Thirty-three families living in squalid conditions at the neglected Mabutweni Messengers Camp in Bulawayo are in a state of a quandary with the government still digging in on granting them ownership of the houses.
Situated behind Mabutweni Police Station in the Mabutweni suburb, the settlement established in the early 1950s houses civil servants working with different government ministries and departments.
Previously administered by the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works, and National Housing the camp is now under the custody of the National Housing and Social Amenities Ministry.
While similar houses in Entumbane and other parts of the country such as Harare have since been handed over to sitting tenants, efforts to have the same happen for Mabutweni have hit a snag, a development which has made occupants feel they are being discriminated against.
Investigations by CITE have shown that the houses – with two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a sitting room, – are in a sorry state with the government having since stopped maintaining them while occupants are barred from making any improvements on the structures as per the contractual obligations. This is despite monthly rental deductions from the salaries of tenants, some of whom have lived there for more than 20 years. Toilets situated outside and still using the old flashing system no longer have doors while some of the houses are leaking roofs and peeling off walls.
Occupants who independently pay rates to the Bulawayo City Council (BCC) feel it is high time they are treated as tenants who have been renting to buy the properties considering the years some of them have been staying there.
Upon leaving employment in whatever way, or retirement one is given three months’ notice to vacate the premises regardless of the number of years one would have served the government, something the occupants say is very unfair on their part.
Tenants who spoke to CITE said they had thought their plight would be looked into by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ‘new dispensation’ but were now feeling let down.
“Some occupants have since resorted to covering roofs with sails, yet these are houses for the government employees,” decried one tenant.
“Toilets no longer have doors and there is no privacy at all; we are still using the old system of squatting in the toilets; they are not repaired at all no matter how much we talk.”
He said they had since formed a committee to tackle their issues but still no progress has been made so far.
“We have written many letters to different ministers who would come and go,” he said.
“Some of those letters were hand-delivered while some were sent to the Public Works Department (PWD) who were the owners of those houses at the time but now it is the National Housing. We are not getting any responses from them. They are just quiet. Things are just so tough for us.”
He queried: “What is the new dispensation saying about these houses? Entumbane Camp houses were built way after these ones but they are now under ownership. Look at Number 6/ Pelandaba they are almost there in terms of getting ownership. Here in Mabutweni, we have no one to help us; we have since been lamenting.”
The civil servants say there was a time during the Government of National Unity, they each garnished US$20 monthly for a period of one year and US$75 for two years with the government claiming their accounts were in arrears not withstanding monthly deductions that were made and continue to be effected to date.
“We wonder what that money was used for even up to today,” said one occupant.
“We plead with the government to give us ownership of these houses just like what happened to those in Entumbane. The government should lead by example in providing accommodation to its servants just like what private companies are doing. We also need authorisation for us to repair these houses.”
In their numerous efforts to have the matter resolved, occupants said they requested that the National Housing Minister or the President visits them whenever they come to Bulawayo to see what kind of houses they live in but that was blocked.
They said former ministers engaged over the issue include Eunice Sandi-Moyo (Bulawayo Provincial Affairs) and Ignatius Chombo (Local Government).
“We also wanted to speak to Bulawayo Provincial Affairs Minister, Judith Ncube verbally as a group but it appeared she did not have time,” said another occupant. “We wanted to talk to her when the President was coming to Bulawayo for the ZITF official opening last year. We don’t know why they do not have time for us when they are the same people we elected to represent us.”
They added that their councillor and legislator have not come to their rescue either.
Occupants accuse one Herbert Karuma in the Public Works Department in Bulawayo of frustrating the process of handing over the ownership of the houses to them. They allege that Karuma uses one Nduro at the camp as his spy.
The same Nduro is also accused of scuttling previous attempts to sell the houses to sitting tenants, whereby they were given offer letters that could not be utilised which made it appear occupants were not interested.
“We have a challenge in that when we hold meetings about these houses, there are some people who send information to the offices,” said one occupant.
“Someone who raised the issue of the ownership was transferred to Binga to ensure he vacates the house as well. These spies planted here were given stands in places such as Cowdray Park and areas around the airport, which they registered under their wives’ names.”
The occupant further said: “These houses are guided by a policy but when it comes to Mabutweni it becomes different. Some people came here already having stands which were allocated elsewhere by their ministries. They are here just buying time while building.”
The government employees said it was high time responsible authorities considered their circumstances with all fairness.
“There are people who have stayed here for many years and looking at the monies they have been paying on a monthly basis they are as good as they have already bought these houses, but when it comes to retirement they are treated like dogs,” decried one tenant.
“It is not surprising that those who have stayed in these houses for a longer period are victimised so that they go and then houses are sold to new persons.”
Distressed occupants want responsible authorities to explain when and how the houses in question would be sold to them.
“Some citizens are being given title deeds elsewhere and where are we not citizens?” questioned one tenant.
“There is no communication here, the only communication that comes is that of victimisation. We were once told to move out of these houses; they would be demolished but we ignored that. They hide behind issues of urban renewal so they would say ‘Mabutweni people don’t worry we will come and build you some flats.”
Their situation, they said, is hindering them from sourcing alternative residential stands from the local authorities as they are treated as property owners.
“We do not want anyone here to leave this place until there is clarity on these houses,” said another occupant.
“We want everyone to leave in a uniform system.”
Repeated efforts to get a comment from National Housing and Social Amenities Minister, Daniel Garwe could not yield any fruit.
However, Bulawayo’s Ward 13 councillor, Frank Javangwe told CITE he was aware of Mabutweni Messengers Camp’s concerns but was quick to say there was nothing much the local authority could do about the issue considering the houses in question are owned by the central government.
“However, similar houses occupied by teachers in Pelandaba are now under their ownership, they had to fight until they were granted that,” said the councillor.
“The challenge with Mabutweni houses could be that they are situated within a camp. I would advise the occupants to approach their counterparts in Pelandaba and Entumbane to establish how they finally got ownership of their houses and get to know, as well, which organisations assisted them to do that.”
Pelandaba-Mpopoma legislator, Charles Moyo said Mabutweni Messengers’ Camp occupants’ concerns should be taken into consideration by the powers-that-be.
“I do support my residents,” said Moyo.
“I remember in 2020 I tried to talk to the honourable Minister of Local Government and he remained stuck to say those are government houses and they are for civil servants but looking at the age of those people and the time they have resided in those properties, surely they must be afforded an opportunity to occupy and own those houses.”
The legislator said the government has to think about the future employees, as it has state land on its side.
“They can still construct many flats for employees to come,” he said.
“I totally support their move. I actually held a meeting and sat down with them. I do support the idea that they must be granted that option to own those houses together with their families.”
Bulawayo Provincial Affairs Minister, Judith Ncube advised the Mabutweni Messengers’ Camp tenants to come to her office and share their concerns with her.
“It would be better for them to come to the office so we can discuss their issue,” said Ncube.
“We need to discuss it so I can have a better understanding of it. It’s only that I am out of the office at the moment. I was going to immediately look into their letter.”