Victoria Falls — The government is reportedly hunting for land barons who allegedly illegally parcelled communal land outside the world-class resort city amid indications more than 100 “illegal executive settlers” will be evicted and their properties demolished.
Scores of Victoria Falls residents, most of whom are tourism executives, built mansions along the Hwange-Victoria Falls road in Monde, Chidobe and Lupinyu and near the Victoria Falls Airport.
The upmarket homes are illegal structures as the developments are within a three-kilometre radius of the main road and airport in terms of the Hwange Rural District Council (HRDC) and Victoria Falls City strategic plans.
Victoria Falls attained city status last December.
Most tourism executives have built houses and are staying there and many are running poultry, piggery, fish and horticulture projects while others have built lodges.
However, some of the land parcelled by land barons was reserved for development under the government’s expansion plan for Victoria Falls where the Masue town is set to be built.
A university and a Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) military camp were also earmarked for development in some of the areas where houses have been constructed.
Local villagers have also been affected after parts of fields and grazing land were illegally taken from them by the barons.
Investigations by NewZimbabwe.com show village heads were also involved in the land scam with beneficiaries paying up to US$1 000 for a 1 000 square metre housing stand.
There are also concerns about overpopulation in some villages which now have an average 200 homesteads yet they should have a maximum of 30 homesteads.
Panic gripped the new tenants recently after senior HRDC officials summoned all five Hwange chiefs namely acting Chief Mvuthu, Shana, Wange, Kekatambe and Nelukoba to a meeting where a resolution was made for the traditional leaders to clean the mess in their areas.
The latest development to demolish the structures follow a government deliberate audit of land use countrywide in an effort to weed out land barons and re-distribute idle land.
The HRDC chief executive Phindile Ncube told NewZimbabwe.com that “heads will roll”.
“Chiefs were told to go back to their areas of jurisdiction and do a roll call. Each village should produce a register of subjects and explain how they got more than 150 homesteads instead of 25 or 30,” he said.
Ncube said most of land owners are not documented in official registers hence it is difficult to track them.
“The law is clear that a village should have maximum of 30 homesteads and we wonder how others have way more than that and the homesteads encroached into grazing land. As a local authority we have a duty to uphold the law with regards to developments hence we won’t allow haphazard developments,” he said.
The local authority once engaged village heads and the whole community a few years ago over the issue following concerns by villagers who said their children were now failing to get land for farming and building homesteads.
The suspected land barons including village heads reportedly created parallel registers to accommodate the illegal settlers after receiving bribe money.
Villagers have lost their fields which were reportedly illegally parceled to the illegal settlers and they now have to drive their cattle across the road to the Chamabondo National Park, which is infested with wild animals.
The situation is even affecting service delivery especially water provision.
One of the “illegal settlers” Panashe Matika said he feared to lose all his investment.
“The concern is that the evictions are coming during the rainy season. We appeal to relevant authorities to intervene because we had built houses and started projects,” he said.
Most of those that have settled in the contentious area relocated from Victoria Falls suburbs because of high rentals.
However, some think the evictions are politically motivated saying the land has been allocated to some businesses such as the government-owned National Handling Services (NHS).
Acting Chief Mvuthu said he had since summoned his village heads and gave them three months to clean their registers and rectify the situation, and evict all people who were illegally settled.