Housing:  Fighting poverty through shelter Honourable Garwe

Elliot Ziwira Senior Writer
“We can start with housing, the sturdiest of footholds for economic mobility. A national affordable housing programme would be an anti-poverty effort, human capital investment, community improvement plan, and public health initiative all rolled into one,” so reasons sociologist Matthew Desmond.

Because it is a basic need, housing is a necessity recognised as a basic human right. Shelter is considered one of the effective indicators of the extent to which poverty has been eradicated in any country (Martin et al, 2015).

As Zimbabwe turns 40 on April 18, 2020, it is imperative to reflect on how colonial Rhodesia’s discriminatory laws impoverished black people by depriving them of shelter for close to a century, and how Independence corrected such anomalies, for housing is the starting point in the fight against poverty.

The historical imbalances tracking back to September 12, 1890 when the so called Pioneer Column, at the behest of the imperialist Cecil John Rhodes, hoisted the Union Jack on Harare Hill, divested the indigenous people not only of arable land, but title to urban settlement.

Collective wisdom informs that a man’s worth is determined by the way he treats his family, and that includes provision of a roof over their heads; a roof that they can inherit and call their own. Hunger, ruggedness, metaphorical and literal nakedness, may be debilitating for any man in his effort to keep his family satiated, but if he is to be a father and husband, he has to provide reliable shelter for his wife and children.

True, as the sociologist Desmond avers, there is no lack that beats the poverty of homelessness, which is why the Government of Zimbabwe’s commitment to provide affordable housing for its citizens since 1980 through the Ministry of Local Government and Housing under Dr Eddison Zvobgo, now the Ministry of Housing and Social Amenities, is worth celebrating, especially so as the nation’s 40th anniversary approaches.

The Ministry of National Housing and Social Amenities, which came into being in 2019, is headed by Honourable Daniel Garwe, deputised by Honourable Yeukai Simbanegavi with Engineer Silibaziso Chizwina as the Permanent Secretary.

The ministry’s mandate is to promote and facilitate urban and rural development through provision of modern housing and social amenities in line with national Vision 2030 which seeks to achieve middle income status by that year.

The Ministry of National Housing and Social Amenities aims to formulate and monitor implementation of sustainable national housing and social amenities policies in urban and rural areas for inclusive and sustainable development as well as develop and implement strategies that ensure their development in consultation with appropriate ministries and other stakeholders.

The ministry plays a facilitative role in the provision and maintenance of affordable housing and social amenities infrastructure, such as housing, clinics, schools, dip tanks, roads, bridges, piped potable water supply schemes, rural electrification and sporting and recreation facilities, in urban and rural areas through coordination and mobilisation of communities. It also develops and implements programmes that promote integration of housing and social amenities facilities, and cultivates frameworks that align with international protocols and conventions.

To achieve its mandate, the ministry facilitates the mobilisation of resources for the implementation of housing and social amenities in urban and rural areas, including Public-Private Partnerships models and coordination of the Rural Housing Delivery Programmes.  It also administers the Rent Board with the view to enforce regulations for residential accommodation.

As part of its obligation, the ministry develops, manages and maintains Government housing and residential estates; develops and monitors national housing demand database; manages and monitors municipal housing demand database and coordinates the allocation of housing in accordance with policy and facilitates the processing of title deeds.

It is the responsibility of the ministry to develop and monitor housing allocation criteria for all local authorities; acquire and manage land for urban and rural settlement development and prepare and implement model housing plans for such settlements as well as guide their siting and classification.

With the aid of its regulatory framework, the ministry endeavours to develop and ensure compliance to national housing and social amenities standards.

Taking a glimpse into the colonial legacy
History recalls that the colonial apparatus of plunder, oppression, injustice and subjugation which robbed black people of their right to land, was hinged on the illusion of racial superiority propagated by Rhodes — the chief proponent of British imperialism in Africa.

The Land Apportionment Act of 1931, amended 60 times, and the Native Land Husbandry Act of 1951, separated land between black and white ownership, with whites getting the richer half despite their being in the minority. And about 700 000 black families were driven into rocky and arid reserves (Ranger, 1985, De Waal, 1990, Martin and Johnson, 1981).

Gwayi and Shangani reserves were created for the Ndebele in 1894, the major reason for the 1896 uprisings.

Driven to urban areas as a result of oppressive laws that offered them scanty opportunities in rural areas, as the dry and arid land refused to yield, blacks saw the elixir in towns, also a creation of settler capital.

