On the subject of demolitions and planning in cities
By Davison Muchadenyika
Demolitions in Zimbabwe form an important though inhumane part of the planning framework. Historically, the Government of Zimbabwe and local authorities have resorted to demolitions as an attempt to maintain order and sanity in cities. Since 1980, about three massive demolition campaigns took place.
First, in 1982, a large informal settlement in Chitungwiza called Chirambahuyo was demolished. Second, in 1983, an informal settlement called Russelldene located between Harare and Chitungwiza was demolished. Third, in 2005, Operation Restore Order demolished more than 90,000 housing structures.
The purpose of this article is to locate and critique the issue of demolitions as part of the broader planning instruments used by local authorities.
The article responds to four questions. What is the process of effecting demolitions? What do demolitions mean? What are the key questions emerging from cases of demolitions? What are the alternatives to demolitions?
Recently, the subject of demolitions became topical especially on social media when the City of Harare threatened to demolish the Moto Republik building. Buildings can be demolished primarily for two reasons. Firstly, buildings erected without an approved plan by the responsible local planning authority. Secondly, buildings deemed to pose threats to the safety of occupants and the surrounding areas.
However, it should be noted that demolitions are usually the last resort. Normally and in line with the Regional Town and Country Planning Act (RTCPA) Chapter 29: 12, a local authority issues enforcement and prohibition orders first before demolition orders.
Enforcement Orders are issued on developments carried out in contravention of the RTCPA and states the nature of the contravention and specifies the remedial action to be taken (section 32 of the RTCPA). The Enforcement Order only becomes operative after 30days from the date of issue.
Prohibition Orders are issued simultaneously or before the Enforcement Order becomes operative. The purpose of the Prohibition Order is to prohibit the continuation or use of a building as specified in the Enforcement Order (section 34 of the RTCPA).
In summary, before the commencement of demolitions, there are several engagement processes involving the local authority, land owner, local government minister, Registrar of Deeds and the Administrative Court of Zimbabwe.
In my view section 78 of the Constitution which compels a court order during evictions and demolitions only applies to buildings used for residential purposes.
What do demolitions mean?
From a town-planning perspective, demolitions can mean four things:
- failure of council’s development control activities, which should stop house construction at primary stages;
- where prohibition and enforcement orders have been served, this shows a citizenry not keen on obeying council planning procedures and regulations;
- lack of knowledge on the part of the community on council planning and housing regulations and procedures; and
- lack of interest in regularisation by the local authority (Muchadenyika, 2017).
However, the use of demolitions is still skewed against the weak and urban poor. I qualify this with two examples. First, research indicates that Operation Murambatsvina destroyed more ‘illegal’ structures in high density areas than in low density areas. This is despite the existence of numerous ‘illegal’ structures in the latter even to this day.
The latest example is the Moto Republik. I argue that if this structure was in a high density area, it could have been demolished by now. In the event that the structure is ‘illegal’ and enforcement and prohibition orders have been served, why halting the demolition?
This indicates that the planning system still hesitates to use demolitions in affluent suburbs. However, planning laws, regulations and procedures should be enforced regardless of socio-economic and political status.
The following cases show how the affluent in cities protect each other and leave the urban poor to suffer:
- In September 2014, 90 of the 11,000 ‘illegal’ houses were demolished in Chitungiwza. (Government and the municipality still want to demolish thousands of houses, see Chitungwiza to demolish 15,000 houses, The Sunday Mail, July 3, 2016).
- In October 2015, war veteran Struggle Dzapasi’s houses were demolished in Ushehwekunze leaving his 17 wives and 45 children homeless (see ‘17 Wives and 45 Children in the Open’, The Sunday Mail, 8 November 2015).
- In December 2015, the City of Harare demolished 200 housing structures in Kambuzuma and High Glen (see 200 houses demolished, The Herald, 11 December 2015),
- In December 2015, demolitions by the City of Harare on Stand 48 (Along Highglen Marimba) were halted by the local government minister who promised to allocate the land owner about 180 hectares of state land elsewhere,
- In December 2015, government demolished all housing structures at Arlington (near Harare International Airport) and resettled about 3,000 people at Stoneridge farm.
- In March 2017, the City of Harare threatens to demolish Moto Republik. The Response – A petition is started and social media is abuzz with ‘how to save Moto Republik’.
The six cases above provokes key questions.What form of activism has gripped our society? Conscious or unconscious? What is driving our activism? Common good, selfish interests or just ignorance? Have we become an elitist society that fails to speak for and protect hundreds and thousands threatened by or suffering from the effects of demolitions?
What are the alternatives to demolitions? Regularisation is the most obvious option. However, this process requires strong political will and some semblance of observance to town planning objectives (of order, convenience, safety, and environmental preservation). Where has regularisation taken place?
- In Harare, government regularised about 27,000 houses in Caledonia,
- In Chitungwiza, government and the municipality are currently locked in a protracted regularisation processes targeting 11,000 houses,
- Epworth Local Board is currently regularising thousands of informal housing structures in Ward 7.
The recurrence of demolitions indicates to serious challenges in terms of planning literacy in Zimbabwe. This is exacerbated by two issues. First, civil society has not prioritised raising awareness on planning literacy. Instead, civil society has often been reactive in the event of demolitions or threats of such. Second, it would seem that residents are keen on taking risks when it comes to building housing structures without necessary approvals.
The Moto Republik incident shows that you can be a ‘civilised entity’ which is either ignorant or elects to ignore planning procedures and laws. What then becomes of ordinary citizens, for instance, in Harare South, Caledonia, or Epworth?
- The author is an Urban Planner and Researcher. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org @muchadenyikad.
 Muchadenyika, D. 2017. Social Movements and Planning Institutions in Urban Transformation: Housing in Metropolitan Harare, Zimbabwe (2000-2015). PhD Thesis. Cape Town: University of the Western Cape.