By CHIZA MUZIA –
FOR generations to come, October 30 will carry with it abiding memories for Mkushi residents as it is on this day that a Lands Treaty was officially signed between Chief Chitina of Mkushi District’s Swaka people, and the district council.
As stipulated in this land agreement, Chief Chitina had surrendered 3,080.42 hectares land to the council for the extension of the township boundary.
The negotiations that had preceded this Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) started in 2010, culminating into a signing ceremony involving Chief Chitina and Mkushi Council Secretary Judith Sinkala.
The magnitude of this event can be said to be of great significance as Mkushi local government authorities had in recent years run out of land for the development of the township. Central Province Permanent Secretary Edwidge Mutale officiated the signing while Chief Mulungwe of Mkushi’s Lala people attended as witness.
“I am confident that this arrangement will yield mutual benefits between the two parties and (I am) pleased that the local authorities have acknowledged that the terms of this MoU still leave plenty of room for traditional authorities to have some input in the expansion of the township,” says Chief Chitina.
“The official signing for this Land Treaty is greeted with huge relief by the council as the lack of land expanse hindered us from expanding the orderly town planning that residents demanded,” Mrs Sinkala said.
Government described the move as progressive as it would set the foundation for more residents to have access to municipal service provision under a controlled development plan.
“Government is eager to ensure that all people have access to basic services such as decent housing, water and sanitation, and it has at times become difficult to provide such services because of a shortage of township land,” Ms Mutale said.
Ms Mutale said that the extension of the township boundary had also been necessitated by factors such as population increase, and that this had brought with it challenges that included increased demand for land as well as pressure on the existing infrastructure.
“Mkushi District population had been at a rate of 3.7 per cent as was established during the 2010 Population and Housing Census, thereby making it the highest annual population growth in the province that has been recording 2.6 per cent average population growth per annum,” she said.
The permanent secretary further noted that the expanded township was in tandem with projected planning efforts that would accommodate people who desired to settle and invest in the district with regard to both residential and commercial plots.
Chief Mulungwe, who was witness at this historical signing as well as Representative of the currently Chief-less Shaibila Chiefdom, had in past interviews reiterated on the need to develop the remote parts of the District in order to stem urbanization.
In this regard, Chief Mulungwe had expressed his support for Chief Chitina’s land treaty with the Council, saying that outlying areas that are encompassed within the extended 3080 hectares(or 27km square), would benefit from the Council driven development that attracts migration to urban-like settings.
And as events unfolded during the signing ceremony, Mkushi Council Town Planning department revealed Maps showing the projected expansion plans, in which areas located 2.5km square from the existing township have been earmarked for municipal developments in the short term.
These are areas that are currently overseen by Village Headmen; namely areas such as Ilume, Kasansama, Chitina Suburb, Itala Compound and FTC(Farmers Training Center.
And when several Village Headmen expressed apprehension over the proposed expansion, apprehension that has contributed to the lengthy delay in concluding the land agreement, it appeared as if the whole MoU would not be signed as the Headmen would have had to drag the Chief back so as to ascertain their consensus on the matter.
Understandably, the Headmen had been at the helm of facilitating the transactions in which land developers bought Customary Land plots, arrangements in which many residents acquired plots at what some may describe as prices affordable by the ‘common resident’; ranging between k2000 to k3000 for a 40m by 40m residential plot, for instance.
“We are delighted that we would be under Council facilitation, but the average resident such as myself could acquire a Customary land Plot via Headmen, signed by the Chief, at affordable cost and with almost no bureaucracy involved”, says one resident, Hamson Chibuye.
This may lead one to debate on whether the Headmen apprehension were as result of fear of losing their Status as Traditional Leadership’s Envoys, or perhaps the lucrative dealings involved in the sale of land.
“Council needs to clearly explain its stance and harmonise with Headmen, on issues that may arise such as possible relocation of people who may have to be displaced by developmental projects”, said Headman Mbelenga.
The matter also stirred mixed reactions from Civic Leaders as Mkushi District Council Chairperson suggested that even part of the North Swaka Forest Reserve ought to be considered for partial de-gazette in order to accommodate developmental projects.
Upper Lunsemfwa Ward Councilor Stanislous Bwalya(MMD) however maintained that the matter regarding the extension of township boundary should not be re-opened for debate anymore, explaining that further debates may lead to a situation in which the MoU is subjected for amendments that may take more time to conclude.
When the situation appeared to heading towards a ‘deadlock’ in which social economic contributions were being unveiled, the Permanent Secretary stated that Government position is accented towards incorporating people local people throughout the whole planning process.
She said that in view of this, Government had implemented the Urban and Regional Planning Act Number 3 of 2015, saying that this promotes full involvement of Stakeholders in the planning process.
She emphatically stated that there are no plans to displace any community in the quest to expand the township boundary, and this move diluted any resistance that the Headmen had towards the MoU.
Now that the Council has what it had long aspired for, it would be folly to ignore the need to balance between fostering developmental projects, and the need to ensure that these do not compromise environmental well being.
Mkushi District Forestry Officer Willard Njovu says that the 18,800 hectares North Swaka Forest Reserve is crucial to maintaining the Lunsemfwa River water flow that supplies water to major economical ventures such as the Lunsemfwa Hydro-electric Power(LHP) Company as well as the Commercial Farm Block areas.
It would also serve mutual interests of both Traditional and Local Government Leadership if village Headmen are brought on board on platforms such as the Area Development Committess(ADCs) that are the nucleus of grassroots planning in the De-Centralisation Policy at District level. -ZANIS