Zambians whose homes were recently razed as a result of President Levy Mwanawasa’s policy of cleaning the capital, Lusaka have launched a lawsuit against the government. Scores of people have been left homeless in the capital since the controversial program of demolishing shantytowns began last month. Lawyers for the affected say not only did the government not give them enough warning time to leave, but have so far failed to pay any compensation for their lost properties. Meanwhile, President Levy Mwanawasa has urged his ministers to push ahead with the demolition exercise even if it appears to be a very unpopular decision made by his government.
Mike Mulongoti is Zambia’s Minister for information. From the capital, Lusaka he told VOA those that fell victims to the “city cleaning” flouted the country’s laws.
“The laws of the land dictate that if you are going to develop any piece of land, you must have planning authority. You must have a land title from the minister of lands and planning authority from the council, and also you must get a security of title for a short-term from the council. Now if you act outside that, you are in breach of the law. And when the law visits you, you cannot claim that there is unfairness. However, you have a right to go to the court to seek redress,” Mulongoti noted.
He said it is not the role of government to provide affordable housing for those affected by the government’s demolishing policy.
“The role of the government is not to provide housing to citizens. The role of the government is to provide an environment that would enable the citizens to construct or buy their own houses. Now, I don’t know from what premise people would expect government to provide housing,” he said.
Mulongoti said the government has created an environment where people can easily acquire land and develop it to suit their purpose.
“We are in a country where individuals have got liberties and freedom and on the basis of that and in the confines of the law, they can apply for lands and when the land is given, they apply for planning permission and once their plans are approved by the authorities, they go ahead and construct their own houses. So I don’t know who is expected to be so paternalistic as to be able to provide houses to all citizens of the country,” he pointed out.
He denied the government failed to serve those affected with enough notice to enable them leave before the demolition exercise.
“Well you see, the government has been giving notice to people to say please if you have structures that were illegally constructed, go and get them regularized through the appropriate authorities. But because people took it that the government would not take action, they did not do it, and this has been going on for a long time. It’s not a new issue. This issue has been there from before election, and we are now talking about it six months after election. So it’s not a new issue, it’s just that people ignored the warning, and this warning has been with them for a long time,” he said.
Mulongoti said those who feel victimized should go to court to seek redress.
“If a local authority gave them (victims) the plots, surely I don’t think the government would be so illogical as to demolish structures that have been constructed lawfully. So anyway these merits, if they go to court, would be proved in court,” he said.