SEVEN desperate homeseekers were recently arrested in Marondera after they invaded a farm belonging to the town’s municipality. Led by their co-operative leaders, the residents immediately parcelled out pieces of land to each other after waiting for years on the town’s housing waiting list.

NewsDay Comment

What is happening in Marondera, though not acceptable under any circumstances, simply highlights one shortcoming that the country’s councils all have: Poor planning.

In the case of Marondera, the farm that those unfortunate homeseekers invaded belongs to the council, which tells us that it actually has title deeds to it. So, why is Marondera holding on to that farm when it has a housing waiting list of thousands people desperate for land to build a roof over their heads, if we may ask? So what are the key priorities of the council? Is housing provision not one of them?

What is happening in Marondera is a deficiency replicated across the country. Such is the paucity of urgency on matters to do with housing that it has largely bred the chaos that we currently see mainly in Harare, where unscrupulous individuals have taken advantage of the lack of initiatives by the capital city’s authorities to grab idle land and sell it to desperate homeseekers.

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The country’s towns and cities have vast tracts of open land that can easily be turned into residential stands to build houses, garden flats and high-rise apartments. Since independence in 1980, the cities and towns’ housing waiting lists have ballooned instead of dwindling simply because councils have failed to adequately plan. The parent ministry, the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, should actually shoulder the blame because, in most cases, it has done absolutely nothing to ease the country’s housing problems. Besides constructing very few blocks of flats, that can be counted on one’s fingers and the incomplete Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle housing projects, the ministry has nothing else to justify its existence.

Given the corruption that has, at every turn, visited the country’s housing sector with, for instance the Local Government ministry flats being mired in endless controversy linked to unfair allocation, little wonder the councils have been unable to meet their mandate of providing enough houses for their residents. It is now quite evident that, besides the obvious poor planning rife in our councils, there is a deliberate ploy to create an artificial shortage of urban land for housing to push prices up. Because of the intrinsic value of urban land, it is quite easy to hold desperate homeseekers to ransom. And it is this situation that is leading people to invade open spaces, while land barons find room to exploit desperate homeseekers.