Sekai Bhamu, a twenty -nine year old mother of two school boys Nyasha (9), and Simba (12) lives in Nyatsime Phase 4 location, an informal settlement established across the Nyatsime river from Chitungwiza. Her two kids attend school in Chitungwiza and they rely on battered down Kombis for transport to and from school. The opening of schools in January 2017 coincided with the onset of torrential rains in Zimbabwe and for Sekai and her family; the joy of owning the roof over their heads turned into an ordeal.
Three days into the new school year, the makeshift bridge over the Nyatsime river which served as the only direct link between Nyatsime and Chitungwiza was submerged by the raging flash floods, leaving dozens of school children from Nyatsime stranded in Chitungwiza. The alternative route adopted by transport operators servicing the route used the bridge on Masvingo road- turning a twelve kilometre round trip from Chitungwiza to Nyatsime into a forty five kilometre journey and the bus fare multiplied from half a dollar into two dollars.
When she heard the news, Sekai frantically tried to contact the school teachers about the whereabouts of her kids before joining other parents at the flooded bridge- hoping and praying that it will subside before sunset so that they could reunite with their children across the river. Their hopes were dashed by another heavy downpour at sunset and they frenetically pooled $3 and organised a minibus to take them to Chitungwiza using Masvingo road.
Sekai only reunited with her two children- who had sheltered in the bus terminus at Zengeza 3 shops- late in the evening and she was forced to pay another $5 for their trip back home by enterprising conductors seeking to profit from the residents’ misery. Her children were unable to attend school the following days as the river remained in flood while she could not afford bus fares for them to take the round trip to school via Masvingo road.
Sekai’s predicament mirrors that of many other families living in informal settlements located on the periphery of the town of Chitungwiza. These unplanned peri-urban settlements have multiplied and grown over the years and now accommodate a sizable population after mushrooming in the run-up to the watershed 2013 General elections. Ruling party politicians, eager to make inroads in the opposition’s urban strongholds- initiated and sponsored the informal residential areas as a way of creating enclaves of partisan support that will dilute the opposition vote in urban areas. With the tacit acquiescence of high-ranking officials in central government, the settlements gained acceptance as a form of ‘political empowerment through access to housing land’ for the urban poor
The defining feature of these settlements is lack of basic urban infrastructure such as paved roads, bridges and storm water drains while most of them are built on wetlands and flood plains. When it rains heavily, the resultant flash floods inundate houses and roads become impassable- turning the residential areas into inhabitable swamps. The heavy rains also submerge makeshift bridges linking these settlements to Chitungwiza making the settlements inaccessible and cutting off residents’ access to social services such as schools and clinics.
The settlements do not have portable water and sewer reticulation systems and residents rely on groundwater accessed through wells sunk in their yards for water and use pit toilets for ablutions which poses a huge risk of contaminating the ground water due to proximity. The risk of contamination has been heightened by widespread flooding multiplying the risk of outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid which recently claimed the lives of two people and infected another 200 in Harare.
The peculiar history of these settlements is tainted with gross wholesale corruption and started in 2007 when the Chitungwiza Municipality which was then under the control of the notoriously corrupt and now convicted and incarcerated former Town Clerk Tendai Tanyanyiwa started selling housing stands for Nyatsime Housing scheme to the public. Prospective home-owners flocked to the head offices of the Municipality and paid astronomical sums of the then rapidly devaluing Zimbabwean dollar to purchase pieces of land on the understanding that their stands will be serviced with access roads, sewer and water reticulation infrastructure.
They were no concerns then about the legality of their purchases, after all they were dealing with the legitimate local authority and they were issued with proof of payment and stand numbers on official receipts bearing the logo the Chitungwiza Municipality. Most of the beneficiaries expected to be allocated their ‘stands’ within months of the purchases but the Municipality dithered as Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis climaxed and attention shifted to the political arena as the local government, parliamentary and presidential elections of 2008 approached.
2008 was a watershed year in Zimbabwean politics- the liberation party ZANUPF and its leader- President Mugabe lost elections for the first time since independence and declared a run-off election that turned into a chaotic and bloody farce which the opposition boycotted. Political normalcy returned in 2009 with the formation of the government of National unity and the adoption of a multi-currency system that brought a semblance of economic stability in the country.
