Some people are taking advantage of the Covid-19 lockdown to build houses on wetlands in Mabelreign, Mt Pleasant and Braeside, Harare.
Construction is taking place near Ellis Robins School known as the Sentosa North wetland, which is the boundary between Ward 7 and Ward 16, at Mount Pleasant Sports Club, Old Hararians Sports Club and behind OK Mart in Braeside.
Investigations revealed that 46 residential stands had been sold, with prospective house owners obtaining offer letters from the City of Harare’s department of housing.
No environmental impact assessment was done by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) and no development permits were issued for development on the wetlands.
Residents expressed concern over the continued invasion of wetlands in their areas, saying this was contributing to water crisis they were facing.
In Sentosa North, the development is impeding the smooth flow of Marimba River, which feeds into Lake Chivero, as some stands are on the banks of the stream.
“It appears that the construction of illegal buildings on the land east of Ellis Robins School is resuming,” said Zia Beaton, one of the concerned residents.
“Two stands have been cleared at the headwaters of the little Marimba River and bricks have been delivered to one of them.
“The person staying at the stand confirmed they are starting to build.”
Another resident, Philani Nyatsanza, blamed the local authorities for taking advantage of the lockdown to parcel out land on wetlands without the residents’ knowledge.
“This is a very difficult position we find ourselves in,” he said. “The local authority is unwilling to stamp its authority.”
Lawrence Kuleya from the Zimbabwe Combined Residents and Ratepayers Association (ZICORRA) said:
“In the midst of such a global pandemic, as well as a national lockdown, things like this should not be happening.”
Ward 16 councillor Denford Ngadziore said the area was allocated sometime in 2017 during the term of former councillor Peter Manjoro by the then director of housing.
“Most of the beneficiaries paid for their land and do have agreements of sale with council,” he said.
“However, they cannot start to do any developments on the site like building houses before they get a certificate of compliance from council.
“Such structures will be treated as illegal by council. On whether or not the place is a wetland, the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) is the best authority to respond to that, but all issues raised by the residents will be looked into and it is the duty of the council to address all issues raised by the stakeholders.”
Ward 7 councillor Happymore Gotora said he knew about those complaints and his investigations revealed that on the place in question, stands had been allocated by the City of Harare.
“On my side, there are more than 20 stands which have been allocated and the people have offer letters from the City of Harare’s department of housing,” he said. “I think that is the reason they are now building because they have already paid intrinsic value to the City of Harare.”
On the invasion of sports clubs, council spokesperson Mr Michael Chideme said: “Idle land does not add value to the city, hence our decision to ensure that sports clubs remain with land they can fully utilise. The sports club remains with 18 hectares. The city is reclaiming all non-performing leases.”