A FORTNIGHT ago, President Emmerson Mnangagwa officially opened the first session of the Ninth Parliament of Zimbabwe, delivering a State of the Nation Address (Sona) that elicited various reactions among Zimbabweans. For the optimists, the President’s speech created hope because of the promise of economic revival.
Guest column: Francis Mukora
Like any other citizens, internally displaced persons were also excited, mainly because the legislative agenda he proposed has huge potential to yield durable solutions to the myriad of challenges they have been facing for almost two decades now.
In an article published in NewsDay a week before his speech, I had conveyed the hopes and aspirations of displaced communities across Zimbabwe to the then recently-elected councillors, parliamentarians and the President himself, which expectations were based on the extensive interactions I have had with these communities. Whether the President read the article cannot be confirmed. However, inclusion of the Citizenship of Zimbabwe Amendment Bill and the Regional Town and Country Planning Amendment Bill among the 30 bills that he said would be tabled and passed during the 12-month subsistence of the first session was in consonance to the internally displaced persons (IDPs)’ calls in that article.
This Citizenship of Zimbabwe Amendment Bill is set to operationalise Chapter 3 of the Constitution restoring citizenship by birth, descent and registration lost by people of foreign origin and ancestry when the same Act was emended in 2001. The majority of those rendered stateless had lived in Zimbabwe for decades after migrating from especially Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia to work at commercial farms and mines during the Rhodesian Federation era. Even their offsprings who had been born in Zimbabwe were also classified as “aliens” resulting in difficulties in acquiring civil documents such as birth certificates and passports. They were rendered stateless without access to basic socio-economic, civic and political rights and resources in the only country they had known as home.
Similarly, the Regional Town and Country Planning Amendment Bill has the potential to eradicate one of the root causes of house demolitions. At the end of her visit to assess the impact of Operation Murambatsvina in July 2005, United Nations Special Envoy on Human Settlements Anna Kajimulo Tibaijuka identified the Act as the law invoked by government to justify the house demolitions that left more than 700 000 people without homes and livelihoods. The Act was in contradiction of international law and even today, it is inconsistent with the Zimbabwean Constitution.
Together with two other laws namely the Housing Standards Control Act and the Urban Councils Act, also identified by Tibaijuka as culpable within the Murambatsvina saga, these laws pose an obstacle to Zanu PF’s pre-election promise of security of tenure and provision of 1,5 million houses over the next five years. Review of these three laws, together with the Citizenship of Zimbabwe Act, will restore citizenships and protect citizens from similar future house demolitions leading to security of tenure.
As the legislative reform process rolls out, those working on these Bills should not be preoccupied with the economic revival agenda only as this will limit the potential that these Bills also have to address the equally important concerns of displaced grassroots citizens. Thus, Parliament should adopt a holistic and inclusive approach to ensure that interested parties such as displaced persons can fully participate and input in these Bills that have substantial potential to yield the durable solutions to their long-standing challenges. Government should adopt a three-pronged approach encompassing broad-based consultative public hearings that enable interested grassroots such as IDPs to input, production and extensive distribution of White Papers by Parliament and thirdly, invitation of input from non-State actors who may have expertise and experience which can enrich the two Bills.
It would also be helpful if government could make public three documents namely the report of the Rapid IDP Needs Assessment Survey it jointly conducted with the United Nations in August 2009, the Plan of Action for the Implementation of the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention) adopted by member states last year with Zimbabwe as the inaugural chair and also the findings of the Commission of Inquiry into the Sale of State Land in and around urban areas once it has completed its inquiries. These documents can provide crucial baseline insights which will inform deliberations on these Bills in order to ultimately reform these laws from being weapons of arbitrary displacements to vehicles of recovery of the past victims.
In any case, as noted by the Tibaijuka report, these are outdated and retrogressive colonial era laws originally designed to segregate against Africans. Their review is long overdue.
Suffice to note that Mnangagwa delivered his Sona in the midst of a cholera pandemic that claimed at least 49 lives in September alone. At face value, the cholera outbreak is a result of a dilapidated water and sanitation infrastructure, but the underlying causes are more complex. The cholera pandemic should also be viewed as the latest and severest manifestation of the negative effects of the land baron phenomenon, which led to the birth of unplanned informal settlements around Harare after corrupt land barons with powerful links and positions within both Zanu PF and the MDC, at both national and local government levels started illegally parcelling out State land in pursuit of political support and personal enrichment, but without regard to how critical services such as water and sanitation will be provided. It is no coincidence that Budiriro, Chitungwiza and Glen View, where the “illegal structures” have been demolished have also been the epicentres of cholera in both 2008 and 2018.
Thus, if long-term solutions are to be achieved, visionary and proactive policies are required to deal with the root causes. These policies should lead to regularisation of informal settlements to unlock water and sanitation infrastructural investments. As things stand, no government department or development partner would be willing to make proper, long-term infrastructural investments in settlements whose legality is neither clarified nor guaranteed.
Moreover, the State and non-State actors’ partnerships prescribed by the President as critical for economic revival and provision of the basic social goods and services should also be adopted in the constitutional, legislative and policy reform agenda for the process to yield robust outcomes. The continuing alignment of the country’s laws with the Constitution and the ratification of the six conventions he identified in his Sona should also include full domestication of those conventions that have already been ratified, such as the Kampala Convention.
Full domestication of the Kampala Convention, which Zimbabwe ratified five years ago, has, for long, been widely recommended and encouraged by various entities with global experience working of internal displacement issues, among them the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), as crucial in laying a strong foundation for durable solutions to IDPs’ challenges. In so doing, Zimbabwe will also be setting a good precedence as the reigning chair of the Kampala Convention Plan of Action.
Lastly, as it seeks to ratify international protocols to tackle cross-border human trafficking, Parliament should also strengthen local laws and policies to ensure safe and secure internal migration and settlements with access to land for all its citizens.
Again, this will create a strong basis for broad-based socio-economic recovery promised in Mnangagwa’s Sona as well as the election manifestos of both Zanu PF and the MDC Alliance.
After the speeches and promises have been made, what is now required is political will and unity of purpose from across the political divide. This is an opportunity for Zanu PF and MDC to atone for the sins of commission and omission by their predecessors and party members whose corrupt land deals led to the emergence of unplanned informal settlements and the subsequent challenges of urban house demolitions, forced evictions of resettled families, lack of secure tenure as well as dilapidation of water and sanitation infrastructure whose negative outcomes include homelessness, arbitrary house demolitions and cholera outbreaks which have claimed more than 4 000 lives within a decade.