Author: Sally Nyakanyanga

Harare demolitions: Residents say they’re not going anywhere

A Chitungwiza resident at what used to be her home. (Pic: Kumbirai Mafunda)
A Chitungwiza resident at what used to be her home. (Pic: Kumbirai Mafunda)

Eleanor Magaya was close to tears as she narrated how she has been continuously duped of her hard-earned cash by land barons.

“Shuwa ndongoita mari yekurasa veduwee?” (Should I keep on pouring money into waste?) she asked. Her house is one of the thousands that were razed down by authorities in Chitungwiza, 25km north of Harare. Residents say their homes were built legally but authorities disagree. Many were evicted while others had their homes destroyed.

In September, the Chitungwiza Municipality authorities razed down 70 residential and business buildings at midnight. On the other end the Harare City Council served 324 settlers in the high-density suburb of Glen Norah with eviction notices. So far, the demolitions in Glen Norah have not proceeded as residents armed with axes and knobkerries faced off with the police, forcing them to withdraw. Residents in Epworth (15km outside Harare) also had their houses destroyed and are facing eviction from the local authorities.

Chitungwiza town clerk, George Makunde, highlighted the demolitions were set to rid the town of illegal structures which were built on undesignated areas. “As long as people continue to illegally occupying council land, the demolitions will continue,” says Makunde.

However, the Zimbabwe High Court ordered the government to stop the unconstitutional evictions and demolition process. On October 9, Judge Nicholas Mathonsi ruled that the authorities would need a court order to demolish any more houses. Hundreds of people have been left homeless as a result of this government exercise, and it is unclear whether they will be compensated for their loss of property or be relocated.

Illegal or not?
A government audit of illegal structures carried out in December 2013 found that more than 14 000 residential stands in and around Chitungwiza had been illegally sold by housing co-operatives, councillors and village leaders. Much of the land where stands were illegally created were meant for the construction of clinics, schools, cemeteries, roads and wetlands.

Following the release of the report in January, Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Deputy Minister Joel Biggie Matiza was quoted in the state-owned daily The Herald, committing to a “well organised, humane” demolition process that would ensure all affected families were offered alternative land.

The residents of these “illegal structures” have vowed to remain at their stands and are threatening to fight back the move.

“I will not go anywhere, I paid for this land, I am not staying here for free”, Nomatter Matikiti, a Chitungwiza resident, said.

Housing backlog
According to the audited report, Zimbabwe has a staggering housing backlog of 1.3-million and government and local authorities are struggling to keep pace with ever-increasing urban housing demands.

The report fingered land barons and proliferation of housing co-operatives who came in as gap fillers, amassing wealth for themselves .

Dzimbahwe Chimbga, programmes manager for the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said the demolitions “are quite devastating and disturbing as most of these people have only these homes and no other place to seek refuge. They happened at a time when not only the economy is ailing but as rains have also started,” said Chimbga.

The demolitions are said to have conjured memories of the 2005 Operation Murambatsvina which left 700 000 people displaced across the country.

Justice Mathonsi’s ruling on October 9 castigated the September demolitions, quoting section 74 of the Constitution:  no person may be evicted from their home or have their home demolished without any order made after considering all relevant circumstances.

Mathonsi took a swipe at local authorities, saying that they have allowed illegal settlement to take root at the expense not only of the settlers but also organised urban planning and public health. He said local authorities are “now waking up and by force and power demolishing structures without regard to the law and human dignity“.

His decision has been applauded and although the demolitions have ceased for now, residents are yet to know whether they will still have a roof over their heads in the months to come.

Sally Nyakanyanga is a journalist in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe: The LGBTI community’s struggle for healthcare access

A woman walks past a billboard promoting male circumcision to combat Aids in the capital, Harare. (Pic: Reuters)
A woman walks past a billboard promoting male circumcision to combat Aids in the capital, Harare. (Pic: Reuters)

Seated on a bench in a clinic in Harare, Taenda Tavira (not his real name) waited patiently for his turn. As he entered the consultation room, the nurse asked: “How can I help you, young man?” Tavira didn’t know where to begin but he managed to point at his pants, mumbling something. Annoyed, the nurse snapped: “You are not the only one to be served, don’t waste my time.”

The young man gathered himself and with difficulty said he thought he had contracted a sexually transmitted disease. As he removed his pants in front of the nurse, she shouted: “I knew when you entered that something is wrong with you! Are you a man or a woman?” Stunned, Tavira pulled up his pants, walked out of the room and never went back.

This wasn’t the first time he was treated this way.

“I, like every other gay person, has to give in to a lot of insults and degrading inhuman utterances every day,” Tavira confides after relating the recent incident. He is open about his sexuality and the discrimination he faces at the hands of health personnel in Zimbabwe.

For Zimbabwe’s LGBTI community, disclosing one’s sexual orientation is a major barrier to getting accurate, appropriate and relevant medical treatment. Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (Galz) is an organisation that works to protect the interests of this minority group in the country. Its programmes manager Samuel Matsikure highlighted that as Zimbabwe’s leadership has openly denounced homosexuality, discrimination and stigma against the LGBTI community goes unpunished and will take a long time to uproot.

President Robert Mugabe has made it clear that homosexuality will never find a place in Zimbabwe. “Homosexuality degrades human dignity. Its unnatural and there is no question of allowing these people to behave worse than pigs and dogs … If you see people parading themselves as lesbians and gays arrest them and hand them over to the police,” he said in a speech at a Harare book fair in 1995. More recently, he maintained that “gays have no human rights” and reportedly called for the arrest of gays and lesbians who don’t conceive children.

This state-endorsed homophobia has made it difficult for Galz to get HIV and Aids prevention messages out to its 2100 members and the LGBTI community at large, who face a backlash from government and society and receive no support from public health institutions. About 15% of Zimbabwe’s adult population is living with HIV and Aids. There is currently no data available on the LGBTI community specifically.

“The hostile environment the gay community is exposed to, especially at health facilities in the country, has impacted negatively on their rights to basic services such as health,” Matsikure said. “Some have been keeping sexually transmitted infections for six to eight months without seeking help.”

“Such discrimination and stigma at the highest level makes our lives difficult and we remain a secretive and isolated community always fearing for our lives,” Tavira added.

Zimbabwe’s Constitution promotes universal access to health, enabling every person, regardless of their sexual orientation, to be treated with respect and have access to healthcare and support. The every day reality, though, is very different.

In a bid to address this, Galz has engaged the Zimbabwean government, the National Aids Council (NAC) and Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights to educate them about the LGBTI community.

“We have held sensitisation workshops with stakeholders to root out ignorance and misinformation associated with the LGBTI community. Hostility, and beliefs systems deep rooted against the practise of same sex relationships in the country will need to be reversed,” said Matsikure.

While Zimbabwe’s Constitution stipulates healthcare for all, it also outlaws same sex marriages. The gay community continues to be marginalised, making the fight against HIV and Aids all the more difficult. “The intersectionality of HIV and Aids between the broader heterosexuals and LGBTI community is a reality. If we are to reduce or end new infections, end deaths from Aids, end stigma and discrimination in Zimbabwe no one should be left behind,” said Matsikure.

Sally Nyakanyanga is a freelance journalist and media trainer based in Zimbabwe.