Editor's Comment

Time for decisive action

LAND, anywhere in the world, is priceless. Wars are fought over land.The essence of political independence is to be in charge of the land.
These struggles for land, however, would be in vain if a nation fails to manage this asset.
This is a scenario that Zambia could find itself in if it does not sooner rather than later restore total order in the acquisition of land. A day hardly passes without reports of displacements, swindling, fights and even killings over land.
This should not be allowed to continue. Efforts made so far to restore order are appreciated, but what would be appreciated more is a clean sweep of all the dirt in the land acquisition process.
There is rampant irregular and illegal allocation of land by various people ranging from political cadres, agents of local authorities and some Ministry of Lands employees.
Some political cadres are guilty of illegal allocation of bare land; officers in local authorities and the Ministry of Lands facilitate fake letter offers; and desperate buyers try to bribe their way onto other people’s properties.
This is despite laws being very clear on how land should be acquired. Either out of ignorance (which is no defence) or being duped by conmen and con-women, people get land that they hope to eventually get title on.
Illegalities seem to be gaining momentum as more citizens begin to appreciate the value of land.
With the country’s population booming and more citizens attaining middle-income status, there is more money available for investments in housing, businesses and farming at various levels.
As a result, demand for land for residential and office accommodation has been on the rise especially in the urban areas. This is good for the country but this money should be channelled onto projects that have a legal backing.
Unfortunately, despite Zambia having vast tracks of land, most people still want to hang around cities and major towns. Farm blocks that have been opened in some parts of the country are not attracting as much interest as the small but expensive plots in cities.
Some people are taking advantage of this demand for land in urban areas to get involved in the buying and selling of land. Some of these people are evidently doing so illegally.
Some of these illegal land allocators use violence to force legal owners out of their land. Some years back, former Wusakile Member of Parliament Barnabas Chella was axed to death by such land grabbers.
Surely such manner of land acquisition should not be happening in this era. Laws and civility should be the norm.
Efforts to restore order in land allocation recently resulted in some local authorities having their land agencies terminated by the Ministry of Lands. These agencies have been restored, but has sanity been restored?
It has to be restored because irregular and illegal land allocation inhibits development. It affects proper planned development of townships and districts.
Services such as water, roads and lighting cannot be effectively provided if contraction of houses and other buildings is haphazard. Cases in point in Lusaka are townships such as Chibolya, Mapoloto, Misisi and John Laing.
Drainage is poor, and come rainy season, these areas are prone to floods which bring along waterborne diseases such as cholera.
When the rains are over, stagnant water is a breeding ground for the mosquitoes. As a result, malaria and dengue, among the main dangers of stagnant water, become rife in such areas.
This causes a strain on the treasury as Government has to allocate unbudgeted resources to such areas, as was the case during the cholera outbreak when the military had to be deployed to bury shallow wells and erect water plants.
With time and the increasing population, Government has been forced to legalise the unplanned settlements. This shouldn’t be happening, yet we continue seeing illegal settlements coming up.
Many councils wait for `illegal’ buildings to come up and people occupy them before moving in, usually in the wee hours of the morning, with bulldozers to bring down the structures.
Councils should take charge of the land they supervise and prevent illegalities right from the start, instead of waiting for shanties to mushroom and then start complaining about their inability to effectively provide services because of these being unplanned settlements.
Citizens too should avoid shortcuts in getting land. They should also stop playing the political card of claiming to be supporters. Good supporters do the right thing.
Zambia may not go the Kenya way of bringing down hundreds of houses in slums to pave way for legal developments, but such is a time for firm decisions to be made to stop the illegal land acquisition.

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