Historically the housing delivery process in Zimbabwe was dominated by Central Government, local authorities and building societies. Many people who have their houses today in the townships or in the middle density suburbs either bought them from council, government or from building societies. Others simply built their own houses.
Before independence, private companies such as CAPS in Glen Norah and Compania Du Pipeline Mocambique Zimbabwe (CPMZ) in Mutare built houses for their workers in high density suburbs. These flats or coal houses would be managed by council until the occupants finished paying for them normally after retirement. Houses were so abundant that my old parents have stories of how they cherry picked houses in the township. My father says they used to hop from house to another in their neighborhood. Such was the abundant of hoses in the high density suburb of Dangamvura in Mutare.
Another elderly man Mr Samupindi said “when we moved from Sakubva to Dangamvura friends and relatives were laughing at us”. There were so many houses in Sakubva such that people did not need to move to other new locations.
All you needed to do was to take your marriage certificate to the council and you would be given a house which you would pay off over 25 years. This is how most people who worked in Rhodesia acquired their homes. The purpose of this narrative is not to claim that the housing policy in Rhodesia was more progressive because the Rhodesian policies were designed to keep Africans out of urban areas to deny them economic opportunities offered in the urban areas.
At least the colonial system kept people out of the urban areas completely and did not seek to fleece them of their hard earned cash as we have witnessed under Mugabe’s rule.
It has become harder and less transparent to get housing in the urban areas nowadays. There is no clear information from council on how to get on their housing list. More over private companies in the country have not built low cost housing for their workers. Some banks and building societies have tried their best to build houses but these have been out of reach of most poor people.
In 1995 a National Housing Fund and Housing Guarantee Fund were set up as workers contributed part of their wages to the fund in the hope that the government would channel but the government diverted the fund to build VIP houses. Poor workers who had hoped to access housing under these schemes were left to lick their wounds after the money simply vanished.
Under this government there has been one housing scandal after the other. No one even knows what became of the Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle housing scheme that sought to build better houses for urban dwellers to replace the shacks that had been demolished under operation Murambatsvina.
Operation Murambatsvina exacerbated an already acute housing shortage that was being caused by government failure to respond to increasing urban populations. Without sufficiently providing alternative accommodation for those affected under Operation Murambatsvina government has embarked on more house demolitions claiming that the housing structures were built illegally.
These demolitions are a form of organised chaos whose purpose is to place desperate home seekers into perpetual vulnerability. The idea is to continue exploiting them financially and politically. We have a predatory government whose objective is to fleece its citizens through bogus housing initiatives. Disenfranchised by government slow pace in providing housing, impatient urban dwellers have resorted to building their own homes.
Under former Minister Ignatius Chombo the government adopted a deliberate policy to give land to private developers so that they would develop stands for home seekers to build their own homes. Under this new policy, land barons were allowed to form housing cooperatives that sold housing stands to thousands of people in the urban areas.
Ironically government and council have gone on spree to demolish many housing structures built through these cooperatives arguing that the houses either do not have proper plans or that were built on restricted land. In most cases home seekers bought their land from cooperatives being run by both ruling party and opposition party functionaries.
In a bid to gunner votes housing cooperatives were formed on political lines and many of them claimed land for themselves in areas that were earmarked for other purposes such as schools and clinics. Some of the land barons took farms in the peripheries of the city and sold the land to home seekers. Curiously council did not make any effort to warn residents that they were being defrauded.
Buoyed by the rhetoric of government to empower people, many took to buying these stands. In the majority of the cases cooperatives were owned by party officials including members of parliament. Many people who bought these stands genuinely thought that government’s policy was to provide stands through these developers and cooperatives
The destruction of homes in the last few months therefore is a reflection of a poor housing policy being pursued by this government. These cooperatives mushroomed in line with a government policy that sought to put the responsibility of servicing stands on private developers. The same government has now turned against home seekers and ordered the destruction of their homes.
After winning elections through some of these housing initiatives the ruling party has now betrayed its supporters. For example in Harare South where Shadreck Mashayamombe won on the back of these bogus housing cooperatives houses now face demolition. ZANU PF was able to penetrate into the urban areas on the promise of housing for urban dwellers.
The ruling party and the opposition party in charge of local authorities both tried to politicize housing in the urban areas. As a result land was parceled out on political grounds regardless of council by laws. There are stories of MDC Councillors in Chitungwiza who sold stands on land meant for schools.
For both those in the ruling ZANU PF and the opposition MDC the housing issue provided an opportunity to line their individual pockets. We hear of millionaires that were created overnight through these various housing schemes. Millionaires were created overnight as some were allowed to steal and sell state land with the protection of their various political parties.
Zimbabwe has a history of failed housing initiatives and in all cases poor home seekers have been duped while politically connected individuals have walked away richer. The country’s housing problems reflects a crisis in governance that has plagued the country since independence. This is evident in the recent demolitions of houses in the urban areas.