Housing cooperatives, political symbols and corruption in urban land governance: The case of Zimbabwe


Corruption in Zimbabwe has permeated all sectors crucial to the political economy. The urban land sector is one of such that has been hard hit by political corruption. Although there is a growing body of work on urban land governance, challenges and corruption in Zimbabwe, there still remains a gap in research detailing on the drivers and impact of urban land corruption (see Chirisa et al 2015, Muchadenyika 2015 and 2016, Mutondoro 2016 and 2017, and Chiweshe 2017).

Transparency International Zimbabwe (TI Z), through its Land and Corruption Project in 2015, has since contributed towards citizen awareness and policy responses to urban land corruption in Zimbabwe. TIZ has done this through investing in a series of community meetings, policy dialogue, documentaries, and research reports on urban land corruption in Zimbabwe.

Corruption, in the context of urban housing, still occupies a peripheral role on the policy agenda, especially in terms of how the latter relates to key issues such as ease of doing business, opening Zimbabwe for business, and respect of human rights in the country.

One would wonder, then, why the state, even after the Mugabe resignation, hasn’t shown an increase in political will in responding more reactively to urban land corruption which continues to manifest; that, and being linked to noticeable and evident factors such as housing demolitions, land barons, illegal housing cooperatives, as well as multiple allocation of stands. While it is notable that Government has commissioned an inquiry into urban land irregularities (and this is currently underway) – and that in itself is a good starting point – there is also need for the realisation that there already are official documents indicating land irregularities from the Land Audit report on Chitungwiza, whose emerging issues the state could have taken action on.

More so, the state had the opportunity to take advantage of the Anti-Corruption Commission to prosecute incriminated land barons, therein. Instead, the state seems to be buying time and would likely take meaningful action after the July 30, 2018 elections.

The motive is simple – and it is what this paper seeks to demonstrate: that urban land in Zimbabwe is a crucial tool and asset for political patronage.

Controlling urban land and housing allows political actors to control and contain the outcome of elections.

In this paper an account of the dynamics around housing, cooperatives, and politics in Zimbabwe especially during the Mugabe era is provided. A highlight is put on how political symbols (such as names) and the political capital that such names carry have been used to legitimize illegality in the urban housing sector.

The working paper makes a case that the ruling party, knowingly, has committed various acts of corruption ranging from policy capture to rent-seeking behavior in the urban land sector for the sole purpose of retaining political power. The paper will conclude by sharing the worrying impact of corruption in the urban housing sector on investment and growth opportunities that global cities have come to offer today.

Source: Farai Mutondoro

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