HARARE From a private to a state-run farm and to a marginal squatter camp at the height of farm invasions and the infamous Operation Murambatsvina, Caledonia is a sleeping giant slowly emerging into a de facto high-density area.
Whether the government and donor agencies have stepped in or not remains unclear. Current efforts to set up infrastructure around the community are marginal. It is the slow pace of development and its future status residents are concerned about, as this correspondent found out.
A local government official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the issue of Caledonia was controversial because there are political heavy weights involved.
Caledonia popularly known as kwaBhobho, about 30km south-east of Harare, near one of the oldest suburbs, Tafara is embroiled in endless wrangles between the District Co-ordination Committee (DCC) Goromonzi and DCC 5 of Harare.
Allegations are that each of these committees, from different political parties, claim to have already started upgrading the area by rehabilitating roads and sewer systems.
However, this is just being done for political mileage in preparation for the next elections.
The wrangles are just slowing down the proper development of the area and there is no serious upgrading taking place anywhere and moreover whatever is being said is political grandstanding, says a long-time resident of the area who only identified himself as Dakota.
Caledonia, a sprawling area stretching for more than five kilometres from the fringes of Tafara, is largely made up of substandard houses of cheap bricks and wood and small tents donated by the United Nations Childrens Emergency Fund at the height of Operation Murambatsvina in 2005. The structures are prone to heavy rainfall and floods.
As if the squabbles by the committees are not enough, voices of disgruntlement are also rife in the parcelling out of stands.
The stands are parceled out by self-styled local lords who claim to have been the first settlers in the area around 2000.
As farm invasions continued around the country more and more people came to settle in the area and had to go through the lords to get stands.
Some people are now rich overnight through abuse of funds from bogus housing co-operatives formed in the area and are now owning cars and beautiful houses when they came with nothing, says Dakota.
One of the earliest people to settle in the area were those from Porta Farm near Norton, who were unceremoniously evicted and resettled in the area in 2001-2002 and there is a zone aptly named Porta to signify the place where they stay.
Other areas are divided into sections or zones and each has a lord who controls and monitors the daily events.
The general feeling among those interviewed was that while they appreciated having the area as a panacea to the land shortage and the housing crisis, this should have been done in a more orderly and transparent manner.
This called for serious government intervention to develop this peri-urban resettlement area into a modern residential suburb.
We would be more enthusiastic if the local government and non-governmental organisations moved in quickly, said Gersom Mauwa, who lives near Porta and came from Kamombe area another squatter camp destroyed in 2005 by the former government near Chikurubi Maximum Prison.
This would bring in big changes in terms of rehabilitation of infrastructure and growth of the area and more still good supplies of water and better sanitation, said Mauwa.
Most of his neighbours live in poor houses under substandard conditions and most of them like Mauwa are unemployed and have no money to build good houses. Such people would be adversely affected by the introduction of charges once Caledonia is brought into the City of Harare. More than 3 000 people are estimated to live in Caledonia today.
At the height of Operation Murambatsvina which displaced more than 700 000 people country-wide mostly in urban areas many displaced people settled at Caledonia as squatters.
This unexpected large influx of the homeless and lay-abouts created deep social problems of uninvited guests such as thieves and commercial sex workers.
Diseases such as STIs, cholera and malaria and crime increased, according to local health and security statistics at the time.
Orphans and widows in the area urgently need attention and this can be done through properly planned development programmes, said Rex Chikoti, chairperson of Tafara Committee for Development Association.
Although Caledonia has boreholes at strategic points, provision of piped water still needs to be improved. Electricity, decent toilets, good roads and better houses are also needed.
Unless this infrastructure is speedily implemented and put in place, this place will remain backward, said another resident, Anna Muthombeni.
With such uncontrolled growth in population, another challenge would be education. There is need to build at least a primary and a secondary school to cater for the upsurge in the number of school-going children.
Some residents send their children to Tafara 5 Primary and Tafara 1 Primary schools, but these schools are far.
Hopefully, with more serious co-ordination between the government and the donor community, there will be immediate intervention in Caledonia and its environs which will gradually erase the dark memories of Murambatsvina and the chaotic farm invasions.