Housing Demolitions in Budiriro not the Solution

The Harare Residents’ Trust (HRT) denounces the ongoing demolition of houses in Budiriro. A humanitarian crisis is upon us and requires a purely humane response. On 3 December 2020, the City of Harare, with the help of the police, and armed with demolition orders, demolished 143 houses, leaving an estimated 715 people homeless. Although the HRT does not support building on illegal land, it opines that demolishing houses is and will never be the solution. The government, together with the local authority should look at the bigger picture and tackle the root problem of housing shortages. The repeat illegal allocations and demolitions of people’s homes will be with us for a long time to come if local authorities do not address housing delivery and service land. Ultimately, the human rights of the citizens will continue to be violated while the corrupt keep getting away without being punished.

Several factors are leading to the never-ending illegal land sales. One of the main reasons is citizens’ desperation to acquire housing stands. There is a huge housing backlog, which is fuelling desperation among the citizenry and exposing them to land barons and corrupt officials in local authorities and central government. This desperation clouds them and in the end, they do not verify whether the land they will be receiving is legal or not. A few who are aware of the illegalities surrounding the land sales also give in to desperation and they receive assurance from political figures that their houses will be regularised. It is therefore insensitive to lay the blame on the vulnerable citizens to the extent of demolishing their houses at a time rains have started falling.

The corruption is worse in land allocations as estate agents, land barons, council management, town planners, councillors, and central government officials are using the desperation of home seekers to manipulate systems and make more money for themselves in the process. For example, Tembwe Housing Cooperative secured land in Budiriro in 2010 through the council officials, and obtained certificate of incorporation as a housing cooperative. They allocated land to their members. However, in 2014, an identified council Town Planner Priscilla Charumbira allegedly demanded that they pay US$45 000 in order to have their housing stands regularised. Council allegedly wrote their names down, and assured the stand owners that their stands would be regularised. However, things changed after they refused to pay the US$45 000. Charumbira allegedly initiated through identified proxies to establish Events Housing Cooperative and offered it the same land as Tembwe Housing Cooperative.

Events Housing Cooperative however does not have separate land. The impact of this conflicted situation is that Tembwe Housing Cooperative members had their houses demolished on a court order issued against Events Housing Cooperative, which however does not have houses on the disputed land. The HRT therefore urges the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and responsible authorities to fully investigate how this situation obtained.

The demolition of houses belonging to residents in Budiriro will have severe social, economic and psychological impacts to the victims. A majority of the victims come from very poor socio-economic backgrounds and their social capital is very low. A majority of the houses were built using pension funds, savings and other investments saved over a long time. Demolishing people’s houses without a critical consideration of their position on the sustainable livelihoods scale will make it more difficult for the victims to escape from poverty. Following a Human Rights Based Approach, the state is obligated to protect, promote and safeguard the human rights of all its citizens, including those living with disabilities, the sick, children and senior citizens. However, these demotions demonstrate that the state has abandoned its constitutional obligations and is therefore failing to offer security to its vulnerable citizens. Household economies are going to be shattered after the demolitions, and this will put pressure on the already depressed society due to the fluid state of the economy. Stress levels among the affected citizens are going to shoot up, severely damaging the psychological and mental wellbeing of victims. Women and children will suffer the most. Pregnant women, the chronically ill and the very poor are exposed to the current harsh weather conditions and children’s studies have definitely been affected. The demolitions have done more harm than good.

According to Sociologists, Emile Durkheim and Louis Wirth of the Chicago School of Urban Sociology, cities are based on organic solidarity where social order is based on social differences, impersonality, and declining social significance of the family. The nature of today’s society exposes the demolition’s victims to absolute poverty. People are too individualistic and victims are being exposed without anyone to help them. They cannot look up to the government because the national social security system is also in shambles. Accordingly, demolitions do not offer any solution but rather cement poverty and hopelessness among the citizenry. Demolitions are evidence of the chaotic housing
delivery system.

The Harare Residents’ Trust recommends the following as the best way to deal with this issue:

  • Regularise all the houses not built on wetlands. Make the house owners pay the price for not following the law in acquiring their houses. Postpone all demolitions until the end of the rainy season.
  • Bring to account all known corrupt land dealers, Councillors, council managers, land barons, estate agents, central government officials and politicians for their transgressions. They have to be arrested, prosecuted, and if convicted, their assets acquired from illegal land sales, should be used to compensate the victims of housing demolitions.
  • The City of Harare should have an electronic housing waiting list to enable transparent land allocations for housing developments.
  • Only the Council should be responsible for selling council land, and the land must be serviced. In addition, all the land must be held in a land bank so that it is known beforehand. Land barons and estate agents should be eliminated from the land allocation system. The land barons are known. Investigations should uncover how they acquire land. Authorities should have empathy. While the HRT agrees that the rule of law must be upheld, the victims of a weak housing delivery system should not be treated with cruelty and in an inhumane manner, in particular when the weather is unfavourable. The corrupt elites, to punish the weak and marginalised members of society, are using the law.
  • Illegal housing developments should not be tolerated.
  • Houses built on wetlands should be demolished, and victims allocated alternative land at their expenses.
  • Victims deserve to be offered alternative land from where they can legally build their houses.

Source: Harare Residents’ Trust (HRT)