Victims of Zim blitz struggle to build houses

Four years after her house was demolished in a blitz by Zimbabwe’s government, Chipo Chama still lives in a grass thatched shack struggling to find a better home for herself and her two children.

Though she is married to a builder, the 27-year-old housewife has rickety wooden planks for walls and covers her roof with plastic sheeting to keep out the rain in Harare’s Hatcliffe suburb—far from the neighbourhood where she used to live.

“Right now I don’t have a housing lot, but we are paying money to local co-operatives [to save for a down payment] so we may get lots to build houses,” Chama said.

And she is far from alone. According to official estimates, about two million Zimbabweans in this country of 12,2-million require accommodation.

In 2005, Chama had a sturdy brick and cement house with asbestos roofing, but the government bulldozed it, saying it was illegal and was not fit for human habitation.

The blitz, which was named Murambatsvina—meaning “Drive out filth”—left more than 700 000 people homeless and shattered the livelihoods of 2,4-million people whose small businesses were also destroyed by President Robert Mugabe’s government.

The police and the army gave only short notice to people to move their property from buildings slated for destruction, causing property losses estimated in millions of dollars.

Some now live in settings far worse than the homes that were razed, often without water, electricity or sewers, coping with harsh conditions made even more abject by the country’s economic straits.

The campaign was widely seen as an attempt to tamp out support for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which enjoys much of its support in Zimbabwe’s cities.

But since MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai joined a unity government with Mugabe in February, little has changed for the victims.

“The whole property I had was lost”
Chama says she lost property worth US$300—a huge sum in a country where per capita GDP was estimated at $200 last year.

Despite her loss, she hopes one day she will be able to find a lot to build a house for her family.

“I hope that in the years to come we will be able to build homes like in other surburbs,” Chama said.

Another victim of Murambatsvina, builder John Chitawa (49) told Agence France-Presse that his life has never been the same after his property and little belongings were demolished in the clean up campaign but says life has moved on, and is picking up from where he left four years ago.

“When Murambatsvina hit us we lost a lot of things because the two roomed house I had built and the property was destroyed,” Chitawa said adding that he lost valuables worth $3 000.

“The whole property I had was lost, my bed, my wardrobe, radio. I was attending a funeral when the blitz came and everything was destroyed and I was left at ground zero.”

Chitawa, one of the few who got a housing lot from the government after Murambatsvina, has already built four rooms but there is no electricity, water is not flowing in taps and he uses a ventilated pit latrine—known here as a Blair Toilet—as the sewer system is not functioning well.

A few houses were built by the government of President Robert Mugabe in 2005 but were far from accommodating all the victims of Murambatsvina and the houses lacked water and sewers.

Housing Minister Fidelis Mhashu said the new unity government is mapping up a policy to build low-income housing, adding that if the country does not give priority to building houses for the homeless slums will emerge.

“We don’t have slums in this country of the likes of those in Kibera, Kenya, and other countries,” he said referring to one of the biggest slums in Africa.

“We are aware that if we don’t act with speed we are going to have problems of slums appearing or mushrooming,” Mhashu said.

Mhashu estimates that the country has a housing backlog of two-million people and said the government will approach donor countries and financial institutions to assist in building houses as the government doesn’t have money.

“Our country estimate is about two million people require accommodation,” Mhashu said.

“We are frantically looking for funds from our financiers throughout the world.”—AFP


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