The other day I asked a group of young married couples what their biggest problem was. They were unanimous: housing. Not only was there no ‘housing for all by the year 2000’, in 2005 ‘Murambatsvina’ destroyed a lot of living space people had created for themselves.
In traditional villages a young married man could just build his own homestead. Land was not much of a problem. Building material could be found in the forest. Husband and wife were the builders.
This self-help method is not so easy in a modern urban environment. Land is scarce, building material expensive, good builders, plumbers and electricians quite demanding.
Young families cannot afford all that. So they are forced to live with parents or in-laws. Which creates problems.
A young couple need their own living space where they can grow and flourish in their own way, a new family needs its own home.
Grandparents are wonderful, and very useful in times of stress or crisis, but you don’t want them to breathe down your neck all the time.
They cannot help still seeing the little boy in their grown son, or the little girl in their daughter now with a family of her own.
If we want stable families in future (isn’t African culture a family culture?) we need to provide housing for families. The family is the most basic unit with which to build society.
Aids and migration are playing havoc with it anyhow. At the moment the older generation who enjoyed stable family life are still around. What will happen once they are gone?
We need to create an environment where new families can grow and become strong. This means homes worth the name.
But is not the “market” supposed to do this, demand creating the supply? Yes, but only if there is a wide profit margin for the suppliers. Not in housing for the ordinary wage earner and low-income people, the unemployed and self-employed eking out a living at resurrected Siya-so.
So should the state become the big provider of housing and giant landlord for all, especially the poor?
No. But the state cannot leave it to the “market” either. The state has a responsibility for all, not only for the rich and prosperous, the big taxpayers. The state is not just there for the ruling elite, is not just the playground for the lucky ones. The state has to see to the common good, i.e. the welfare of all. The lucky ones have a responsibility for the less lucky majority in all-embracing solidarity – or else they should stop singing the national anthem and cease to be proud to be Zimbabweans.
Which is not to say that the less fortunate ones should just clutch begging bowls and wait for charitable gifts.
We certainly do not want to be a nation of beggars. The ordinary man or woman asks for only one thing: to be given a chance.
They have the willlingness to work hard and build their own homes, but that is not enough. Land must be made available. Saving a few dollars out of a meagre wage must be complemented by access to loans. Building co-operatives are still a good idea. There is much the people can do themselves; but they also need public support.
However, even material assistance does not guarantee success. Some other ingredients have to go into the big pot if the stew is to be nourishing, ingredients which seem rare and hard to come by: honesty and integrity on the part of state officials in allocating land and resources. From experience we know that it is here that corruption flourishes.
The members of the co—operative, on their part, must act in real solidarity, openness and fairness. One long-fingered member can undermine mutual trust and confidence and destroy the common effort.
Maybe it is here that the Church can come in. The Christian community has experience in communal living and sharing. The early followers of Christ ‘had everything in common’. Later generations have tried to develop forms of living in solidarity with one another where all have enough for their needs and everybody contributes what he can.
Socialism was the secular version of this Christian vision. It failed because there were no socialists. It will fail again if there are no real Christians.
Singing beautifully in the choir on Sunday while being fully occupied making money the rest of the week is not good enough. If you live in a luxury flat at the top of Fourth Street, what about your brother and sister who live under a piece of plastic sheeting on the Mukuvisi river?
Asking our politicians of all partied what they intend to do about “housing for all by the year (not 3000 but) 2010” would be a good beginning, I mean asking continuously until they are tired of it and it becomes a real issue deciding about the next elections.