Squatters’ misery worsening

WHEN Simon Chichoni (22) was evicted from a settement popularly known as “KwaChioko” just opposite Donnybrook Race Course in Harare he was plunged into stone-age misery and destitution.

Report by Admire Masuku Own Correspondent

He could not understand why Silveira House, a Catholic-run institution, would evict the poor to pave way for the development of a residential area without any compassion or sympathy.

Chichoni and other families were forcibly evicted from Chioko and dumped at Caledonia Farm, a sprawling settlement with a mixture of orderly and unfinished houses on one hand and on the other squatter camps that “gleam” with despair, crushing poverty, crime and urban squalor.

Left with no choice, Chichoni had to face life squarely in the eyes in a shack at Caledonia Farm, where thousands of people whose homes were destroyed during the 2005 clean-up exercise now reside.

“This is my home and there is nothing I can do to change the situation. I must either accept it and be happy or live in misery for the rest of my life,” he says.

“Most people here feel helpless as they are unable to support their families and turn to alcohol and drugs to fill the endless days of boredom.”

He does all sorts of jobs and on a good day he earns $3. On bad ones, he hardly brings anything home.

From their structures made of tin and zinc sheets, some of plastic and wood, others made of pole and dagga, they watch others who are developing their houses after battling for years to get stands with despair

“Life is not easy for many here. We now live in these miserable squatter camps with no water, electricity, toilets and roads.

“I am not asking for the life of a rich man. All I want is to live with a measure of dignity,” said a resident of Caledonia while checking around to see if anyone was hearing the conversation.

At Caledonia, one can easily be harassed and punished for talking to the media.

Caledonia is not the only slum. A number of slums have mushroomed all over Harare due to a combination of factors.

Some analysts estimate that there are more than 30 informal settlements dotted around Harare. Some of the major informal settlements include those at Hopley and Porta farms, Whitecliff, Chimoio, Dhonoro, Jacha and Komboniyatsva in Epworth. Sociologists in Harare say as livelihood opportunities continue to fall, compounded by the rising cost of living, even middle-class citizens have retreated into these so-called slums famed for cheap life.

“People who cannot afford decent accommodation are flocking into informal settlements dotted around Harare as the government has no resources to build houses for the poor. Financial institutions are unwilling to invest in housing in informal settlements,” says Charles Mazorodze, spokesman of the Harare Residents Trust (HRT).

George Nyama of the Dialogue on Shelter for the Homeless believes slums are a result of stringent colonial era city council regulations which have failed to respond to the growing housing demands of the poor.

“The council wants development to be done on serviced land, a requirement which the poor can hardly afford hence they resort to informal structures. The law needs to be amended so that the poor can also own houses,” he says.

The majority of the poor in informal settlements cannot afford to pay monthly subscription required by most housing co-operatives.

Many are unemployed and if they are employed, they earn very little. Some who have formed housing co-operatives in these slums have no joy.

“We were asked to pay $20 every month towards the development of roads and water, but up to now nothing has been done. We were promised that roads would be constructed and sewage pipes would be laid, but nothing is happening,” said a man who declined to be named for fear of victimisation.

Some criminals have defrauded homeseekers in the slums of thousands of dollars after promising them that they would build roads and other essential infrastructure.

“Slums have become predatory areas for unscrupulous property developers swindling people of their money in the name of providing accommodation,” says one disgruntled squatter.

“There are many bogus housing co-operatives which are fleecing the poor under the guise of providing accommodation. This has resulted in many people being caught up in the spiral of poverty.”

How the slum-dwellers cling to a sliver of hope of better life is remarkable despite threats of demolitions every now and then.

“I am not certain about our future here,” says Johnson Khumalo of Jacha, an informal settlement in Epworth.

“Recent demolitions in Epworth and Whitecliffe show that anything can happen to us at any time. There is no promise of better life here, the police can evict us at any time.

“We asked the leaders of the housing co-operative to clarify why development is not taking place, but they told us that money is needed for the council to come and bless the project. We fear that we might be evicted if things are not formalised.”

Epworth, a peri-urban settlement about 15km east out of Harare, is a mosaic of densities which have developed along both formal and informal lines since independence and now boasts arguably the biggest number of informal structures in Harare, if not countrywide. The Epworth Local Board mandated with allocating serviced land for development has failed to develop stands for the poor owing to lack of resources, corruption, lack of skilled manpower and other factors. Political interference has also made the work of the board difficult. The fact that the structures are not planned and supervised by council there is no doubt that the area in a dormant human settlement crisis. Indiscriminate allocation of stands has resulted in overcrowding, causing outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

Zimbabwe has an estimated 1,25 million housing backlog with Harare accounting for about 500 000. Estimates put the number at 100 000 for Zimbabwe’s secondlargest city Bulawayo.

Recently, the Housing and Social Amenities ministry said there was no credible data on the statistics with the last survey which projected that by 2008 the housing deficit would be 1,25 million having been done in 1995.

According to Homeless International, about 835 000 people live in informal settlements. Epworth has the largest number of slum dwellers and is home to 30 000 families of which two-thirds live in informal settlements without rights to land and have no direct access to water or electricity. Up to 500% of adults are unemployed.

Since the beginning of October last year, municipal authorities in Harare tore down squatter camps inhabited by the poor in Epworth and Whitecliffe who have flocked to the city in search of jobs. However, the demolitions were stopped after the government intervention. Squatter camps have been described as “ghettoes of African poverty” and sociologists say they are no easy answers to this problem which dogs many countries in Africa. Condemned by place and circumstance to an impoverished life, Chichoni will stay at the Caledonia camp with a frightening prospect. For him and thousands of other slum dwellers, being landless, jobless and with an uncertain existence is quite literally the end of their world. And the government’s urban planning schemes threaten them with even greater calamity. Inhabitants like Chichoni want to escape to a more secure life. But where will this be?

Life in the slums

CALEDONIA is sandwiched between Tafara, a high-density suburb, and other social amenities and farms on the other side which are now barren following years of deforestation.

Garbage is not collected and the flames of random trash fires send millions of sparks into the eerie sky heavy with the stench of rotting rubbish.

Here, there is no piped water, roads, schools, clinics, community centres, parks, sidewalks or street lights.

Uncollected garbage spills into rutted dirt alleys. Mosquitoes breed in fetid pools of rainwater.

Electricity, drainage and sewage systems and paved streets do not exist. But crime, drunkenness and rage are common place.

Children go to an afternoon shift of an overcrowded school in Tafara next door. Numbing poverty envelops the whole area and many children and adults have died from Aids, TB and a range of other diseases.

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