Home » Business » Zimbabwe’s Housing Crisis Escalate

CLARA Mugonhiwa, whose backyard lodging was destroyed in Harare's Kuwadzana high density suburb during the 2005 Operation Murambatsvina, has been migrating from one informal settlement to another in search of a befitting accommodation for her eight-member family.

Mugonhiwa, a retired high school teacher finally settled at an illegal settlement called Kuwadzana Paddock where she built a two-roomed cottage.

For her, the past 11 years have been a tale of shattered dreams after being conned by several cooperatives, property developers and council officials as she sought to have a decent roof over her head.

Mugonhiwa is just one among 1,25 million Zimbabweans struggling to find accommodation in a country that boasts of vast tracts of open and derelict countryside.

Since the 2000 land reform programme, acres of land have been parceled out to mainly the elite in ZANU-PF.

But many Zimbabweans in urban areas are living in squalid squatter camps as government and local authorities struggle to provide adequate accommodation.

"I have struggled to get decent accommodation for over 10 years now. At my age, it is somewhat embarrassing to be looking for a place to stay with my family," lamented Mugonhiwa.

The 54-year-old widow says she has been on the Harare City Council (HCC) housing waiting list for many years and she is almost losing hope of ever owning a house in the capital.

Where Mugonhiwa now resides is a HCC cattle paddock on a wetland.

The area has since been condemned by the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing as illegal because the housing units there do not have requisite services befitting an urban location.

"I have heard of talk that this place is not suitable for housing, but we only have to wait and see what will happen," said Mugonhiwa.

Housing cooperatives, that have parceled out land in such areas like the Kuwadzana Paddock were singled out, at a recent conference on housing as a major factor driving corruption in the housing sector, with the Ministry of Local Government condemning outright, but offering little solutions to the crisis.

Speaking to the Financial Gazette, secretary in the Ministry of local Government, George Mlilo, blasted housing cooperatives saying they have become a law unto themselves.

"They have failed to play their role. We are not comfortable with what they are doing, so we might have to go back to the old ways of servicing stands and then we call them to put up houses," fumed Mlilo.

"Some of these areas were left out because they are wetlands, but cooperatives just go in and build. This is very illegal," said Mlilo.

Asked what action government was taking to control the situation, Mlilo relegated the task to the local authorities.

"We are calling upon the local authorities to take charge of the land. They should not turn a blind eye to things of that nature, because they subsequently become a national hazard," said Mlilo.

Zimbabwe Property Developers Association president, Nhamo Tutisani, however, argued that tagging land developers as corrupt was a desperate move by local authorities and government to drive them out of business.

"Saying land developers steal money is a jealous way of getting us out of business," said Tutisani.

Ever since the Zimbabwe government displaced some 800 000 people during the 2005 Operation Murambatsvina it has failed to bring back normalcy to the country's housing sector.

Government's failure is highlighted by the surge in the growth of slums like Caledonia and Hopely.

Housing projects such as Garikai/Hlalalani Kuhle and Homelink could not rise to the occasion due to high levels of corruption.

Apart from irregularities in the local government system and bureaucracies, lack of finance for housing projects has been another major factor that has militated against aspiring home ownership in Zimbabwe.

President of the Zimbabwe Housing Financiers Association, Felix Gwandekwande, said high interest rates are a major stumbling block to many home seekers acquiring loans to develop stands.

"Interest rates are high and this is a major factor working against the development of housing projects Zimbabwe. But as an association, we have been working with our members to get cheap finances," Gwandekwande told the Financial Gazette.

With many local financial institutions struggling to provide affordable finance for housing, the housing sector has been forced to seek offshore finance.

Shelter Afrique business development director, Femi Adewole, said his organisation, with a presence in various African countries, had spent US$50 million in Zimbabwe through lending to banks for mortgages.

"Over the last six years we have had fruitful partnerships with various organisations in Zimbabwe," Adewole said.

Shelter Afrique, which has been working with BancAbc, FBC and CBZ said it lends money for mortgages, but will soon work with private land developers to service stands.

"We finance local banks, we give them money and they give it to their clients through mortgages, but we want to work with developers who are building directly in Zimbabwe, because we have not yet done much in this particular area," said Adewomi.

Source: Financial Gazette.