Since the city was not meant to be a permanent abode for them, blacks who migrated to urban areas in droves soon found themselves stranded on no man’s land. They had to grapple with accommodation issues and restrictive laws like the Native Passes Act of 1937 which required them to register at the so called Native Office upon entry into urban areas. To obtain the passes, they had to be guaranteed by their white employers, and without the passes they could not live in towns or cities. Such places were for white Rhodesians.

Through the Land Apportionment Act, Rhodesians created sanctuaries for their lot where blacks were not allowed in, unless they were certified labourers, nannies or maids. Indians, Asians and coloureds had areas allocated to them as well.

To mitigate the challenge posed by the influx of blacks into towns to sweat it out in factories as labourers, a hostel system was developed. As Gotora (2020) points out, such hostels were constructed in Mbare, Makokoba and Sakubva.

The hostels, which were built close to factories, exposing blacks to soot, were however, not meant for couples. Women were not allowed in, thus, married blacks were separated from their wives for periods of time since they had to remain in the rural areas where they had to eke it out on barren soils.

With the growth of colonial, capital demand for accommodation surged, hence, African townships intended for families, like Highfield, Kambuzuma, Mpopoma, Seke, St Mary’s, Chinotimba, Rimuka, Amaveni and Mucheke were born.

However, social amenities like schools and clinics were limited. Only beer halls were conspicuous as they were all over the townships.

The introduction of a bus system, Salisbury United, was meant to close the transport gap created by the townships.

Gotora (2020) points out that blacks were closed out of housing finance programmes set up for whites. The Building Societies Act (24:02) of 1965 gave exclusive access to mortgage finance to white colonists. Blacks had to contribute towards their accommodation needs through a punitive rental system. To keep blacks hooked to the capitalist machinery, some employers constructed houses for their employees, but they had to contribute on a monthly basis years on end without any hope of ever owning them. Some rented the houses from their employers and local authorities.

Premising the journey on collective Vision
The Government of Zimbabwe’s major task with regards to homeownership was to repeal colonial legislation. The first port was to compel councils to cede ownership of houses to sitting tenants on a 25-year repayment period. The policy benefited 90 percent of blacks who were renting council houses, which guaranteed them property rights and security of tenure after acquiring title deeds to them.

The title deeds empowered blacks as they could use them to access mortgage financing from building societies, previously a preserve for whites, to extend the matchbox houses, designed to put them in their place as Africans.  In addition, as Gotora (2020) notes, thanks to Independence, for the first time, blacks were issued with Leases with Option to Purchase (LOP).

Housing waiting lists councils were compelled to introduce to aid them in determining demand and allocation of housing in sequential manner, evened the playing field for blacks. The Government also reviewed the Housing Standards Control Act which gave guidelines on the minimum building standards for decent housing. The Act opened up opportunities to private players in the provision of housing for low-income earners.

The standard for low-cost housing is 50-squares on 200 or 250 square metre lots, which is considered socially acceptable. The Government amended the Housing and Building Act in 1982, and as a result a number of funds were established to act as Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) for development (Gotora, 2020).

These funds are:
The National Housing Fund (NHF): This Fund benefitted local authorities through provision of loans and grants for housing infrastructure development and construction. The Fund, which also availed loans for rural housing between 1982 and 1995, was directly financed by the Government through Treasury.

The Housing and Guarantee Fund (HGF): The Fund allowed would-be homeowners to borrow from building societies through provision of a Government guarantee. Under this Fund, civil servants got a 100 percent guarantee and those not in Government employ were guaranteed 90 percent.

The Central Rates Funds (CRF): This Fund was set aside for the development of settlements like Growth Points and district service centres in rural areas.

The General Development Loan Fund (GDLF): Rural District Councils (RDCs) benefitted from this Fund through access to loans and grants.

The Housing and Building Act also paved way for the enactment of the Rent Control Regulations, leading to the formation of the Rent Board. The Board which is administered by the Ministry of National Housing and Social Amenities, is a tribunal that arbitrates over disputes between landlords and tenants (the lessor and lessee).

Between 1984 and 1993 the World Bank provided a $43 million Urban Development Loan to Zimbabwe, which was aimed at easing pressures that come with urbanisation as the country transited to self-rule.

