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Families sleep in the open after council demolishes their houses

Reigate Compound residents in Bulawayo have recounted the trauma and abuse they endured after Umguza Rural District Council demolished their houses following a lengthy land ownership dispute.

The families were left in the open after the local authority destroyed their houses last week Tuesday, forcing them to sleep in the open at the tail end of the winter season.

When CITE visited the compound on Monday, some of the homeless residents could not hide their emotions as they wailed uncontrollably while pondering their next move.

The residents were first served with eviction letters in 2013 after the local authority sold the land to new owners.

However, the matter spilt to the High Court and with the help of human rights lawyers, the residents managed to evade eviction for about six years.

Narrating his ordeal, one of the residents, Titus Mvundla, said he had been paying rentals for the house he was occupying.

“We used to pay rentals for these houses, and the people who allegedly bought the land were said to be paying rentals to the district council without our knowledge but we could tell that something was amiss and we tried confronting social services who told us that we were safe.

“They really deceived us because we thought they were going to relocate us accordingly but they told us we no longer qualify to occupy this area since we are poor,” Mvundla said.

He said they were left confused after the local authority reportedly went against a high court ruling that the houses should not be demolished.

“The High Court had ruled that the houses should not be destroyed but we understand the council got a ruling from the magistrate court. How did the magistrate court overrule the high court?” Mvundla queried.

He said after they were forcefully evicted from their houses by the police their property was taken and dumped next to the main road.

“Yesterday, I endured the coldest temperatures since I was born,” he said before breaking down in tears.

Another resident Ernest Mpofu said they rightfully owned the houses as they have been paying rentals to the local authority for six years.

“In 2001, this area was left disserted and they started renting it out thus how I came to stay here. They told us that if we pay rentals for 6years we will automatically own the houses, we did not sign any documentation but when we reached the 6 year period those houses were not changed to our names,” Mpofu said.

“We have no one to explain to us why our houses were demolished, at the same time it is difficult to have someone to explain for you and do nothing because in 2014 they told us that the houses will not be destroyed.

“We have no plan at the moment since we were told that we were safe and  those who were trying to fight for us some of them have passed away, we are even old to even say we will start building again.”

Dingane Ndlovu said they are not happy at the way Umguza RDC is treating them as former workers.

“We used to work for this council but the way they are treating us now is so unfair, we agreed that they will be taking money for the stands from our salaries. If they could do this to their former workers what more to those who only came here to rent, we are really saddened by the events,” he said.

Ndlovu said they are forced to sleep in the open with their families as they have nowhere else to go to.

“If the old people could feel the cold what more of the little children who are also forced to sleep in the open.

“We were told that these stands were USD$4000 and they were taking this money from my pay, I was only left with about USD$500 to finish paying for this stand. I have now lost both my money and my stand,” he said.

Repeated efforts to get a comment from Umguza RDC chief executive officer Collen Moyo were fruitless as his mobile phone was not reachable.

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