Tuesday, December 31, 2013

(HERALD ZW) Chombo must halt demolitions
November 11, 2013 Shingirai Huni
Mai Jukwa, Opinion & Analysis

I AM entirely in agreement with the view that Blair toilets and shacks have no place in our urban areas. In my own neighbourhood, an apostolic sect has erected a pit latrine in the local park.

Such is the extent of their liberties. Lawlessness is slowly creeping into our society and unless we respond in a robust manner we will soon be as chaotic as Lagos — a mansion here a shack there. Just the other day I saw a pickup truck shamelessly digging up soil in the local park, presumably for better use elsewhere.

Something must be done. On that point I am in perfect agreement with Dr Chombo.
Let us rewind to Murambatsvina. The circumstances were not too different from that just described. Government went on to demolish thousands of illegal structures. It is important to emphasise the fact that all the structures that were demolished were illegal; they had no planning permission. The West wailed itself hoarse. Mugabe was at it again.

Those “international” concerns were nothing more than opportunistic nonsense from idiotic white people hoping to garner consensus against the farm-snatching Mugabe on humanitarian grounds. It takes a Bangladesh factory collapse killing thousands to show such idiots that a government cannot just allow structures to sprout unregulated. The Government does not owe anyone an apology for Murambatsvina.

There is another rather silly argument about Murambatsvina targeting opposition supporters in urban areas. The proponents of such nonsense forget that the popular musician, war veteran and Zanu-PF supporter, Cde Chinx, equally had his house demolished and was beaten proper after trying to resist these lawful actions.

In addition, those who suggest that these demolitions were vindictive and politically motivated have not offered any evidence that opposition supporters have a monopoly on shacks and illegal structures.

The suggestion that the demolitions were indiscriminate and illegal is not backed up by fact. Not a single case has been brought before the courts suggesting that a lawfully erected structure was demolished in Zimbabwe.

However, as much as I support the case for the Murambatsvina demolitions, I remain wholly opposed to the manner in which they were carried out. A few examples would be helpful. After proceeding to demolish thousands of illegal structures, many were left out in the cold, without accommodation. As international pressure grew the Government began a hurried construction of accommodation to placate Tibaijuka.

It was a ridiculous sight. Why would one demolish a structure, render the inhabitants homeless and then, after the event, start building them alternative accommodation? It was an act of madness.

The horse must come before the cart. I would have thought it sensible to build a thousand structures, and then proceed to demolish a thousand shacks knowing fully well that those displaced would be moving into accommodation provided by Government.

The issue is not as simple as a structure being legal or not. Once you allow a structure to be built and to be inhabited the problem is no longer straightforward. Humanitarian concerns must come before legal considerations. It becomes even more complex when these illegal structures are allowed to grow into settlements.

Such complexities can be avoided by nipping these structures in the bud. Before the building is even completed it should be demolished.
This should be a continuous exercise. Waiting for entire settlements to be born and giving the lawbreakers a sense of security is just plain cruel.

If it were the case that any illegal structure was demolished as soon as it was built then nobody would waste their time building those structures.

One of the elementary principles taught to students of diplomacy is that it is not so much what you say but what they hear. The principle rings very much true in our present circumstances.

While Government officials speak in the lofty language of order and legality what the vast generality is hearing is nothing more than a callous disregard for the suffering of the majority. When a Government that has built absolutely nothing in the way of low-cost housing jumps up and down in malevolent glee at the prospect of demolishing shacks the public can be forgiven for taking such a view.

It cannot be the case that we are enthusiastic about demolishing poor people’s homes while having done absolutely nothing about low-cost housing.

What must come first is how those affected by these spirited demolitions will be housed. These are not unreasonable demands.

The effect of such brutish actions against vulnerable people is to paint Zanu-PF not as a party that cares for the weak but one that has completely lost touch with the suffering of the disadvantaged. I can bet my last dollar that a snap poll will reveal widespread disapproval for these actions across the political spectrum.

People are not opposed to the demolitions in themselves or the idea of restoring order but to the fact that Government has no articulated plan to house those who will find themselves without homes.

If the Government wants to proceed with demolitions then I would challenge them to match their determination to destroy with an equal eagerness to build. For every market stall they raze to the ground would the Government commit to immediately building a replacement?
For every home bulldozed by worryingly eager bulldozers, would the Government commit to offering the victims keys to a low-cost housing unit? I think not.

The Government cannot make such a commitment because it is easier to destroy than it is to build. It takes little in the way of imagination to command bulldozers and fire against those who have no voice. This is not the way of benevolent governance. An able government will not take pride in the simplistic task of demolition.

Instead, it will go to the root of the problem and offer effective housing solutions. Those are the real challenges that Government must solve, instead of rushing to destroy the shacks that the poor call home.

Ndatenda.

Ndini muchembere wenyu Amai Jukwa.

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