Zimbabwe: Progress on title deeds important

President Mnangagwa’s recent decision to grant title deeds to the victims of land barons and other criminals who sell land they do not own in Zimbabwe’s urban areas is a serious attempt to clean up an otherwise impossible mess.

With the usual efficiency of the Second Republic, the process is under way, and it is not just some kind of pie in the sky, but a practical program.

The first phase is almost complete for the first 15 urban settlements. This is the mapping to find out where the estates and houses actually are, where land has been reserved for roads and what other land use allocations have been made.

Drones have been used for aerial mapping to speed up the process.

This is the job of the Department of Higher & Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology, which has the necessary technical equipment and skills to produce the detailed, map-quality illustrations needed for the town planners in the Department of Local Government and Public Works .

This phase should be completed within the next four weeks.

Some of the areas had some degree of planning, with estates or blocks of land that could be subdivided into estates that were already on the plans.

Of course, for the final mapping, the planners need to know how close the barons were to the plans. In other areas there was not much planning and only some amateur arrangements by the barons, and here detailed plans must be drawn up.

Title deeds are very precise documents that indicate who owns a particular estate or subdivision.

So one of the first processes is to make sure that each of these estates is well defined so that there are no arguments later about who owns what.

Designers must also ensure that the basic planning requirements are met. This means patrolling wetlands, ensuring road reserves are the correct width, other easements in place, and land set aside for schools and clinics and other public services.

Depending on the greed of the barons, this may mean some people have to be pushed around in a suburb.

Part of the detailed planning required is therefore to ensure that sufficient alternative land is reserved for these people. Some scheduling requirements can be changed, but others must be enforced.

We don’t need new Epworths, but on the other hand we might be able to live with an Avondale-type layout as this suburb was subdivided before rules for campuses, wetlands and public spaces were promulgated, but the suburb is still habitable.

The main thing is that the technical teams act quickly to turn a policy into a batch of documents.

The main purpose of obtaining title deeds to those in these new suburbs is then to move on to the next phase, the provision of services. That means roads, sewers, water supply and electricity.

While properly designated stalls allow for attribution and charging, with current councils this may not be very helpful when it comes to maintenance.

Residents may need to find ways to fund this, or at least partially fund it.

Title deeds provide both security that any improvements will go to the owners and security if money needs to be borrowed. Usually, when municipal stands are sold, the developer, which can be a local authority or the government, carries out the maintenance in advance.

This maintenance makes up a large part of the final selling price, converting cheap farmland into more valuable city land. The lack of such services is the legacy of the land barons, among other problems.

Part of the development of services can be done in stages. Roads in most of these settlements were nothing more than railroad tracks, hopefully in the right place, and are rapidly and seriously being damaged and eroded.

Even gravel roads that have proper pavement and stormwater drainage in place can be a significant improvement, and if the roads are graded once a year, such roads are often better than just a thin tar surface road.

Water and sewer lines can be advanced in stages, the water lines from the uphill end of the suburb and the sewers from the downhill end, as both rely on gravity.

The new districts also have to be practically integrated into their communities. Generally, they are already within the city or parish boundaries, but are not, or at least not adequately, represented on the city council. This is also required.

The other policy that needs to be enforced now is that we should never be in that position again.

The shabby control of city officials caused much chaos, and in some cases they were not only inefficient but actively in league with the land lords, and sometimes even being land lords themselves.

What is required now is to insist that the new development follows the planning rules. The current system of determining estates and then allocating title deeds is necessary to clean up the mess and ensure that the barons’ victims do not suffer unduly.

But if there is proper development, buyers will receive their title deeds from the start and can actually use them to secure the loans they need to build their home.

The government was right to clean up the mess created by criminals but local authorities now need to stop messing around and make sure they know where development is taking place and make sure this follows the application of the correct planning and building codes rather than to go to those who live in those areas and to the government itself to clean up later.

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