16 September 2014
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) remains concerned at the constitutionally reprehensible action instituted by the Harare City Council (HCC) in orchestrating the forced demolition of several informal building structures of urban residents in the capital.
Commencing on Sunday 14 September 2014, the HCC destroyed several informal trading properties in Harare's central business district. The HCC has reportedly vowed to continue with these demolitions notwithstanding the fact that its actions are illegal and unconstitutional.
As a result of the HCC's conduct, many informal traders and their hard up families - drawn from the most economically marginalised and vulnerable sectors of Zimbabwean society - have been left without any source of livelihood in the face of the country's calamitous downward economic spiral. An indeterminate number of families whose livelihoods solely depend on vending activities stand to suffer the same fate should the HCC proceed with further demolitions.
ZLHR does not, in any respect, condone lawlessness and illegal trading activities. However, we remain concerned that in executing the demolitions, the HCC has evidenced complete disregard for the provisions of the Regional, Town and Country Planning Act ("the Act") which sets out the procedure which councils must adopt when tackling illegal developments.
According to Section 32 of the Act, the HCC must first issue an enforcement order giving any person who may be affected by it at least thirty (30) days' notice to either rectify the illegality or pull down the structure. To ZLHR's knowledge, this was not done.
The HCC thus acted arbitrarily, without lawful authority or regard to due process of the law. Consequently, the targeted informal traders and their families were rendered jobless and at the mercy of the deepening economic crisis.
There can be no justification for the HCC's actions in the absence of prior adequate notice, due process of the law, or assurance of adequate alternative trading stalls.
The destruction of the informal trading structures by the HCC violates Sections 51 and 53 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, which guarantee protection against cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and the right to human dignity. It runs contrary to the national objective of promoting private initiative and self-reliance as set out in section 13 (1) of the Constitution. The action is, further, an unreasonable derogation from the trader's constitutional rights to due process, the rule of law and equal protection of the law.
Whilst some of the informal trading structures may be illegal, they remain property, and the traders have been generating a small livelihood from them. The HCC's action not only caused the loss of the traders' goods in a manner that was evocative of the 2005 "Operation Murambatsvina", but also the indignity of being left without a source of livelihood. Destroying an individual's trading stall in circumstances that would deprive them of any source of livelihood is not only unconstitutional, but also a disturbing affront to human dignity.
The forced demolition of the informal trading structures will certainly intensify inequality, social conflict and invariably affect the poorest, most socially and economically vulnerable and marginalised sectors of Zimbabwean society.
ZLHR calls for an immediate end to these illegal demolitions and destruction of livelihoods in Harare and strongly advises against imitation of such reckless actions by other local authorities. As it is, they can be held liable for the loss of property and sources of livelihood that have been suffered thus far.
The HCC needs to radically revise its approach through compliance with the Constitution and laws of the country; meaningful engagement with affected communities; revised policies on informal trade; and transparent allocation of space for such entrepreneurial activities. Only in this way will it show that it can make a real difference to the lives of impoverished Zimbabweans.