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Zimbabwe Briefing - Issue 122
in Zimbabwe Coalition (SA Regional Office)
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settlements demolitions: City beautification versus livelihoods
November 7, 2013 government started
demolishing illegal settlements, beginning in the Ruwa District
on the eastern outskirts of Harare, after government officials had
already indicated that the demolition exercises would be carried
For anyone with an objective mind, it is undisputable that the proliferation
of illegal settlements in the urban centres of Zimbabwe if left
unchecked will slowly turn whole cities into unplanned settlements.
One would agree with the government that there is need to stop the
spread of illegal structures in urban areas, albeit with reservations
in the manner and timing at which demolitions are being carried
out to wipe out illegal settlements. The demolitions are happening
during the rainy season.
that is done without looking at the context and adjusting to it,
there is a danger of overlooking socio-economic realities in pursuing
the ideal of beautifying cities, leading to collateral damage in
the form of poor people’s livelihoods.
last time that the government carried out demolitions of illegal
settlements was under the auspices of Operation
Murambatsvina in 2005; where there was huge collateral damage
in the form of disruption of the already difficult livelihoods of
the urban poor.
led to condemnation of the exercise, on human rights grounds, by
the United Nations (UN) when it sent Human Settlements Special Rapporteur
Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka to assess the situation.
No doubt, that
there has been a link in the proliferation of illegal structures
to the unique and clear recent socio-economic circumstances of the
a decade of economic challenges beginning with the 1990’s
impoverishing Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) and
accelerated economic problems after 2000, poverty is endemic despite
the economy having slightly improved from 2008.
poverty among many people in the urban areas makes them unable to
construct proper houses, or pay rentals.
the government might have not provided enough housing land for prospective
house owners. This is true because, in some circumstances, the illegal
settlements are in the form of houses which would fit urban plans,
but built on land either not serviced by councils with roads, water
and sewer networks, or not set aside for settlement purposes.
This shows that
had adequate land been provided illegal settlers would have built
proper houses. In other words, the settlers have the resources to
build proper housing units, but cannot find land on which to construct
them and this might point to shortcomings by government in terms
of housing policy.
The lack of
housing land has also exposed these prospective house owners to
phony cooperatives in some cases created by politicians.
The above scenario
means that the government’s preoccupation with repeated demolition
of illegal settlements may be missing the point that there is need
to address the shortage of housing land, or lack of affordable accommodation,
than concentration on symptoms in the form of illegal settlements.
there is no excuse for breaking the law, there is clear socio-economic
justification and mitigating circumstances for some of the illegal
structures. More precisely, there is a clear trend of economic desperation
among the people whose structures are being targeted by the government.
most of the illegal structures destroyed
in Ruwa on Thursday, November 7 were makeshift business structures
such as tuck shops, workshops, barbershops and hair salons.
resorted to erecting the informal businesses structures due to lack
of opportunities in the formal economy, to escape the prevalent
poverty and high unemployment levels through illegal, but honest
means – honest as opposed to theft and burglary.
This is more
so given industry reports that 711 companies recently shut down
and more continue to do so; that instead of employment creation
in the economy, there are mounting retrenchments.
The trend is
also affecting parastatals with the National Railways Association
(NRZ) having recently proposed to a retrench 6000 employees, and
the job looses in the economy have been going on for years.
The result could
be that more people than in previous years cannot afford proper
urban housing and resort to illegal settlements, or have no alternative
means of income and resort to building illegal small business structures
to survive. Under the circumstances, one would conclude that the
demolition effort and its timing without proffering clear and timely
alternatives for illegal structure owners will destroy livelihoods.
is similar to the government’s fight against street vendors
and touts. The desire to clean and beautify the streets has clear
merits, but it is clashing with delicate socio-economic circumstances
and fragile livelihoods; what is required is a more creative and
thoughtful approach than peremptory application of the law.
One would think
that it is the timing which is wrong, because the affected people
have not had the opportunity to find alternative livelihoods as
the economy is still trying to recover, especially looking at the
informal business structures like makeshift tuck-shops, barbershops,
workshops and hair salons. One would also urge the government to
investigate and deal decisively with politicians accused of promoting
the spread of illegal structures, especially illegal housing units
for political mileage.
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