4 February 2013

Zambia: Kitwe Plots Mad Dash - What Went Wrong?

LAND ownership fits only too well in the very most popular form of investment.

And history affirms that plots of land have increased in value by more than 800 per cent in the last two decades.

Since the dawn of unprecedented technological advancement and rapid human evolution, access to plots of land has been almost restricted to large business nets, corrupt officers (or are they mere public side-kicks?) and of course wealthy clans.

In Zambia, acquiring a plot of land could be a tithering undertaking as the heavy-handed exercise has been characterised by an array of corrupt schemes.

In some cases, the elite determine who owns land fueling high demand especially among second class citizens, the average and ordinary men and women.

Still, buying undeveloped land is a scary affair in some current instances.

Mubanga Chisanga, a laboratory science technician with a foreign Lusaka based Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) delivering services to manage and mitigate HIV/AIDS spread, bought land from the Lusaka City Council (LCC) five years ago which was apparently sold to three other people.

All put together, they had letters of offer for the same plot in their possession.

So the question is who was legally entitled to own that piece of land.

When Mr Chisanga visited the council in 2009 for title deed processing, official records showed yet other people owning the same land.

He lost out.

A story unfolds of a councillor who acquired large chunks of land in Chifubu Constituency in Ndola and divided the lot with his children and wife.

In Kitwe, on January 27, 2013, word spread out like wildfire in a plantation of expired vegetation that the Kitwe City Council (KCC) was set to sale 900 plots in Ndeke and Chamboli residential areas.

The sale was to take place the following day when some people opted to sleep in front of the main entrance to KCC in the hope to buy a plot.

But what was puzzling was how people knew about the sale before the official announcement.

By midnight before the day of sale, hundreds of people had formed up in queues waiting to buy the plots the next morning and that was the day the advert for council sale of plots appeared in the Times of Zambia.

"I was informed that the KCC was selling plots in the night and was shocked that the council was working at odd times," a Kitwe resident, who wished to speak anonmously.

The resident, who stormed the Times of Zambia in Kitwe, charged that the application forms were being sold during the previous night.

That disturbing outlook was shared by a host of other residents.

When this author visited the scene of commotion, some eyewitnesses interviewed recounted that land application forms had run out by 08.00 hours on the day of sale.

Whether those concerns were being raised out of frustration or spirit to buy land, it was intricate to discover.

As a consequence, it is not vexing that President Michael Sata has already raised alarm on illegal allocation of land through corrupt council hand, let alone other Government's land offerings.

Shortly after 08.00 hours, more than 1000 people had gathered to buy plots at KCC.

In no time, confusion engulfed the entrance after some people entered KCC to buy application forms which triggered a near violent stampede.

Some glass panes were shattered in the process and a woman was bundled in a police vehicle before being whisked away by police officers after a physical confrontation with others outside the entrance to the civic centre.

The agitated residents forced open the steel gate at the entrance which registered some people getting bruised during the fracas.

The skeleton presence of police officers was overwhelmed by the masses.

The main entrance to the civic centre was blocked and parts of Independence Avenue causing traffic to divert to alternative routes.

KCC Town Clerk Bornwell Luanga immediately announced the suspension of the sale of plots which angered most residents.

He assured that KCC would formulate a system that would assist the local authority control the crowd.

As a follow up, Lands Minister Wilbur Simuusa went on to ban the sale of land by the KCC and squarely poured the fault on KCC for its ill organisation of the entire process.

The minister has since demanded an official account on activities leading to the near stampede.

KCC acting public relations manager Dorothy Sampa said in an interview that council property was damaged during the commotion with some glass panes being broken.

Some people fainted in the process.

Copperbelt Indigenous People's Land Rights Network coordinator Archie Mulunda adding his voice said the 'first come first save' method used by KCC has been the worst ever after the council created plots for sale in 2010.

Mr Mulunda said it was surprising that some residents managed to spend a night at the KCC entrance before the advert for applying for plots appeared in the media the next day.

"The advert appeared today and allocation of plots is being done the same day. This is strange because legally the advert has to run for two weeks," he said.

An employee of Lumwana Mine in Solwezi, Matthews Chansa explained that a list of applicants was compiled but only a few people were allowed to enter KCC premises to buy the forms which angered other people who forced open the gate to gain entry.

"I came around 7:00 hours on Sunday and slept here like many others. The problem we have is that some police officers disregarded the long queue and entered the KCC offices to buy the forms which angered those in the queue," Mr Chansa said.

Other residents attributed the stampede to corruption.

Former KCC mayor, Cosmas Bwalya was of the view that the local authorities have standard legal procedures to follow whenever allocating land to applicants and argued that the council should serve people and not exploit them.

"It has become common in recent years for councils and individual councillors to allocate plots without regard to water and sewer pipes that are laid below the surface. The tendency of illegal allocation of plots and allocating large tracts of land to foreigners and dubious investors is sad. Some areas in the city that had been designated and reserved as parks or green areas for several years have now been demarcated and allocated for residential and commercial plots, in some cases without councils benefiting in terms of revenue," Mr Bwalya said.

He said councils were generally characterised by worst forms of corruption, arguing: "It is common knowledge and people know that councils are corrupt. As former councillor and mayor, I know what I am talking about!"

Mr Bwalya should know better because he has been part of the system.

KCC was selling high cost plots at KR16,000, medium cost (KR8,000) and low cost (KR4,000).

Plots for a shopping centre and filling station were also on offer.

But it is even scary that the land acquisition intentions are often profit driven and actually rest on sheer egoism and the most lamentable thing is that councils continue to exist as conduits of corrupt offerings.

Again, it is not possible for the councils to deliver good quality services to the people unless its officers are ready to change their work culture.

Copperbelt Minister Mwenya Musenge said he was disappointed with the local authorities in the province because they were possessed with an attitude, parallel to the PF agenda, which was not only of failure, but defiance to meet the public expectations.

The councils should not be the usual sleeper impregnable of failure and awful public place of uncoordinated service offering.

There is need for councils to inspire public confidence through quality service delivery and not through shoddy works as exhibited in the allocation of plots in issue.

It is a fact that land has become scarce in Zambia and that there is a sudden rush for it but that should not give officers impetus to engage in corrupt ways of selling it by taking advantage of the people's desperation.

We expect KCC to be more organised in handling this sensitive matter and exhibit high levels of professionalism and not behave as political cadres do in such transactions.

Land issues are intricate and so there is need for people to comply with the legally prescribed requirements in order to safe guard their investments as well as for future generations to come.

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