spaces”.
“The city cannot be buildings all over. It needs breathing spaces. People should be taught on the importance of wetlands in the supply of water, as most are ignorant,” said Kangoma.
An Avondale West resident, Lilian Dube, said she welcomes the ruling, as the wetland was refreshing and picturesque. “The wetland is pleasant to look at. At least that is where we see rabbits,” she said.
Efforts to get comment from developers were fruitless as e-mails sent were not replied to by the time of going to print. However, there were unconfirmed claims that the property developers were appealing against the ruling.