Zimbabwe has a long but sad history of demolishing houses designated as illegal with the hallmark being the May 2005 government-led Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order. The brutal exercise directly affected 700 000 people and 2,4 million others indirectly, according to the United Nations (UN).
The urban clean-up exercise had far-reaching consequences on the populace with the UN condemning the act as a “disastrous venture” and in violation of international law. Post-2005, the urban housing demolitions have become a continuum rather than episodic.
Several inhumane experiences of homes razed to the ground have been witnessed mainly in Harare and Chitungwiza for the past 15 years as desperate home-seekers stand accused of building on illegal land.
The reasons for these illegal settlements vary. Some families were duped by land barons bent on lining their pockets while others benefitted from dubious allocations by ambitious politicians aiming to build a powerbase. The latest demolition episode involves Chitungwiza Municipality which is planning to destroy 11 000 properties built on wetlands, railway servitudes, power wayleaves and sewer lines. A court order is still to be obtained to carry out the demolitions.
But questions abound as to who should shoulder the blame for the perennial problem. Politicians have on many instances shamefully hijacked crisis moments to score points as Zanu PF and the MDC-Alliance trade accusations and counter-accusations.
With the moribund economy as a result of nearly 40-years of misrule by the late former President Robert Mugabe, families are forced to secure alternative accommodation to escape astronomical rentals.
Notwithstanding a depressed economy and unprecedented high levels of corruption, residents have to play their part; adhere to city by-laws and do due diligence on land sale transactions to save their hard earned money. The housing backlog remains high at about 1,5 million with Harare alone contributing half a million.
There is no quick solution in sight despite several paper tigers such as the Own-Your-Home Scheme under the 2013-2018 ZimAsset, which set an ambitious target of servicing and providing 300 00 stands for residential house construction. The stands remain a pie in the sky.
Cabinet, in November 2020, approved a Zimbabwe National Human Settlements Policy with a chief objective to ease the housing and social amenities backlog in line with Vision 2030 and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. But with the high number of blueprints, Zimbabwe’s economy could be among the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) but lack of implementation has significantly stalled progress.
Thus, addressing the acute housing shortage in urban areas and attendant poverty stalking the rural folk requires more action than rhetoric. Both central government and local authorities have to put hands on deck to pull the populace out of the economic doldrums that have birthed sprawling illegal settlements.