Esther Murindagomo (66) of Hatcliffe regrets ever subscribing to a housing co-operative after watching her dream of owning a house go up in smoke despite having invested a lot of money in subscriptions.
“Trying to get my own house is now a luxury as it seems that I can’t own a house even after having been a member of a housing co-operative,” she said.
Murindagomo’s name has been on the Harare City Council housing list for over 20 years, but has been told on several occasions there was no land.
She said the last time she went to check, she was encouraged to join a housing co-operative since council did not have land for individuals.
“The person-in-charge of the allocation of the stands openly told me the council had no land for individuals, but if people formed groups, land would be provided for housing purposes,” she said.
This prompted Murindagomo — a vendor — to join a housing co-operative in Hatcliffe.
But, just like many others who join such co-operatives, she soon discovered the $40 she had to pay in monthly contributions was too high.
“Despite the fact that Zimbabwe is now using multi-currency system, subscriptions are always revised regularly. In fact, it is just too much for some of us and I can’t afford it,” she said.
She added those who failed to honour their obligations and monthly contributions were booted out of co-operatives and they forfeited all earlier contributions.
According to Ali Madziva, a former member of Rambai Makashinga Housing Co-operative in Chitungwiza, the circus does not end there.
“An innocent member is then urgently recruited into the co-operative to fill up the vacancy created and they are asked to pay precisely the same amount the one who left had contributed,” he said.
Madziwa said office bearers in co-operatives are usually well-to-do people with political connections who can flex their muscles if anyone dares challenge them.
“Usually bosses of these co-operatives are big guys in political circles and (if one makes) any effort to query the status of the co-operative, one is automatically shown the exit door,” he said.
Most of the housing co-operatives are named after political stalwarts like Border Gezi, Sally Mugabe and Herbert Ushewokunze.
Recently, there was pandemonium in Marondera when North Wing Housing Co-operative executive hired Zanu PF activists to intimidate and forcefully repossess residential stands from hapless homeseekers.
The activists were allegedly hired by the co-operative management to instil fear in outspoken members who had threatened to pull out of the co-operative, demanding full refunds of their contributions.
However, Solomon Kupeta, chairman of Ryedale Ridge Park Housing Co-operative Society Union, an amalgamation of 25 co-operatives in Harare, said their role was to complement government efforts in the provision of decent housing to the public.
“Ours is a genuine business, which is very apolitical. We have helped thousands of low- income earners, civil servants and vendors to acquire stands and most of them are now building,” he said.
Although he was quick to admit the existence of fly-by-night co-operatives, he warned members of the public to be on the lookout.
“Of course, bogus organisations do exist, but people who are involved in financing housing projects as well as housing co-operatives — executive members — must be driven by the desire to serve people based on transparency, honesty and accountability,” said Kupeta.
Ryedale Ridge Park Housing Co-operative Society Union is made up of Kubudirira Kushinga, Kugona Kuronga, Kuroja Taramba, Maiseka, Dandemutande, Nhakayevana and Vakomana Vekuseri, among others, and has hundreds of members.
“There is need for people to understand that housing co-operatives are mainly for the poor in society who can’t afford to purchase housing stands in low-density suburbs.
So contributions must be within the reach of the poor and increases in subscriptions must be done pro-rata,” he added.
Meanwhile, Innocent Karenyi, secretary of New Horizon Housing Co-operative in Harare South, refuted claims housing co-operatives are milking desperate home seekers.
“Every co-operative has a code of conduct which it strictly adheres to, outlining how new members are admitted and the procedure to be followed when expelling defaulters,” he said, adding members had to be in control of co-operative affairs.