Millions of Zimbabweans said to be “squatters”

…As NGO pushes for right to shelter law


Christopher Mahove

Harare—A non-profit organisation, Coalition for Market and Liberal Solutions (COMALISO), is pushing for the enactment of a law that specifically guarantees Zimbabwean citizens’ security of land tenure.

Section 28 of the Zimbabwean constitution provides that the “State and all institutions and agencies of government at every level must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within the limits of the resources available to them, to enable every person to have access to adequate shelter”.

However, independent estimates indicate that almost two thirds of Zimbabweans—in a population of more than 16 million—have no security of tenure on the land they occupy since they do not have title deeds.

More than 300,000 people were resettled on land formerly owned by white commercial farmers who were forced out during the fast track land redistribution programme that commenced on 2000 under the leadership of the late Robert Mugabe.

However, the plots they received are not transferable since they do not have title deeds to the land, but 99-year leases that are revocable by the State.

Also, thousands of people now live on informal settlements in urban and peri-urban areas without title deeds, while more than 70 percent of the country falls under rural areas which are predominantly communal land.

COMALISO, whose mission is to promote a free market economy, respect for private property rights and constitutionalism, is now fighting for citizens’ rights to title deeds for their properties.

It has since petitioned parliament to consider and pass a “Right to Shelter Act” that would borrow from or harmonise all laws on property rights and title deeds.

These laws include the constitution, Urban Councils Act (Chapter 29:15), Environment Management Act, Deeds Registries Act (Chapter 20:05), Land Survey Act (Chapter 20:12), Land Commission Act (Chapter 20:29), Land Acquisition Act (Chapter 20:10), Environment Management Act (Chapter 20:27) , Roads Act (Chapter 13:18), Water Act (Chapter 20:24) and the  Regional, Town and Country Planning Act (Chapter 29:12) .

The proposed law, according to COMALISO, would ensure that citizens “can have access to home ownership with secure tenure in the shortest possible time, with minimum legalistic hurdles that infringe on their constitutional right to shelter”.

“Parliamentarians must spend more time enlightening their constituents on property rights. The Right to Shelter Act will not only make it easier or less expensive to acquire title but also millions of poor urban citizens will legitimately own homes that enhance their wealth status,” said Rejoice Ngwenya, the COMALISO executive director.

In late May, civil society organisations resolved to adopt strategies to ensure beneficial land ownership among Zimbabweans during a debate on land barons that was convened by Information for Development Trust (IDT).

The trust is a non-profit organisation that promotes access to information on public sector governance through research, advocacy and investigative journalism.

COMALISO attended the virtual dialogue on land barons.

The absence of title deeds, Ngwenya noted, was causing a ‘stampede’ into informal settlements.

The chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on Local Government, Supa Mandiwanzira, said they had taken note of the call for a shelter rights law.

“We are definitely attending to it. We have already made headway,” said Mandiwanzira.

The committee has already engaged the ministries of Local Government and National Housing as well as the City of Harare, and subsequently requested COMALISO to study again the Urban Councils Act, Regional Town Planning Act and the Deeds Act for further recommendations.

In the run-up to the 2023 general elections, President Emmerson Mnangagwa promised to issue out title 11,000 deeds to informally settled people.

However, National Housing and Social Amenities minister, Zhemu Soda, has since said government would not issue title deeds to residents of unserviced and informal settlements.

“The ministry, in partnership with the private sector, is working to ensure that allocated stands that are yet to be serviced are regularized through the user principle.

“The beneficiaries in those areas are expected to pay for certain services to ensure that the road infrastructure, water and sewage reticulation are in place. Without proper servicing of these stands, the government cannot issue title deeds.

“This is what the government is trying to regularize so that this leads to the occupants receiving title deeds to use as collateral for loans…We would want to ensure that the settlement is good and people can be given deeds for occupancy of such an area,” Soda told parliament recently.

His position was, however, contradicted by his own permanent secretary, Theodius Chinyanga, who insisted that government was already rolling out title deeds to informally settled residents.

“Proper issuance of title deeds will start from July; a dry run has already been done,” said Chinyanga in an interview with the government-controlled media.

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