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Statement on the demolition of houses
Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA)
November 08, 2013

This statement by Residents’ Associations in Harare and surrounding rural regions addresses the recent announcements by the Minister of Local Government that they intend to demolish ‘illegal’ housing structures in different parts of the country’s urban areas which go against the Zanu-PF promises in its election manifesto which promised people housing for all and a guarantee on property rights. Minister Ignatius Chombo came into office on a Zanu-PF ticket and is the custodian of the housing ministry and its governing policies.

There are serious issues surrounding the policy announcements by the Minister of Local government, Dr Ignatius Chombo, affecting livelihoods of hundreds of urban residents, and also the implementation of other development policies in the country. Firstly, it is important to note that urban poverty in Zimbabwe is a manifestation of dis-synchronization and failure of national economic and development policies. When the state fails to create enough jobs or housing for its citizens in both rural and urban areas, people are pushed against the wall, and the construction of the so-called illegal structures becomes a necessity rather than a norm.

A significant and growing number of the poor have neither a job nor a source of income to take care for themselves or their dependants. This sets a precedent for crime illegal social activities. When cities are not supported by sustainable resource bases to provide jobs and incomes, urban poverty becomes prevalent. On the other hand, the 65% who live in rural areas are struggling with conflicting relations of production whereby they lack security of tenure and are uncertain about their future livelihoods. People in rural areas can therefore not invest in their own housing because there is no security for that investment. In the midst of these developments Local Councils in rural regions within the vicinity of urban areas are reportedly seizing land from communal farmers, without following any protocol of consultation or compensation, for the development of urban housing schemes. Displacement not only worsens poverty; it also deepens conflicting relations of production.

The important consideration for any household is to ensure that their family has a roof over their heads, in addition to water, food and clothing. Recent policy pronouncements in this regard are driven more by prerogatives of legality or otherwise, rather than fundamental human needs for shelter. In the final analysis it is important to consider that it is actually not a crime to build a shack in an urban area, because the overriding concern will be for someone and his or her family to have a roof over their heads first, before they can start looking for water, food and clothing. Therefore the mushrooming of squatter camps in urban areas in Zimbabwe reflects, rather, not the criminal intent of the constructors, but a fundamental human need which is also endorsed in our new Constitution.

According to the Poverty Datum Line in Zimbabwe (2011/12) by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency ZIMSTAT, Harare has a very high prevalence of urban poverty, at 36%, but still comparable to Bulawayo’s 35%. These figures reflect a trend in SADC and other developing countries. Many countries in SADC region struggle with the phenomenon of urban poverty and homelessness. But quite often misguided politically inspired solutions have worsened the situation of poor people, who end up having their shelters destroyed by reckless politicians and administrators who have no appreciation of local governance values.

Then there are considerations of ethics and standards. For more than 10 years local Council administrators watched while poor urban residents struggled to invest their hard earned money into simple houses in the fringes of the cities. No action was taken. The Ministry of Local Government then sprang into action after completion of the building structures. Could they not have acted swiftly, earlier, before these investments by the poor were made, out of a spirit of empathy and responsibility for these poor people? There is also the issue of timing. The middle of the rainy season is surely not a good timing to dislodge poor people from housing structures they thought they could call their homes. This means policy consistency is at risk. Procedurally, policy administrators discuss with people who should be affected, or who should benefit from intended policies. There should be dialogue which covers details of relocation, compensation and associated costs. Granted that the Ministry of Local Government considers its targets as criminals, they most probably found justification not to consult. But then there are also serious social and political risks associated with this course of action.

We implore the Ministry of local government public works and national housing to reconsider its position. We are more concerned on the underlying push factors which cause residents to behave in the way they did. In short this is symptomatic of a slanted socio-economic environment in which citizens find it hard to manoeuvre their way to address their livelihoods in a sustainable way. The minister should engage these poor communities rather than brew an irreparable disaster in our communities. Demolition of houses provides a fertile ground for conflict in the community and to that end there is need to avert unwanted situations through dialogue or provision of a reparations scheme. This has to be addressed on a case-by-case basis because allocation of stands is now being done from different fronts with some political parties now allegedly involved in recommending allocations.


Issued by:

  • Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA)
  • Simukai Goromonzi (S.G)
  • Harare Residents Alliance (HARA)
  • Epworth Residents Development Association (ERDA)
  • Chitungwiza Residents and Ratepayers Association (CHIRA)
  • Chitungwiza Residents Trust (CHITREST)

Visit the CHRA fact sheet

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