Over ten thousand households are living in fear and are not sure of what will become of them, following Blantyre City Council’s warning that it will demolish their structures at the elapse of a 60 day notice it issued.
38 days have already elapsed but a visit to Ndirande and Soche areas has established that people are still carrying on with their lives as usual.
Some of the ‘illegal’ settlers we have spoken to have made it clear that they are not going anywhere.
They claim that they put up their structures right under the watch of the Council and will only move after being duly compensated. “Nothing is making sense in all this. When did the ‘City’ realise that this is illegal land? Where were they when people were busy putting up structures? People are ready for their demolition enforcement exercise… They are ready to fight for their land till the last drop of their blood,” said Lyton Solomoni, Group Village Headman Makata’s Counsellor responsible for ‘Baghdadi’ area.
Ndirande ‘Baghdadi’ is one of the highly populated slum areas of Blantyre, which is assumed to be home of hooligans and fighters.
Politically, Ndirande in general is also assumed to exert some influence on the political bearing of the country.
Solomoni claims that even though the BCC might have been counting down on the said notice of demolition, they (BCC) have not communicated anything to the so called ‘illegal’ settlers.
“I have lived in this area for more than 15 years and I bought this land from one of the local chiefs here. I only heard of this issue through the usual mere neighbourhood gossip,” says one of the ‘illegal owners’, who prefer to be quoted as Malika.
He claims the people that settled in the area are very poor and some even had to obtain loans to put up buidlings which the BCCwants to demolish.
Our investigations have however established that most of the people in these settlements do not pay city rates. However, some of them claim that they applied to the Council to be recognised so that they should begin paying but were snubbed.
In 2013, concerned ‘illegal’ settlers took an injunction against BCC stopping it from demolishing their structures and stopping the settlers from doing any structure developments on Soche hill until the matter is heard and determined.
In December 2017, Vice President Saulos Chilima, who is also Minister responsible for Disaster Management Affairs, bashed the Council for failing to act on illegal settlements which he said are a disaster in waiting.
He wondered why the Council was not vacating the injunction for such a long time. A month later, the BCC issued a statement, which was published in the local media, giving the illegal settlers a 60 days notice to demolish their structures and relocate.
In a statement dated January 18, 2018, which was published in the media last month, the Council advised illegal settlers in and around Soche, Bangwe, Ndirande and Mpingwe hills to demolish their structures within 60 days from the date of the notice.
“You are hereby informed that the structures that you built on and around Soche, Bangwe, Ndirande and Mpingwe Hills were developed by you without the grant
of development permission and in contravention of the Forestry Act.”
“You are required to demolish the said structures within a period of Sixty days from the date of this notice or such extended period as BCC may in writing allow,” reads part of the statement, which was signed by BCC’s Chief Executive Officer, Alfred Chanza.
It further reads: “Failure to comply with this notice within the period herein prescribed may cause the Council with all the necessary workmen and other officers, to enter or authorize any other person to enter the land and take all such necessary action in respect of the unauthorized development and otherwise to enforce the notice as may seem fit by any action which may include but not limited to demolition on the structures.”
History has shown that issues of relocation and eviction of people from places where they have invested or settled, in the name of enforcing the law, have always faced resistance.
Our investigations into the illegal settlements issue have established that this matter is linked to politics, such that the ‘illegal’ settlers have been blackmailing politicians that if they dare demolish their structures, they will lose votes.
Some politicians (who have asked for anonymity) have confided in Malawi News that there are so many issues that are happening against the laws of the land but government is failing to enforce them because of this tendency.
“This is why we seem to have had many things upside down in this country. I like the brave decision that late Bingu wa Mutharika’s regime made, votes or no votes, by removing vendors from the streets.
That was in 2006 and he won with a landslide victory in 2009 elections,” said one politician.
In 2015, flush floods killed 176 people across the country and 48 of those were from Blantyre and most of them were from the illegal settlement areas.
It’s been observed that people that were affected by these devastating floods went back to the illegal areas and continued with their lives.
Chilima emphasized that a lot of money which would have been used for development projects is wasted through disaster responses yet this could be avoided.
According to BCC, only 61 households (of Soche area) that were registered before the
Court Injunction will be given compensation and relocated to a designated land in South Lunzu (Machinjiri) and the rest will not be compensated..
Why service providers are to blame
It’s an open secret that the illegal settlers have had their water and electricity provided to them, a thing which makes their settlement complete and comfortable.
We have established that there is no collaboration between the City Council and the utility providers despite all being government entities.
Both Blantyre Water Board and Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) have not responded to our questions as we went to press.
But we have information that the utility providers are not particular whether they are providing the service to a legal or an illegal settler, so long as they satisfy their requirements.
City Councils enforcement
Mzuzu City Council has indicated that it will also soon be relocating people that settled in illegal areas and it is working on the logistics towards that.
Spokesperson for Lilongwe City Council, Tamara Chafunya, says demolition of illegal developments is a routine exercise, as envisaged by the Town and Country Planning
Act Section 48(1) hence there is no timeline to that.
“Demolitions will be carried out whenever necessary resources are available to do so. The Act requires that demolitions are done within 30 days of issuing enforcement notice,” she said.
Chafunya added that the Council has a fully-fledged section for development control to curb the illegal developments and has been working flat out to ensure compliance to planning standards.
“The Council has been hindered by lack of resources to carry out mass demolitions. However, the demolitions are happening at a smaller scale. Town rangers are always on the ground to check on developments.”
Meanwhile, Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development has acknowledged that encroachers and trespassers of public land have been seeking regularisation of the illegally acquired land.
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