By Farai Mabeza
PATRICK Zulu lives in Caledonia and is happy to have a place that he calls home. But it is far from ideal. It is not big enough for his family; transport is not good and basic service provision from the city council is virtually non-existent.
But it will serve the purpose for now –there is no other option for him.
“I don’t have to pay rent here and it’s good to have a place which I can call my own,” he said.
But Zulu is still uneasy about his situation; he is aware of the problems that settlements such as Caledonia have had. He knows of people who bought stands just like him and built homes only for local authorities or government to raze them down.
In December 2015, illegally built homes belonging to housing cooperatives were demolished along High Glen and Kambuzuma roads. Hundreds of homes have also been razed to the ground along the Harare-Masvingo highway and in Budiriro suburb among others.
But for now, Zulu is content to live in his two-roomed cottage. He hopes to build a bigger and more permanent structure in the future once he feels secure enough to do so.
Harare mayor, Bernard Manyenyeni, told Parliament last week that the Harare City Council was taking over Caledonia and would sanitise the area. But the council has been failing to adequately service areas that are already under its jurisdiction.
Zulu is also worried that even if he was to build a proper structure, it would not have much commercial value because of the informal nature of their settlement.
Illegal settlements have mushroomed in Zimbabwe, particularly in the major cities and towns, almost on a daily basis. Many people struggling with rentals flock to buy stands from so-called land barons despite the dangers.
The corrupt land barons allocate land in undesignated areas without any proper planning for amenities such as roads and schools.
This is a common feature in most urban areas but it has also spread to growth points and other rural business centres across Zimbabwe.
In many of these communities, there is no identifiable economic activity. People rely on a host of informal activities.
The spokesman for the Zimbabwe Union of Residents and Ratepayers’ Associations, Marvelous Khumalo, said: “There is no employment in the country. There is no meaningful economic activity in most of these areas and that is why the people are struggling to pay their rates to the local authorities.”
Economist, John Robertson, said the informal nature of most of the economic activities in the country adds other dangers which the residents may not be aware of.
Because the houses are built informally residents do not follow council by-laws in the construction of their houses and the building processes are not coordinated.
“Someone will come in, lay the foundation, someone else comes in, lays the bricks and yet another one does the roof and these are all separate informal workers and this work is not being recorded,” said Robertson.
He said such houses would inevitably face demolition at some point in time.
“Some of the houses are being built without the official planning approval by the city council to make sure that the houses are safe and have been built to the right standards and specifications. Most of these houses do not have planning permits and requisite licences. They have no approval. They have probably not been inspected and quite possibly some of them may collapse in the coming years,” he said.
Manyenyeni said there were at least 30 000 households in Caledonia, conceding that normalising a settlement of that size would need a lot of funding and technical skills.
Caledonia is under Goromonzi Rural District Council and was invaded by hordes of ZANU-PF activists, land barons and housing cooperatives a few years ago. The land barons parcelled out the stands without proper urban and infrastructure planning.