27 July 2013

Zambia: Squatters Riot

A GROUP of illegal squatters on Mungwi Road in Lusaka West yesterday went on rampage beating innocent people following the recent demolition of their structures by Lusaka City Council (LCC).

The angry mob also vented their anger on the nearest boundary fence belonging to a Chinese investor they accused of reporting them to the council over their trespassing.

A couple guarding the Chinese investor's property was driven out of its home as the mob collected blocks from the broken boundary fence.

The local authority raided the area and demolished illegal structures during the week but the squatters have mobilised themselves and are threatening to burn motor vehicles passing in the area.

Eyewitnesses said the squatters had been harassing people passing through the area from the time the council carried out a night demolition exercise.

A check by the Sunday Times yesterday found the uncompromising squatters refusing to be addressed by officers before hurling insults and stones as officers drove off.

The squatters' representative only identified as Watson, who claimed to be a Patriotic Front (PF) chairperson, said they wanted to know who was behind the demolition.

Lusaka Province police commissioner Joyce Kasosa said officers were dispatched to the area following reports that innocent people were being harassed although no arrests had been made.

"We provided security during the demolition but our officers have been dispatched again today (yesterday) when we heard that the squatters have started harassing innocent people because we will not allow that," she said.

A Chinese manager Nico Liu, who was with the police in the area, said he was surprised that people were venting their anger on private property when his company was not responsible for the demolition of the squatters' houses.

"I am surprised they are taking blocks after breaking the wall fence," Mr Nico said. "But I will like to encourage them to dialogue with me because that will not take them anywhere."

In a related development, more than 280 houses in Lusaka South are set for demolition following the decision by the Government to evict the illegal squatters who had hoped for the legalisation of the 12-acre farm.

Local Government and Housing Minister Emerine Kabanshi said the decision would be taken to safeguard a borehole supplying water to larger parts of the city from contamination.

The battle between the squatters and the provincial planning department has raged for more than five years over the land on the boundaries of Lusaka and the newly-created Chilanga District after it was discovered that the area had no owner.

The planning department says allowing the place to be turned into a residential area would pollute one of Lusaka's major water sources while the squatters insist that their houses are far from the borehole.

It is believed that high-profile officials, including former Government and MMD leaders are among the people who have acquired the plots in the disputed area.

Ms Kabanshi said in an interview during the week that there was no way that the people could be allowed to continue building at an illegal area.

"I had a meeting with their representatives and I made it clear that the plot is for the Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company (LWSC) and there is no way we can allow them to continue building because they will contaminate the water," she said.

She said the decision had been made and the residents had been communicated to and hoped that the people in the area would be able to find alternative places before facing demolition.

The planning department says it is currently organising logistics to conduct one of the biggest demolitions ever in the capital city.

"We told them not to construct until the decision is made but they continued," said department executive secretary, Maxwell Zulu. "Now the decision has been made and it is to demolish all the structures."

But representative of the squatters, Stephen Kalande said the matter was in the hands of the minister of Lands although the squatters had continued to build.

"The matter is in the hands of the minister and I am not aware about any decision that has been taken because I have had a meeting with the Local Government minister where she said she was still looking at the matter," he said.

Mr Kalande also confirmed that some squatters received a letter from LWSC to notify them about the encroachment but insisted that only four houses were affected.

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