By Thomas Madhuku
Villagers surrounding Checheche Growth Point in south-eastern Zimbabwe are facing the traumatic prospect of landlessness as rent-seeking land developers, the Green Fuel company, a local politician and local government officials are caught up in a web of confusion, patronage and policy inconsistence pertaining to whether or not the Growth Point has attained town status.
Against the background of claims by Green Fuel that it had invested up to $US 600 million into the ethanol production plant at Checheche, there has been heightened euphoria and expectation around the growth point attaining town status.
On 6 September 2014, a ceremony was organised at which the local parliamentarian, Enock Porusingazi and representatives of land developers told Checheche residents and surrounding villagers that the growth point had attained town status.
With Edgar Seenza, the Chipinge District Administrator clarifying that the growth point was still to attain town status, Porusingazi and land developers, issued populist statements saying Checheche’s attainment of town status was a foregone conclusion.
This has resulted in a speculative hype in which land developers are behaving as though Checheche is now a town. Land is already being sold at urban rates by developers namely the Zimbabwe Amalgamated Housing Association (ZAHA), New Vision and Ramangwana Land Development Company.
Owned by a prominent Zanu PF member and chairperson for the Chivi Rural District Council , Killer Zivhu, ZAHA is the most prominent of the land developers at Checheche.
Contrary to the generally accepted practice at growth points, ZAHA and other land developers at Checheche are selling housing stands at $US 13 per square metre.
Home seekers are having to pay $ 10 400 for a single low density stand while those opting for high density residential areas have to pay $ 3 500 for a single stand.
Similarly exorbitant prices are also being charged by the Chipinge Rural District Council, which charges$13 per square metre for stands in low density areas while those in high density areas are $9 per square metre.
As established by this reporter, the cost of land at Checheche is a far cry from that at other growth points. For example at the more vibrant and better developed Murambinda Growth Point, stands in low density residential areas are selling at $5000 while those in high density areas can be bought at $1500.
Jerera Growth Point has the same pricing model with Murambinda. At Mvurwi, another growth point, accorded town status in 2009, residential stands are selling at $4600 for a medium density stand while low density stands are selling at $11960.
Yet infrastructural developments at Mvurwi and Murambinda are far better than those at Checheche where the absence of a proper sewer reticulation system and a deplorable state of roads are among factors militating against the attainment of town status.
As stated by Titus Machona, a consultant town planner, one of the major requirements for a growth point to attain town status is the availability of land for growth and expansion.
Checheche lacks land for growth and expansion considering that most land surrounding the growth point is occupied by villagers and plans to resettle these villagers are still not finalised.
Chisumbanje villagers just 10km from Checheche are also involved in a land dispute with Green Fuel Company, which expropriated their agricultural land for ethanol production purposes.
With this dispute still to be resolved, it is inconceivable that Checheche be granted town status. Granting town status in these circumstances can not help but expose villagers to a more acute state of landlessness and desperation.
Scores of villagers have already lost their agricultural land. They now stand to lose homes as they can not afford to buy stands at exorbitant costs being charged by land developers.
Meanwhile the relevant ministry of Local Government that is responsible for such matters has not provided any guidance or protection to vulnerable villagers generating speculation that this potentially scandalous situation is being coordinated from the highest offices.
As a survey conducted by this reporter at Checheche Growth Point proves that most residential stands are being taken up by Green Fuel middle management employees from far areas such as Chiredzi and Triangle.
Despite their high price, residential stands at Checheche are still to be fully serviced. David Muyambo who recently bought a residential stand at Checheche raised concern that land developers are fleecing buyers by charging high prices for stands that are not fully serviced.
“What I paid for my stand is far too high considering that the area is still to have services such as water supply, a proper road network and other basic infrastructure that enables me to properly access the place and start building a home”, Muyambo said.
Contacted for comment, the Manicaland Provincial Administrator, Fungai Mbetsi said land developers who are charging urban rates for stands at Checheche are misleading the public and acting outside government protocols.
“There are some unscrupulous land developers who are jumping government protocols and misleading the public that Checheche has attained town status”, Mbetsa said.
“This is a deliberate misrepresentation of facts to lure more stand seekers to the growth point”, the Provincial administrator added.
With Zivhu maintaining that Checheche is a town, it would seem there is collusion between land developers and the local MP to benefit from a Checheche urban status that is non-existent. The MP’s address on 6 September 2014 may as well prove this.
Besides, Porusingazi has extensive real estate interests at Checheche in form of an expansive mall that houses CBZ bank, a supermarket, an eatery, parliamentary offices and guest lodges. This property stands to significantly increase in value in the event that Checheche becomes a town.
The granting of town status to Checheche would also be a plus for Green Fuel, which claims that it has brought development to Chisumbanje and surrounding areas including Checheche.
Those who say that Checheche is now a town are simply aiding the cause of Green Fuel and land developers who are exploiting our land for their selfish benefit”, said Artwell Sithole, Information Officer for the Platform for Youth Development (PYD), a pressure group representing the interests of Chisumbanje and Checheche villagers who are still trying to recover the agricultural land they lost to Green Fuel.
As can be observed from Sithole’s sentiments, the case of Checheche points to the tragedy in which huge, politically connected corporates continue to exploit natural resources in ways that are detrimental to the welfare of local communities.
The displacement of villagers, loss of livelihoods, decaying infrastructure and the profiteering by land developers point to the economics of displacement in which natural resources are being exploited in a manner that is not conducive for sustainable socio-economic development.