Editorial Comment – Take Decisive Action Against Land Barons

There has been rampant abuse of State land by land barons, councillors and politicians in recent years in urban and peri-urban areas with home-seekers cheated and the barons pocketing millions of dollars.

To that effect, it is sad that State land has become the centre of corruption and illegal land dealings as land barons took advantage of desperate home-seekers.

It is clear that tens of thousands of home-seekers have fallen prey to land barons, often operating through ineffective housing cooperatives and vague council schemes, only to discover that they were sold a dummy when the houses are demolished.

Many Zimbabweans genuinely seeking housing stands in urban areas have lost their savings, having invested in houses that were later demolished after land barons assured them that “everything has been taken care of” or, if they are “lucky” being allowed to spend vast extra sums to have services put in when the scheme was regularised.

An orderly and legal parcelling out of State land, coupled with proper development of services and approved town plans and housing plans, would have avoided this.

We are pleased that the Government has moved to bring closure and finality to the rampant abuse of State land by acting decisively and causing the arrest of many land barons.

Local Government and Public Works Minister July Moyo has declared war against land barons, and this is laudable, but it should be followed by swift action that bring finality and closure to illegal lands dealings.

All those invading State, council and private land and creating bogus housing cooperatives, declared Minister Moyo, are criminals that deserve to be arrested and prosecuted for fraud, corruption and land invasions, despite their rank or status in society.

Of concern is that the rampant illegal sales of land is being done by politicians, both in Zanu PF and the opposition MDC, which is in charge of most urban councils.

The extent of the problem can be seen in the lists of former ministers, suspended mayors and councillors, and municipal officials now out on bail awaiting trial on corruption-related charges involving land allocations.

So cunning are some of the politicians that they abuse party regalia while others pretend they are backed by everyone from the President down when all they are doing is snatching public land for private benefit.

With over 1,3 million people on the national housing list, there is a fertile ground for land barons to exploit the desperation and fleece citizens of their hard-earned money.

To this end, the Government needs to move beyond the rhetoric of warning land barons and bring them all to book.

The earlier the better.

Ordinary citizens have suffered at the hands of land barons who have fattened their pockets at their expense.

The State itself has not benefited from its land as the barons pocket everything and even fail to service the area for essential infrastructure such as roads, sewers and water connections.

Now is the time to arrest and prosecute one-by-one the land barons and stop the practice completely.

Urban and rural councils should embark on systematic land allocations and bar the use of land barons and other middlemen.

The Government should make it mandatory for distribution of public land to be the preserve of local authorities themselves, in an accountable and sustainable manner, and where there are private developers on private land ensure that all the rules laid down in town planning legislation are rigorously followed. This is not complicated.

The Ministry of Local Government should develop a good capacity to track and monitor allocation of land through a system that closes out all land barons and middlemen.

The Government should also create special courts to deal with illegal sale of State land.

Suffice to say land is a natural resource that is not elastic and does expand.

While the country’s population is growing, the land is not growing, hence the need to carefully come up with sustainable land allocations in urban areas.

Land barons must be outlawed, immediately.

All land should be allocated through recognised institutions and not individuals.

The State must bolster and re-tool its institutions in order to ensure that the land is protected and only parcelled out where necessary.

Going forward all land barons must have their day in court and should also be made to not only account for their actions, but also restitute those who lost their savings.

Zimbabweans in their broad totality should be taught, through a sustained campaign, to acquire land through the right channels and avoid dealing with land barons and themselves to follow the approval systems for their house plans, which will at least reveal cheating by the barons before to much damage is done.

Local authorities must be capacitated to clear the long waiting lists, for, the long waiting periods breed anxiety and gullibility on the part of those waiting for land. It is at this stage that the land barons, pounce, selling what is not theirs.

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