By Pamela Shumba
About 22 families at Reigate Compound in Bulawayo were on Tuesday left homeless after Umguza Rural District Council (RDC) demolished their houses in a long standing dispute that dates back to 2013.
The demolition of the houses comes after several attempts by the local authority to evict the residents, the latest being on Monday when the residents rejected eviction, demanding that the council resolves their dispute first.
The houses are located on a piece of land that has been subdivided and sold by the local authority to new buyers.
While the council wants to turn the Reigate area into a residential suburb and has sold some stands, the residents are saying the council is violating their right to shelter because they have lived in the compound for many years, paying rentals to the local authority on a “rent to buy arrangement”.
When Chronicle arrived at the compound on Tuesday, workers from the local authority were destroying the houses using heavy machinery and trucks, while the residents watched helplessly.
The residents said the workers took advantage of their absence, as most of them had been called to the Queenspark Police Station to resolve the issue.
They accused council officials of corruption.
The residents argued that they approached the High Court in 2013, which barred the RDC from demolishing their houses and evicting them from the compound.
“We have orders from the High Court, giving us the right to live here but the RDC keeps tormenting us and threatening our livelihoods. They’ve finally destroyed our houses and left us homeless.
“We have no problem leaving this place but we simply want the RDC to pay us back our monies because we’ve been living here for years on a rent-to-buy arrangement with the council,” said Ms Ntandoyenkosi Moyo.
Mr Raymond Maphosa said they can only leave on condition that the council gives them alternative land because according to the papers they have the apartments that belong to them at the compound.
“I came here after the council put an advert in the paper calling for prospective buyers of these houses in the compound. They said the houses were on rent-to-buy basis.
“We were paying rentals every month to the council. This is why the High Court was able to rule in our favour. We have the right to live here but the council always sends its workers with graders to demolish our houses. We don’t even owe them anything,” said Mr Maphosa.
The residents said the local authority cut water supplies and electricity and destroyed some structures at the compound to frustrate them.
“We have no electricity and we fetch water from a nearby borehole. We’re being treated as squatters yet we invested a lot of money to live here. When they sold the land, they didn’t even tell us. They just came and started pegging stands.
“We paid a lot of money to the local authority and we have the receipts to prove that. We’re not going anywhere because this is our home. We can only leave if the council offers alternative land or our money back,” said Ms Nelly Sibanda.
She said it was unfortunate that they were being tormented in front of their children, while some of them were the elderly former RDC workers who were not given their pensions.
The residents showed Chronicle receipts from Umguza RDC acknowledging payment of rent by the tenants and certificates of occupancy bearing the RDC’s name.
Mr Dingani Ndlovu said he worked for the council from 1988 to 2015 but he never got his package although he religiously paid his rentals after the local authority said they would eventually own the houses.
Another resident, Mr Titus Vundla said he was born 56 years ago when his parents were staying at the compound and his father was working for the council.
He said after school he also joined the council and has never known any other place to be his home apart from Reigate.
Zanu-PF secretary for security for children of war veterans, Cde Blessing Makoni, visited the compound on Tuesday and condemned the demolition of the houses.
“It’s not fair for the council to do this to residents who have been paying rentals. There should be a better way to resolve this matter than to leave them in the open. The party should definitely intervene and make sure that these people are taken care of.
“We requested the council workers to produce the document which empowers them to execute these demolitions but they directed us to the police. When we went to the police they told us that the council’s lawyer has the document. We’re yet to get hold of the lawyer,” said Cde Makoni.
Umguza RDC chief executive officer, Mr Collen Moyo said the local authority has a High Court order, granted in 2013, allowing the local authority to undertake the evictions.
“There were 89 families at the compound and when the 2013 High Court order was granted, most of them left voluntarily leaving 22 who were resisting,” he said.
“That place was for our road department workers but none of the people who were living there just before the evictions used to work for council. What we are doing is to protect the legal occupants, those who bought stands at the township.” The Chronicle