Harare residents operating tuck shops or living in structures considered "illegal" by the Local Government Ministry breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday when the local Council delayed a demolition campaign that was to begin in the high-density areas.
Instead of bulldozers tearing down buildings, there was an announcement by Harare's Town Clerk Tendai Mahachi, giving residents two months to negotiate a deal with Council that would regularize illegal structures before demolitions begin.
According to the state-run Herald newspaper, Mahachi said: "We are not demolishing the structures tomorrow (Tuesday) as some media reports have said. Rather, within the next weeks leading into next year residents can come to council to ascertain the way forward."
He explained that those who built in suitable places but without council permission will get an opportunity to regularize their construction, while those who built on inappropriate places will have to remove their structures within the reprieve period.
The Local Government Ministry under Ignatius Chombo had ordered a cleanup campaign to remove "illegal structures" from the capital, starting Tuesday.
This obvious u-turn followed strong condemnation of the demolitions from several human rights groups and the MDC-T, who had appealed to government to put alternative measures in place before victimizing families and businesses.
There had also been protests by ZANU PF supporters in Chitungwiza and some party officials, who feared that they might alienate voters who benefitted from illegal land allocations made by their own party.
Sadly, this so-called "cleanup" campaign had already victimized many residents of Ruwa and Damofalls. Last Wednesday, bulldozers demolished tuck shops and homes on land deemed "illegal" by the Local Government Ministry.
This was despite the fact that the local Rural District Authority was officially billing residents $30 per month for the tuck shops, making them "legal" structures.
The structures sprang up all over the capital as ZANU PF officials allocated land illegally and allowed tuck shops to be built on many properties, in order to gain political mileage ahead of the July 31st elections.
Minister Chombo himself has been accused of facilitating many of these illegal land deals, but continues to ignore the courts and has abused the Urban Councils Act to penalize those who challenge him.