7 March 2014

Zimbabwe: Chinese to Build Zanu-PF VIP Homes On Seized Land

A Chinese developer has been given prime peri-urban land to build luxury homes for top ZANU PF officials on a farm seized from a white commercial farmer.

The exclusive homes will be built on 120 hectares of land set on Pangoula Farm, following a deal signed last year by Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo and Chinese firm Zim Guoji, the South African Mail & Guardian reported Friday.

The farm, Pangoula of Sternblick, was gazetted for forcible takeover from its owners in 2003, according to farmers' rights group Justice for Agriculture.

A statement posted on the Chinese firm's website describes the deal as the "Fairytale of Pangoula".

"Have you ever been to a place that you are indulged in with pleasure so much as to forget to leave? Pangoula, located in east of Harare, used to be part of Sternblick Farm owned by a white farmer and was changed into state land last year."

The statement continues: "Pangoula is 15 minutes drive from the CBD of Harare. It is adjacent to an emerging high-end residential community in Harare, the Shawasha Hills, which is composed of hundreds of villas and mansions with gorgeous landscapes.

"The place accommodates the majority of political VIPs and wealthy merchants. Pangoula Farm whose terrain features hills of gentle slopes has two manmade reservoirs and a creek that can be used for landscaping.

"The farm retains several residences of the former owner as well as some agricultural buildings such as a crocodile farm, a chicken farm and green houses."

Dispossessed white farmers were never compensated for either the land or improvements on it, contrary to ZANU PF claims.

The secret deal did not go to tender, and ZANU PF officials would not reveal to the Mail&Guardian the value of the contract or who the beneficiaries will be.

"There is no indication of how much Guoji will get for the deal, or how much the VIPs will have to pay for the properties. But estate agents say prime plots of land in the adjacent Shawasha Hills, one of Harare's wealthiest enclaves, sell for more than $100,000," the M&G report said.

The development will be in phases starting mid-year, and already senior officials have reportedly expressed strong interest for stands. The upmarket development will boast its own kindergarten, hospital, church, and a shopping centre.

Harare Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni told SW Radio Africa said he needed time to check his facts before he can comment.

Harare Residents Trust director Precious Shumba said the housing deal signed by Minister Chombo "favoured the rich and the powerful."

"There are more people in need of basic housing in the high density areas. The Harare City Council has a long housing list of people who have never owned a house of their own and those who are lodgers."

Shumba said the presence of the Chinese in the country has so far been to prop up the rich, to the exclusion of the deserving poor.

"We would appreciate the Chinese's involvement in development projects such as building flats for the poor. We have people living in deplorable and crowded conditions in Chizhanje and Majubheki in Mbare or Geneva in Highfields where women, men and children share one room."

Shumba said the priorities for the government should be delivering affordable homes to the majority of the city dwellers rather than spending resources on luxury dwellings for its top officials, who already owned multiple properties.

Responding to suggestions that the Zim Guoji deal did not go through the normal tender process, Shumba said this was the norm where the Chinese are involved.

"We have realised that with the Chinese there are a lot of secret deals that are kept out of the eyes of interested parties such as civil society groups and the media.

"The exclusion of these key groups that facilitates the continued systematic stripping of the country's assets and tying them to the Chinese through land and mineral deals as we have seen over the years," Shumba added.

This is the second major deal signed between Chombo and Guoji. According to the Mail&Guardian, last year Chombo gave the company another contract to build 10,000 low-cost homes at an unnamed location in Harare.

A statement on the Chinese company's website mentions a joint venture involving Retreat Farm in the south of Harare, west of the Seke Road.

ZANU PF's chaotic and often violent land seizures started in 1999, targeting white commercial farmers. The few who remained on the land continue to face threats and uncertainty, amid fresh farm seizures.

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