Zimbabwe fails to provide decent housing to citizens

Lovemore Lubinda|ZimNews.net

President Robert Mugabe has admitted that the country is struggling to arrest the ever rising housing backlog that currently stands at 1.25 million this comes amid revelations that the country’s constitution does not guarantee rights of shelter to its citizens.

Officially opening the National Housing conference held under the theme ‘Housing Resources and Investment Mobilisation Through Multi-stakeholder Participation for Sustainable Housing Delivery,’ in Harare a month ago, the President said though saddled by a huge backlog, his government is committed in finding immediate solution to the informal settlements where most of the poor reside, by pursuing models in the best interest of the people.

AFP PHOTO

In 2005, his government received a worldwide condemnation when it embarked on a brutal exercise of demolishing housing units that were said to have been built in contravention of by-laws without offering alternative accommodation.

The exercise that was code ‘named operation murambatsvina’, saw thousands of people being rendered homeless.

At the same time, legal officer at Veritas Kuda Hove says although it is the state’s duty to ensure that every person has access to adequate housing or shelter goes only as far as state resources allow. The country’s constitution does not give every Zimbabwean the right to shelter or housing, but, only in section 74 it guarantees freedom from arbitrary eviction, and the right to shelter is expressed in the negative.  No one may be evicted from their place of residence without a court order.

“In our constitution the right to shelter is guaranteed only to children, this is because section 19(2) (b) as well as section 81(1) (f) both list shelter as one of the rights that children must have access to.”

“The child’s right to shelter imposes upon parents or guardians a similar duty to provide children with shelter this is part of the family or parental care as required by section 81(1) (d) of the constitution,” he says.

A child is defined by the constitution as anyone under the age of eighteen (18) years. Section 19(2) (b) mandates the State to ensure that children are adequately sheltered this is also in line with section 44 of the constitution which imposes upon the State, the duty to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights and freedoms enshrined under the Declaration of Rights.

He called for the government to take a leaf from the South African constitution which unequivocally states that everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing, although realisation of this right depends on State resources.

Meanwhile, Doctor Cephas Mutami, Chairperson of the Department of Rural and Urban Development at Great Zimbabwe University said the provision of proper and affordable housing call for a unified effort.

He said the government is supposed to anvil suitable land, subsidise on construction materials, and where possible, upgrade and regularise informal settlements. Dr Mutami urged manufacturers of building materials to come up with technological innovations that reduce costs in the production of their products, so that many could benefit through affordable prices that can be passed to them as a result.

Dr Mutami said financial institutions have to offer tailor made transacting terms particularly on mortgages that are pro-poor. “Zimbabweans are now informally employed, but, if they can afford between US$60-120 (1 or 2 rooms) in rentals as is the case, then it means on good terms they can afford instalments,” he said.

The Rural and Urban development expert added that these dwelling units constructed without approved plans, are varied and a reflection of the socio-economic and cultural conditions in the respective areas. The majority of these buildings are made from materials which are naturally available in rural communities such as pole and dagga, untested bricks, with thatched roofs and constructed using indigenous skills and know-how.

Engineers Council of Zimbabwe (ECZ) president Martin Manhuwa, concurs with Mutami on the need for being innovative, deign low cost building technologies, and affordable alternative energy sources so that low earners could afford decent housing.

“Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which our country is part of can be achieved through sustainable buildings, cheaper and that are incorporated into the master plan,” he said.

According to the UN HABITAT, housing is one of those basic social conditions that determine the quality of life and welfare of people. Where homes are located, how well designed and built, and how well they are weaved into the environmental, social, cultural and economic fabric of communities are factors that, influence the daily lives of people, their health, security and wellbeing, and which, given the long life of dwellings as physical structures, affect both the present and future generations. Housing is therefore central to sustainable development.

The UN estimates that more than 200 million people in the Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) region will live in slums by 2020 (UN-Habitat 2014). It says slum populations are growing at 4.5 percent annually, a rate that is expected to double in 15 years. The expansion of the slums in Africa will be driven by migration and population growth, which will drive housing need, for both the current and anticipated future housing stock.

The habitat says most African countries are experiencing housing backlogs that need instant attention and measures if sustainable development goals are to be achieved.

Meanwhile, according to the World Bank’s Stocktaking of the Housing Sector in Sub-Saharan Africa,  Angola has a housing deficit of 2 million, Namibia 100 000, South Africa 2.1 million, Zambia 1.3 million, Zimbabwe 1.25 million, Tanzania 3 million while Nigeria has a 17 million housing deficit, these were just a few selected countries in the SSA region.

The World Bank pointed out that it is vital for policies enactment in the region that tries to harmonise the formal and informal sectors; and where possible to consider regularisation of the later. However, it indicated that this should be done in a way that would not encourage increased informal settlements as dwellers anticipate to be regularised.

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