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Township under threat

 The Big Issue Malawi 18 July 2019

The people of Blantyre’s Soche Hill, in Malawi, are angry. Many are in danger of being forced from land that they believe is rightfully theirs. A dispute which could signal trouble for those in other parts of the country. (819 Words) - By Robert Ngwira

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BI malawi_Township under threat

 Photo courtesy of The Big Issue Malawi

Soche Hill is one of the most prominent places in Malawi to be affected by the illegal settlement issue. On the hill, people are cutting down trees to clear the land to make way for the building of houses. Such settlements are prone to disasters such as mudslides.

To prevent such future calamities, the Blantyre City Assembly proposed shifting people from the hill to South Lunzu -a decision that is being challenged by citizens in the affected area. Village Headman Isaac Peter Chitsa is one who is refusing to move. He argues that he was not informed about the illegality of the settlement. "I am not ready to shift from here to Lunzu because this is my residential property and it will remain in my control," he says.

"Where is the city to come in now and tell us that this is not the right place to stay? If they were considerate and sincere they would have come here earlier - not now."

Contrary to the remarks made by Chief Chitsa, Costly Chanza, Director of Town Planning and Estates (DTPE), says that his office gave several notices aimed at stopping the construction of houses in the area.

"We have had several meetings with the chiefs and other stakeholders like

Malawi Housing Cooperation (MHC), as well as the Forest Department, in order to stop the people from constructing in this area," he says. "But these meetings have yielded nothing. "After seeing that people are still continuing to build houses in this area, we then just thought of demolishing the houses, and we did indeed demolish 50 houses. What else are they [the residents] looking for?"Chanza explains that in any country,

when cities grow, people are often shifted from one area to another in a bid to maintain the attractiveness of the area.

Grace Mbwana is another affected by the Soche Hill situation. She, like Chief Chitsa, does not want to move, and she says that she will only vacate the area if the money she has spent on her property is given back to her.

"I did not get this land for free," she says. "I bought it from the Chief of the area who charged meK25, 000. "I have also spent a lot of resources on preparing and constructing the house. Provided only that I am assured that whatever I invested will be given back I will be ready to move."

Chanza explains that compensation will be made available - but that it will be in the form of plots which will be given for free. He adds that chiefs around Blantyre city do not own any land, so if people are ordered to pay, that does not concern his office.

An official from the Ministry of Lands, who wished not to be identified, said that the office was not responsible for the issue at hand and shifted the matter to the City Assembly.

The official said: "Each piece of land that you see around is owned by the responsible authorities like Malawi Housing Corporation (MHC), City Assembly, Forest Department and Ministry of Land…for this matter, ask City Assembly."

Regardless of the disagreements concerning the issue of official responsibility, Chief Chitsa believes that, at the end of the day, moving people from an area they know well can only negatively impact on their lives.

"Frankly speaking, I am used to this place so for me to move to South Lunzu, a new place, will be hard. At the same time, instead of doing other things which can help my family…I will concentrate on clearing the land and building a house in which to stay, which will take time as well as resources. This to me is another setback."

Grace Mbwana agrees, and states how the planned move will affect the lives of residents- both at work and at home. "Some of us are employed here," she says. "To move to South Lunzu will be a big blow considering the distance from South Lunzu to here."At the same time most of us are married and have children [attending] Manja Primary and Kapeni Primary Schools who will be affected by the process."

Chanza dismisses these arguments: "No one can claim that [they have] stayed there for more than 10years," he says. "Apart from this, not all people who are there are landowners. Most of them are just tenants so I don't think this exercise will affect them," he added.

At the time of writing, Chanza stated that this development will not be carried out as announced on State Controlled Broadcaster of June, and that the period has been extended. Further information on the situation is to be communicated.

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