Frustrated by the local authority’s- two year delay to allocate them their stands, the prospective home-owners formed a pressure group to engage council and fast-track the allocation of stands under the Nyatsime housing scheme. The municipality response was to demand that residents pay a ‘top-up’ fee in United States dollars amounting to US$700 giving the pretext that the fees they had paid in Zimbabwean dollars in 2007 had been eroded by hyperinflation and they was need for funds to develop the area before people moved in.
For the second time, prospective home-owners paid for their stands and patiently waited for allocation and once again the Municipality failed them. The maverick Tanyanyiwa, who was then Town clerk of the Chitungwiza Municipality hid behind the pretext that central government was still to approve the Municipality’s application for expansion of Chitungwiza town by incorporating Dunnotar and Bremer farms which are on the other side Nyatsime river and were then, under the jurisdiction of the neighbouring Manyame Rural district council. This explanation for the delays in allocation, at least, gave hope to the aggrieved home-seekers as they now knew the proposed location of their housing stands.
Another two years went by before Central government approved the Chitungwiza municipality’s expansion plan in 2011, raising the hopes of those who had paid for housing stands under the Nyatsime housing scheme that they were soon to enjoy the joys of being landlords and home-owners. Their joy kept being deferred as the Municipality dragged its feet in developing the area, with the only noticeable development being the presence of land surveyors from the municipality.
Incensed by the continuous delays, the Nyatsime home-seekers invaded the proposed site of Nyatsime housing scheme and went on to allocate themselves housing stands, guided by the ‘pegs’ installed by the Municipality’s land surveyors. Their protest action was initially meant to be a temporary measure to force the authority to promptly develop and allocate to them the land they had paid for and had not received in four years. But as time went on, with the municipality’s response being to petition the courts for an eviction order, the settlement grew as the first group was joined by other aggrieved home-seekers.
The pressure group had metamorphosized into the Nyatsime Housing Development Association led by a democratically elected committee which assumed responsibility of the area’s planning and the allocation of stands to the newcomers. The committee began to sell and allocate residential and commercial stands to people who had not previously purchased stands from the municipality as they realized they was great demand for housing and saw an opportunity to corruptly enrich themselves. They justified such actions as a measure against forcible evictions; pointing out that they was security in numbers and the government was more likely to demolish ‘dozens of homes’ but would not sanction the demolition of ‘hundreds of homes’ .
The allocations of stands to people who had no proof of purchase from the Municipality diluted the case for the genuine home-seekers who had been swindled by the Municipality and the prosecution of the Town Clerk on charges of fraud and embezzlement added another twist to the matter as the new leadership at Chitungwiza municipality absolved itself of the responsibility of providing housing stands to those who had purchased stands under the Nyatsime Housing scheme in 2007 and 2009 claiming that they had been that defrauded by Tanyanyiwa- who was now incarcerated.
In 2012- a housing co-operative called Yemuranai Housing co-operative, headed by a man called Mariyana established its own scheme adjacent to the Nyatsime settlement and soon began to allocate housing stands to its members further complicating the identity and land tenure problems faced by residents of the rapidly developing area. The two controversial settlements now formed one contiguous urban slum which now stretched from the banks of the Nyatsime river to the housing compound for former farm workers at Dunnotar farm.
The looming 2013 elections brought some reprieve for the residents of the three-in-one settlement as the government stayed the execution of the eviction order obtained by the Chitungwiza municipality in a bid to curry favour with voters. To bolster their campaigns for political office, candidates aligned to the ruling party assured the residents that their homes will not be demolished and promised development.
The much anticipated elections have come and gone leaving ZANU PF entrenched in power but weighed down by a collapsing economy denying funding for social housing projects against high expectations and demand for low-income housing from the urban electorate. In its much vaunted ZIMASSET blueprint that formed the cornerstone of its 2013 election manifesto, the ruling party promised to create 300 000 housing units the majority of which were promised to low-income earners. Indications on the ground point a groundswell of public indignation against the party’s restrictive and corrupt practices which militate against the publicly declared pro-poor housing policies enunciated during election rallies in the run-up to 2013 elections.
Land tenure, housing developments, demolitions and forced evictions have become topical issues in Zimbabwe with policy uncertainty and changes exacerbating the unease, uncertainty and suffering of a growing number of people living in informal settlements.