Monday, 26 January 2015

Zim's Urban Land as the New Profit Frontier of the Political Elite.

By Takura Zhangazha

In the process of undertaking its radical land reform programme, the Zanu Pf government conveniently but by default retained what renowned academic Mahmood Mamdani refers to as the ‘bifurcated state'. That is a structured colonial era divisions of the rural and the urban with the latter always being the arena of the ‘civil’ in relation to not only law but lifestyle. 

A number of studies have also sought to explain the impact of this fast track land reform programme (FTLRP).  Their emphasis however has been on how it has affected the rural/peasant farmer or the overall capacity of agricultural production of the country.

What has hwoever been emerging, minus the radical rhetoric and demonstrations is the utilization of the FTLRP to acquire land that is adjacent to urban centres, not for the purposes of farming or reclamation, but for urban investment projects. Particularly for the lucrative housing market. 

The latest such case is that of Crowhill farm on the outskirts of Harare.  It is a farm that has been in dispute since 2011 when the government gazzeted it for redistribution while the ownership was retained by a private company, Crowhill Private limited. A dual process began to operate on the farm.  

A war veteran claimed the farm while a private company was claiming ownership of it as an urban residential housing development area. The matter is now before the courts with the added drama of Crowhill Private Limited owner, Cephas Msipa (Jr) being sued about the same land by the actual owner of Crowhill farm, Ozias Bvute.

In the entirety of the process and its outcomes, the most affected will be residents of the farm who may have paid for stands and are living there.

The bigger picture points to an alarming ambiguity about land use within the context of FTLRP. Particularly where it concerns land that is adjacent to major urban areas.  It is a trend that is also emerging in areas referred to as ‘growth points’ where property developers and rural district councils are converting rural land or redistributed farms to urban residential  land use. 

Given the shortage of affordable housing in the country and the much touted housing waiting list, this is lucrative business.  Property developers are getting land, both by way of local government approval and through the FTLRP, subdividing it into stands, and making a killing.

The only problem is that sometimes these approvals from both central and local government are not necessarily transparent and clear.  This was the case in Chitungwiza and Manyame where houses were demolished and the potential case in other areas where people are set to lose homes or their investments. 

It is a trend that should have policy makers quick on their feet investigating and examining what is really going on.  Some of the key questions that need answers relate to the honesty of property developers, rural district councils and central government officials in claiming to provide residential stands at premium prices without legal veracity or certainty.

Even more important questions relate to examining the link between urban land and the FTLRP.  Are there emerging land barons/baronesses who are unprofessional and take advantage of citizens that are desperate to own urban houses?  And by so doing, utilize the FTLRP to not only get the land for a pittance only to make huge profits from it.

There are many other issues that will emerge with the passage of time and the shifting allegiances in Zanu Pf linked businesses and other entrepreneurial endeavours.  The only problem is that it is the residents of these areas that will continue to suffer the brunt of eviction and loss of investment, even at a high asking price. 

It is the murky linkages of politicians, property developers and the potential abuse of the land reform programme that should worry all Zimbabweans. 

This is not to say that investors in property should close shop. Not at all.  It is however to query why investments are made in unclear circumstances or without fully explaining to residents the full import of their land purchases, together with the risks involved (eviction, loss of money).  

In some cases there is downright abandonment of residents by property developers, central and local governments. 

So we come back full circle to the urban versus the rural. The '3rd Chimurenga' may not have been as 'revolutionary' as ruling party apparatchiks claim.  We remain with skewed land ownership patterns that favour a new elite at the expense of a majority landless.  

Such patterns are increasingly apparent in areas peripheral to urban areas. Land and housing in the latter may be  profit driven endeavours but sadly are used to manipulate the fast track land redistribution programme for personal benefit.  All at the expense of the desperate homeless who remain uncertain of their tenure while, in some cases, land barons/baronesses laugh all the way to the bank. 
 *Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)