The project proved that Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) work as the building societies involved, chief among them the Central Africa Building Society (CABS), delivered through coming up with favourable conditions for low-income earners with the support of the central bank.

n collaboration with the World Bank and USAID, the Government of Zimbabwe introduced a programme for infrastructure facelift in urban areas between 1986 and 2000.

The programme was implemented in two phases; Urban 1 which was effected between 1986 and 1988, and Urban 2 executed between 1988 and 1997.

Urban 1’s focus was the capacitation of local authorities to enable them to provide bulk infrastructure. Manpower training and skilled staff retention programmes were also key under this phase, so was plant and equipment acquisition. According to Gotora (2020), most local authorities benefitted through expansion of sewer treatment works, plant and equipment as well as vehicle fleets.

Urban 2 endeavoured to prop up capacity building of councils as a successor to Urban 1; extend loans to local authorities for the provision of bulk infrastructure; make the most of private players’ involvement in urban housing and offer assistance in the development of regional schemes dedicated to smaller towns and growth centres.

This period saw a marginal dominance of site and service programmes on the housing scene, with the Government in the driving seat and the private sector playing a complementary role as contractors and housing providers. Many employers also became noticeable in the provision of housing during the Urban 2 phase.

During this period, flats were constructed in Budiriro 2, Seke B, Willowvale, Mufakose, Marimba, Mabelreign (Odzi and Zambezi flats), Dzivarasekwa Extension, Tynwald and Tafara (Harare), Third Street (Gweru), Dombotombo (Marondera)  and Florida in Mutare.

The Pay for Your House Scheme later became Access to Homeownership Scheme where aspirant homeowners contributed through building societies and not the Government. Founders Building Society and Beverly Building Society became active players during this period.

The National Housing Policy came into being in 2000. Many stakeholders were involved, unlike in the past when only policymakers were the key players (Gotora, 2020).

In 2000 there was a policy shift which saw the birth of the National Housing Policy after wider stakeholder consultation, instead of having policymakers giving pronouncements or sending circulars as policies.

The Ministry of National Housing and Social Amenities is guided by conventions on human settlement. Guided by the Habitat Agenda II from the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat), the Government of Zimbabwe convened the maiden National Housing Convention in October 1997 in Victoria Falls, where many stakeholders deliberated on housing matters.

The 2000 National Housing Policy, drafted in 1999 was guided by the 1997 Convention.

To alleviate housing challenges Government roped in private land developers and housing cooperatives. The National Housing Delivery Programme 2004-2008, a five-year strategy pivoted on Land Acquisition, Land Use Planning, Servicing (offsite and onsite), Stand Allocation, and Building Plan and Construction of Dwellings, was introduced to that effect.

Between 2010 and 2015, housing cooperatives constructed 99 840 houses for members of which 46 267 were at various stages of completion.

The housing cooperatives initiative saw seven such schemes getting title deeds by 2016 in Harare alone. These are Mupedzanhamo in Glen Norah with 800 members, Three Stars in Glen View with 40 members, Kambuzuma in Kambuzuma with 101 members, Mufakose in Budiriro 1 with 70 members, Sunshine in Crowborough with 71 members, Rutendo in Budiriro with 43 members and New Generation in Dzivarasekwa with 15 members.

After the demolition of illegal settlement across the country in 2005, Government introduced Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle to shelter those affected by the operation.

Core houses were built under Phase 1. As demand increased Government moved to Phase 2 where land was allocated to cooperatives under the Aided-Self Help Schemes with beneficiaries mobilising their own resources towards the construction of their houses.

The National Housing Policy in use today came into effect in 2012 following the National Housing Convention of 2009.

Through Private-Public Partnerships (PPPs) houses were constructed in Sunway City (Harare) in and Chikanga (Mutare), Lower Paradise (Marondera), Mbizo 22 (Kwekwe) and Parklands (Bulawayo) between 2011 and 2012. Housing units were also constructed in Nemanwa (Masvingo) and Murereki (Makonde) between 2019 and 2020.

High rise flats were also constructed in Tafara between 2012 and 2019.

It is beyond argument that “decent, affordable housing should be a basic right for everybody,” because “without stable shelter, everything else falls apart” (Matthew Desmond).

Therefore, as Zimbabwe’s 40th birthday draws close,  it is worthwhile to celebrate Government’s efforts in the provision of shelter to Zimbabweans through the Ministry of National Housing and Social Amenities, as a progressive way of eradicating poverty, as enshrined in Vision 2030.

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