Lack of title deeds hinders empowerment- COMALISO

Chris Mahove

Millions of Zimbabweans cannot use property to empower themselves because they do not have title deeds, liberal think tank, COMALISO has said.

In its policy proposition on Title Deeds in Zimbabwe’s Inner Cities, ‘Informal Settlements’ and Urban High-Density Areas, titled ‘Dignity & Freedom Through Knowledge, Respect and Enforcement of Property Rights’ COMALISO said ‘informal’ settlers in most parts of the country violated ‘basic’ by-laws relating to housing because they were ignorant of the law.

The think tank said their researches over the past decade had revealed that millions of citizens lived in inner cities, so called ‘informal settlements’ and urban high-density areas with absolutely no hope of ever having legitimate title to their property.

“This means millions of urban Zimbabweans cannot use property to empower themselves. Not only that. Millions of poor urban Zimbabweans live in a state of physical uncertainty that their property will be demolished, expropriated or that at the time of death, either spouse or dependents will lose their valuable investment to (other) human predators,”.

COMALISO said without knowledge and respect of their private property rights, citizens’ independence and freedom remained a fallacy.

“It is with this in mind COMALISO has, over the past ten years, invested thought, mind, time and financial resource to argue for a case of title deeds not just in rural areas but also for Zimbabwe’s urban poor – no matter where they live. 42 years after independence – this is not an acceptable state of property affairs,” the organisation said.

COMALISO acknowledged that there was no quick solution to the problem and that no presidential proclamations or political sloganeering could result in two million urban title deeds in one felling swop.

“There is empirical and credible evidence from three of COMALISO’s researches – the latest in May 2022 – that ‘dignity, and freedom through knowledge, respect and enforcement of property rights’ is not achievable without re focusing on the laws, policies and regulations that govern the issuance of title deeds,” it said.

It said it was not possible for citizens to change their property rights circumstances when they neither had the interest, nor knowledge of the laws, policies and regulations governing them, adding that arrogant ignorance and an unbridled sense of entitlement to State land had not helped the cause of the urban poor.

COMALISO proposed an approach which it said was embodied in their ‘explain, influence, act’ maxim or in short – XIA and based on dignity and freedom through knowledge, respect and enforcement of property rights.

“We want to admit at the outset that even after interviewing and interacting with more than 10 000 (ten thousand) citizens in ‘informal settlements’ and urban high-density areas over the past five years, our XIA ‘algorithm’ was largely qualitative and emotional.

“However, a plus or minus 70% return rate of answers gives us a basis to infer reasonably accurate deductions. Most citizens in ‘informal settlements’ and urban high-density areas have not read, and do not look like having an interest in reading the national constitution any time soon. This ‘arrogant ignorance’ causes neglect of their property rights; worse still, inability to enforce them. It is therefore easy to understand why they violate ‘basic’ by-laws relating to housing. They do not have appetite for reading those laws. They assume someone else will be on the lookout for them,”

The think tank said their knowledge on property rights was generic, which explained why they said such rights must be limited.

“It is clear that they do not differentiate ‘right to shelter’ from ‘right to safe’ property ownership. Moreover, most settlers in ‘informal settlements and urban high-density areas have no idea of local government by-laws or regulations that govern surveying, infrastructure and environment. Thus, when someone buys a stand (in some cases they have not even seen) in a wetland, they do not know that they are violating a law,”

It said while most citizens were aware of Residents Associations and Housing Cooperatives, these institutions had absolutely no idea of how to impart property rights knowledge to their members.

“The institutions are ‘busy’ but with very little impact, perhaps, populist matters of service delivery ‘activism’. Thus, when City Council, EMA or Messenger of Court come with a demolition order, ‘informal settlements and urban high-density areas can only hope that human rights organisations will argue their ‘right to shelter’ case. This policy proposal must address this knowledge deficit,”.

COMALISO said legislation on title deeds was too fragmented, thus, becoming the most visible impediment to ‘doing the right thing’ when it comes to home ownership.

“Zimbabwe has at least 8 (eight) ‘laws’ that govern the road to title deeds. Imagine if there were 8 laws that govern the acquisition of a Class 4 Drivers’ Licence, how many of us would be driving without a licence? What COMALISO then observed was that the road to title deeds is not only elitist but also expensive to the average prospective home owners,” it said.

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