The Cowdray Park housing saga took a new twist recently when it emerged that residents could be the ultimate losers as the big guns exonerated themselves from the mess and sought to protect their positions.
Residents will have to fork out more money to have their stands properly serviced, though they had already paid Alpha Construction for this service. Worse still, scores could lose their “stands” or cash as the contractor sold more stands than those available and in some cases allocated some stands to several buyers.
This emerged at a heated meeting on November 16 called by the council to discuss the way forward following the council’s cancellation of its contract with Alpha Construction last month.
It also emerged that the housing saga was more complicated than everyone, including the council, had previously thought.
The council had invited representatives of the residents, the Deeds Office, police, Beverley Building Society and the surveyor-general’s office to discuss how it could take over development of Cowdray Park since it had cancelled its contract with Alpha Construction.
The Town Clerk, Moffat Ndlovu, told the meeting that the council had cancelled the contract because of several breaches of the contract and had ordered the company to vacate the site by November 16.
Alpha is owned by Jonathan Gapare who is campaigning in Chivi South to replace sitting Member of Parliament Charles Majange.
It was awarded the contract to develop stands and build 502 houses in Cowdray Park in 1996 but has not completed the job up to now.
Ndlovu said Alpha had not only failed to complete the project but it had not fully serviced the area. It had allocated some stands to several people. Some houses had more than one title deed.
More than a hundred houses had encroached onto the next stand or sewer lines. But most important of all Alpha had not recruited buyers from the municipal housing waiting list as agreed.
He said since the council had decided to take over the project, it wanted to find out whether residents were prepared to pay for the servicing of their stands because they had to meet the costs.
He also wanted to know what the Deeds Office was going to do in cases where a house had more than one deed, and what Beverley was going to do if the council cancelled some title deeds to regularise the mess made by Alpha.
A representative of the Deeds Office said the issuing of more than one title deed to one house was rare. One of the deeds would have to be cancelled but there was not likely to be any compensation to the second deed holder unless he or she went to court, which would be an additional expense.
Beverley Building Society said it would need a guarantee for payment of any outstanding amounts for the council to proceed with the new development if it was going to cancel existing titles. It also could not compensate the second bond holder as it had given the buyer a loan if the loan had been repaid. The matter was now between the buyer and Alpha.
This raised an outcry from residents representatives who queried how these things had slipped through the council, the Deeds Office and Beverley Building Society. The residents said they had notified the council about the shoddy work by Alpha, the Deeds Office and council lawyers as well as Beverley Building Society about these anomalies on several occasions but nothing had been done.
“How big is this Jonathan Gapare who even seems to be bigger than God?”a spokesman for the residents Douglas Mlala queried. “The council did nothing while he was building shoddy houses. We reported several cases to the police but they did nothing. Beverley has done nothing. The Deeds Office has done nothing. This makes us think that there was something in it for all of these people.”
“We thought that this meeting was going to solve the problem but it seems everyone is trying to cover their backs. No one is thinking about our plight probably because we are poor and uneducated and do not understand this legal jargon. $200 000 may be nothing to most of you here but to me it takes me the whole of my life to raise that kind of money. To us this is therefore a mater of life and death. Why has Gapare not been arrested up to now after committing such massive fraud?” Mlala queried.
Ndlovu said the council was trying to solve the problem with as little loss to residents as possible. If it had not been thinking about the plight of the residents, it would simply have demolished the houses that were not properly built, but it had called the stakeholders to find an amicable solution.
A council official said the meeting was also aimed at ensuring that everyone understood the complexity of the problem because the council was soon going to advertise its intention to take over and service the area. If there were any objections therefore this could be a lengthy process.
She also disclosed that Alpha had “challenged” the cancellation of its contract through its lawyers.
The two-and-a-half hour meeting almost ended in a deadlock. A representative of the surveyor-general’s office, however, suggested that further meetings should be held but the next meeting should probably exclude residents’ representatives because they were likely to be emotional about the whole issue as they were an aggrieved party.
A date for the next meeting was not set.