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Mkushi land pact to stir development

FOR generations to come, October 30 will remain embedded in the memories for Mkushi residents, for it is on this date that a land treaty was officially signed between Chief Chitina of the Swaka people and the district council.
As stipulated in this agreement, Chief Chitina surrendered 3,080.42 hectares of land to the local authority for the extension of the township boundary.
The negotiations that had preceded the memorandum of understanding (MoU) started in 2010 and culminated into the signing ceremony between Chief Chitina and Mkushi District Council secretary Judith Sinkala.
This is a significant development as Mkushi local government authority had in recent years run out of land for the development of the township.
Central Province permanent secretary Edwidge Mutale officiated at the signing ceremony, whilst Chief Mulungwe of Mkushi’s Lala people attended as a witness.
Chief Chitina was happy. So was the council
“I am confident that this arrangement will yield mutual benefits between the two parties and am pleased that the local authority has acknowledged that the terms of this MoU still leaves plenty of room for traditional authorities to have some input in the expansion of the township,” he said.
“The official signing for this land treaty is greeted with huge relief by the council as the lack of land hindered us from expanding the orderly town planning that residents demanded,” Mrs Sinkala, the council secretary, said.
Government described the move as progressive, as it will set the foundation for more residents to have access to municipal services under a controlled development plan.
“Government is eager to ensure that all people have access to basic services such as decent housing, water and sanitation, and it has at times become difficult to provide such services because of shortage of township land,” Ms Mutale said.
She pointed out that the extension of the township boundary had also been necessitated by factors such as population increase, adding that this had brought with it challenges that included increased demand for land as well as pressure on the existing infrastructure.
“Mkushi district’s population had been increasing at a rate of 3.7 percent as was established during the 2010 Population and Housing Census, thereby making it the highest annual population growth in the province that has been recording 2.6 percent average growth per annum,” Ms Mutale added.
She noted that the expanded township is in tandem with projected planning efforts that would accommodate people who may desire to settle and invest in this district, with regards to both residential and commercial plots.
Chief Mulungwe, who was witness at this historical signing as well as representative of the currently ‘chief-less’ Shaibila Chiefdom, had in past interviews emphasised the need to develop the remote parts of the district to stem urbanisation.
The traditional leader had expressed his support for Chief Chitina’s land treaty with the council, saying, that outlying areas that are encompassed within the extended 3,080 hectares (or 27km square), will benefit from government, driven development.
And as events unfolded during the signing ceremony, Mkushi District Council town planning department revealed maps showing the projected expansion plans, in which areas located 2.5km square from the existing township have been earmarked for municipal development in the short term.
These are areas that are currently overseen by village headmen; namely Ilume, Kasansama, Chitina Suburb, Itala Compound and FTC (Farmers Training Centre.
And when several headmen expressed apprehension over the proposed expansion, which has contributed to the lengthy delay in concluding the land agreement, it appeared the whole MoU would not be signed.
The headmen appeared bent on dragging the chief back so as to ascertain their consensus on the matter.
Understandably, they had been at the helm of facilitating the transactions in which land developers used to buy plots on customary land, arrangements in which many residents acquired plots at what some may describe as prices unaffordable by the ‘common resident’.
The prices for the land ranged between K2,000 and K3,000 for a 40m by 40m residential plots.
“We are delighted that we will be under council facilitation. The average resident such as myself could not acquire a customary plot via headmen, signed by the chief, at affordable cost and with almost no bureaucracy involved,” one resident, Hamson Chibuye, said.
This may lead one to debate on whether the headmen’s apprehension was a result of the fear of losing their status and the monetary benefits attached to it as the chief’s envoys, or perhaps the lucrative dealings involved in the sale of land.
“The Council needs to clearly explain its stance and harmonise with headmen on issues that may arise such as possible relocation of people who may have to be displaced by development projects,” headman Mbelenga said.
The matter also stirred mixed reactions from civic leaders as Mkushi District Council chairperson suggested that even part of the North Swaka Forest Reserve ought to be considered for partial de-gazetting to accommodate development projects.
Upper Lunsemfwa Ward councilor Stanslous Bwalya (MMD), however, maintained that the matter regarding the extension of the township boundary should not be re-opened for debate anymore.
Mr Bwalya explained that further debate might lead to a situation in which the MoU would be subjected to unnecessary amendments that may take more time to conclude.
When the situation appeared to be heading towards a ‘deadlock’ Ms Mutale stated that Government’s position was incorporating local people throughout the whole planning process.
She said Government had implemented the Urban and Regional Planning Act Number 3 of 2015, which promotes full involvement of stakeholders in the planning process.
She emphatically stated that there are no plans to displace any community in the quest to expand the township boundary, and this assurance diluted any resistance that the headmen had towards the MoU.
Now that the council has what it had long aspired for, it would be a mistake to ignore the need to balance between fostering development projects and the need to ensure that these do not compromise environmental well-being and the welfare of local people                                                    ZANIS