SCORES of people yesterday rioted following the move by bailiffs to demolish more than 100 houses in Lusaka’s Chinika Industrial area. Police said the land in controversy belonged to Mushe Milling Company which had a court order declaring those that had built houses around the plant as illegal settlers. The more than 100 houses, some of them incomplete were demolished by bailiffs from the sheriff’s office after the owners allegedly built the structures on land earmarked for industrial projects by some investors.
Hundreds of residents woke up to a rude shock when bulldozers ushered by the bailiffs and a number of State Police who provided security, razed the structures around 02.30 hours. The residents, incensed by the development, took to the streets, blocking and in some instances stoning motor vehicles and burnt tyres in the middle of Mumbwa Road. Lusaka province police chief Solomon Jere confirmed the incident and said the structures in question were built on a piece of land belonging to Mushe Milling Company which obtained a court order and was granted the right to demolish the structures. Dr Jere said in an interview yesterday that Mushe Milling Company had obtained a court order to have the structures demolished. “As police, we were just there to provide security as you know we don’t have machines to demolish structures but we provide security and ensure there is law and order in such operations,” he said. He said police had received six court orders earmarked for demolishing of illegally built structures which included markets but had so far managed to implement two court orders including that of Mushe Milling Company.
He said the police could not instantly implement the other court orders because there was need to look at serious security concerns before embarking on demolishing exercises. But the trucks were quickly driven away by the owners while some women whose houses were razed, vowed to remain at the premises saying they had nowhere to go. A check by the TIMES crew, found hundreds of stranded residents who included women, men and their children weeping as they gathered around their razed houses to salvage whatever they could from the rubble.
The residents were found gathered outside Mushe Milling Company and Ngwenya area and said most of them would spend their nights in the cold because they had no structures to sleep in. Some residents even had loaded trucks full of blocks meant to be offloaded in the morning for more construction. The residents started their protest as early as 05.00 hours, burning tyres and partially blocking some portions of Mumbwa Road, a situation which caused panic among motorists who had to use alternative routes. Scores of them mostly youths jostled to the road with stones and other objects in their hands to express their anger as they alleged that they had appropriate documentation for their houses.
Police in full riot gear were on hand to quell the riot and later the residents withdrew from the road and went back to their demolished structures. The residents appealed to President Michael Sata to intervene in the matter, saying most of them acquired proper land documents and wondered why their houses were demolished at night. One of the affected residents, Leoh Milambo said the demolition exercise started around 02: 00 hours and that he only heard noise from the bulldozers knocking down both finished and unfinished houses.
Mercy Nyirenda, a widow with five children who wept uncontrollably as she narrated the ordeal said, unidentified Lebanese nationals accompanied the police during the demolition. “I was asleep and only heard noise and when I woke up, I found bulldozers demolishing houses and that’s how everybody woke up and watched helplessly because we didn’t know what to do. It was like in a movie,” she said.