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Demolitions will not make for government planning deficiency: Chitekwe-Biti
Nelson Sibanda, The Zimbabwean
November 11, 2013

Government demolitions of the so called illegal structures will not compensate for poor planning and inability by responsible authorities to provide shelter for the homeless, said the executive director with Dialogue on Shelter in Zimbabwe Trust, Berth Chitekwe-Biti.

The Zanu-PF Government has started pulling down ‘illegal’ structures in Ruwa and will soon be in Chitungwiza and Seke rural, where some 25, 000 houses constructed without council approval would be demolished.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Zimbabwean after a panel discussion on The Future History and Economics of Urban Zimbabwe in Harare recently, Chitekwe-Biti, said the demolitions where as a result of government denial that unauthorised structures could not be wished away, until responsible authorities have provided land for the needy.

She called on local authorities and government to accept the reality and change methods of dealing with such a crisis.

Government was reminded that its 2005 Operation Murambatsvina sent signals that where a single house is demolished, two would mushroom in a short space of time.

According to Chitekwe-Biti, illegal settlements could not be blamed for the cholera epidemic which hit Chitungwiza, Harare and other parts of the country in 2008, since the outbreak affected mainly the formal and legal settlements.

Most of the houses targeted for demolition came into being as a result of political patronage.

Aspiring Zanu-PF election candidates settled unsuspecting party supporters in unauthorised areas to boost their political support.

Other structures facing demolition belong to members of housing cooperatives and individuals.

“Besides political patronage, the settlements were caused by a dysfunctional and corrupt local authority land allocation system,” said Chikwete-Biti.

She said demolishing people’s shelter was a failed solution to the problem and one of the effective remedies, would be for local authorities to regularise the settlements while working on permanent solutions.

Women would be affected most by the demolitions as they made the majority of housing cooperatives’ membership.

Misplaced priorities were partly blamed for the land crisis as some urban authorities would swap vast tracts of residential land for cars with land barons.

Land barons would in turn sell the land to desperate home-seekers at exorbitant prices.

The departure of people with institutional memories of how planning was done in local authorities was bemoaned.

It was noted that high demand for land in urban areas was not only as a result of the rural- urban migration, but partly caused by local authorities’ failure to provide shelter for growing city families.

Development of rural areas was described as not remedy enough for containing urban population growth, since demand for shelter in cities would continue to rise as people realised that urban areas were a hub of innovations around politics, economic growth among other attractions.

A participant at the forum noted that the demolitions exposed government lack of a frame of reference, policy balance and that it was shooting from the hip to solve the ‘illegal settlement’ crisis.

He said the resultant displacement of people through the demolitions would only help de-capitalise and de-professionalise the city, since the victims were sources of local authorities’ revenue through payment of bills and also provided human resources.

“Cities cannot be recapitalised by displacing the poor,” said the participant who refused to be identified.

He expressed suspicion that the demolitions could be as a result of government fears that people in cities could organise themselves and protest against a failed administration.

The rural-urban migration was partly blamed on government failure to genuinely empower rural communities.

Some rural communities said they were yet to benefit from government indigenisation schemes, since the powers that be would only distribute food handouts on partisan grounds, without tangible developmental projects on the ground.

Government was challenged to revive affordable housing projects for the needy urban dwellers like what Ian Smith did in Rhodesia from the 1970s to 1980.

Chitekwe-Biti who started working with evicted families in holding camps in 1998 said, inconsistent government policies regarding relocation of displaced people affected developmental capacities of affected families.

Demolition of houses impact negatively on people’s investments while pulling down of business structures such as tuck shops would destroy livelihoods of affected families.

Without shelter, workers would not be able to keep their jobs while children will be thrown out of school.

Observers said if government carry out the demolitions as promised, it would be temporarily transferring a problem from one area of a city to another.

Dialogue on Shelter for the Homeless in Zimbabwe Trust works with some organised 52, 000 disadvantaged families across the country.

Among its objectives, the organisation facilitates dialogue between communities and their local authorities.

It assists communities create saving schemes among themselves and organise families’ security with local authorities to enable communities live normal lives.

“The majority of people we work with are women who happen to be heading most households and informal workers.

“They have no security of tenure and consequently denied basic rights such as participation in processes to do with local authority budgets, elections among others, due to lack of permanent residence,” said Chitekwe-Biti.

Zimbabwe Dialogue of Shelter is an affiliate of Shack/Slam Dwellers International.

Federations of the urban poor that make up the SDI network work towards ensuring that the poor living in cities have access to land, services, shelter and economic opportunities.

At international level, SDI serves as a platform for allowing representatives of organised urban poor constituencies to speak directly with decision-makers in major international organisations and forums.

In Zimbabwe, Dialogue on Shelter, is in the final stages of negotiating the terms of a citywide fund with the city of Harare.

The fund is a practical financial instrument reflective of the partnership between the Zimbabwe SDI alliance and the city, creating shared, political and financial responsibility for slum upgrading.

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