By Judith Sibanda
Unscrupulous traditional leaders and politicians have been parcelling out land to desperate home seekers in villages bordering Victoria Falls, spawning massive overpopulation around Zimbabwe’s newest city and biggest tourist attraction.
The land scam in villagers such as Monde, Chidobe and Lupinyu has alarmed authorities, who are now scrambling to rectify the chaos that also affects the Victoria Falls International Airport, investigations have revealed.
Authorities say some settlements are too close to the airport in violation of the law, which stipulates that there should be no housing developments within the eight-kilometre radius.
Over the years desperate home seekers in the resort town, running away from exorbitant rentals, have been bribing traditional leaders in the surrounding villages to build houses without approval from the Hwange Rural District Council, which has jurisdiction over the areas.
Home seekers were paying as much as US$800 for 1000 square metre stands, some of the beneficiaries told CITE.
The unplanned settlements have resulted in overpopulation with some villages now having as many as 300 homesteads instead of the 25 to 30 stipulated by the law.
Investigations revealed that in the past few weeks Hwange council officials have been holding emergency meetings with traditional leaders and politicians in the affected areas in a bid to rectify the problem amid indications that the illegal structures will be demolished.
Mandla Nyoni, who claims to have paid US$800 to get a 1000 square metre stand in 2017, said he now feared losing his investment after he was informed that the local authority was investigating how they were allocated the land.
“I paid a lot of money to get this stand where I wanted to build a homestead and also do some bit of farming,” said a panicky Nyoni.
“After building a house I moved here with my family and siblings because it was cheaper than renting a house in town.
“We drive to work in Victoria Falls every day and it has been smooth until recently.”
Traditional leaders in Monde are said to have organised a meeting recently where they told the illegal settlers that their structures will be demolished in the next three months.
“We are now living in fear of losing our homes, and right now it is not clear where we are supposed to go in the coming three months,” Nyoni said.
Ntando Ncube, a community leader in one of the illegal settlements in Lupinyu, said information about the impending evictions was still scant.
“We heard about this issue some few days ago and we are still trying to investigate and seek more clarity from the headman,” Ncube said.
“We got to know about this development through our village heads, who were sent by the chief but there is was no written communication to explain council’s position.”
He believes in Lupinyu there are over 100 homesteads that could be affected by the impending evictions.
Ncube said they were currently compiling a register for the affected homesteads.
Village heads are said to be the masterminds of the illegal settlements where they have been creating parallel registers that are not known to the chiefs or council.
One of the headmen implicated in the scam Carlos Ncube from Lupinyu did not respond calls despite several attempts.
A Monde villager claimed his fields were parcelled out to five different people by the village head.
“Those illegal settlers would just come and start building without engaging us,” the villager, who requested to remain anonymous fearing victimisation, said.
“Under normal circumstances we should be busy in our fields, but we can’t because these people took away our land.
“Our traditional leaders have been reluctant to address the issue and this is causing a lot of tension.”
Acting Chief Mvuthu, born Bishop Matata Sibanda, said the illegal settlements had resulted in overpopulation in his area.
“How can one village have over 300 homesteads, instead of 25?,” Sibanda asked rhetorically.
“This rot goes back to some time ago where we saw of hundreds of homesteads sprouting here, eating into people’s farming areas and pastures.
“The way these homesteads are structured makes it clear that the land was being sold corruptly because they mirror an urban set up instead of the traditional villages.”
He said the settlers did not follow procedures when they set up their structures.
“The Rural District Councils Act is clear that before anyone settles in a certain village they should bring a letter from their previous chief, headman, village head and the rural district council for approval,” Sibanda said.
“Many of these people settled here did not meet those requirements.
“All those processes are done to avoid accommodating law- breakers.
“It is very common that some people flee from their villagers after committing crimes such as murder to start a new life.
“We told these people that if someone does not want to conform to these rules and standards, they should go and build their houses in towns.”
He said he had since instructed headmen and village heads under his jurisdiction to warn the illegal settlers of the impending evictions.
Sibanda said he had a backlog of villagers that wanted to build homesteads, but there was no longer any land as it has been taken away by the illegal settlers.
“We have given the village heads three month notice to clean up their mess and submit names of people under their villages, which should be at least 25 to 30 homesteads per village,” he added.
“So if you don’t qualify, you’ll have to go because the land was allocated in a corrupt manner.”
Hwange RDC chief executive officer Phindile Ncube confirmed that the local authority was planning mass evictions around Victoria Falls to deal with the overpopulation.
Phindile said traditional leaders that would be found to have corruptly benefited from the land allocations will be punished.
He said the probe into the matter was being discussed and those who engaged in corrupt land deals were going to be dealt with according to the law.
“The question is, how did that person encroach and through whose authority when the legislation is clear that each village should have at least 25 to 30 homesteads, grazing land and farming area,” Phindile said.
“I don’t care what people say, but in terms of the law, the local authority has a responsibility to do planning where we should not allow haphazard buildings, and no one should sell state land.”
Ncube said the illegal settlements had made planning for the provision of water and sewer reticulation systems a nightmare.
“We now have land barons who are now selling villagers’ fields to people, who are moving from Victoria Falls town,” he added.
“It is now difficult to plan because we need services like water, which are not available because those village heads now have over 150 homesteads instead of 25.
“Also in terms of accountability, we cannot track those individuals because we do not have their details.
Ncube said council recently convened a meeting to address the issue, which was attended by chiefs Mvuthu, Shana, Nekatambe, Hwange and Nelukoba.
He said the chiefs were told to return to the areas of jurisdiction to clean up the mess.
“Each village should now produce a register of his subjects and explain how they got to 150 instead of 25,”Phindile said.
“We need reports from them because it is their mandate.
“The chiefs, headmens and village heads should explain how they allocated stands without our knowledge.”
After toppling long time ruler Robert Mugabe in a military coup, President Emmerson Mnangagwa set up a commission to investigate rampant corruption in the parcelling out of state land especially in urban areas.
Mnangagwa, however, has not released the full report that was handed over to him nearly two years ago amid fears senior Zanu PF and government officials were implicated in irregular land deals.