Housing is a basic human right across the Southern African region. For a prolonged period, human settlements have been playing second fiddle to other sectors of the economy or society when it comes to prioritisation at regional level.
Prevention of trafficking of illicit drugs is more prominent at regional level in comparison to human settlements.
Ironically, without downplaying the extent of their criminality, not everyone deals in illicit drugs, but everyone needs accommodation because it is a basic human right. Even the drug traffickers come from a shelter somewhere.
The decision makers come out of a house somewhere, but when it comes to prioritisation of sectors or social and economic drivers, human settlements come as an addendum.
If you were to listen to observation of protocol at any official function, you will notice that it starts with the most respected guests and follows a hierarchical order till the last category.
The very last delegates to be observed are “ladies and gentlemen” or “comrades and friends.”
If they were O Level grades, I guess they would fall in grades “E” or “U”. They cannot be called by name (ungraded), but you are among the ladies and gentlemen. It seems human settlements currently falls below the grade “C” or better category of the ordinary level, the “distinguished guests and above.”
I went through the list of all the 27 Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) protocols on its website. Interestingly, I could not find human settlements among the 27.
I tried to search where the sector fits, I am yet to find its home, even a dilapidated one. I presume it is covered under the “ladies and gentlemen” mantra.
In my view, the “VVIP” include the politics, defence, and security; trade; health, environment; gender; illicit drugs and finance, to mention but a few.
All other issues, but human settlements are explicitly stated and have a dedicated protocol to guide and standardise practice across the regional bloc.
For instance, issues such as health, gender, drugs, firearms, energy, culture, sports, fisheries, forestry, movement of persons, finance, legal affairs, tourism, science and technology, mining, politics, shared watercourses and trade among others.
Could it be an oversight on the part of SADC or the sector is viewed as of less significance? Marijuana has a home, yet a home has no home.
Housing challenges transcends national borders and territories and yells for cooperation among different nations in the region.
I do not know of any nation in the region that is free of informal settlements or slums. The international organisation that represents the homeless people, the Slum Dwellers International (SDI) has affiliates in countries such as Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, Malawi and Zambia, a clear signal that there is inadequate housing in all these SADC countries.
As developing countries, urbanisation is inevitable. Urbanisation is a phenomenon epitomised by mushrooming of slums, squatters and other forms of urban informalities.
It will be naïve to assume that all SADC countries’ human settlements delivery models are ahead of time. Ironically, the bloc is silent about human settlements issues.
It is a mirror-image of a photographer missing in the picture because she/he is behind the camera, yet has a significant role of taking those photographs.
I don’t believe that a human settlement is a “behind-the-scenes” initiative. Movement of persons is pronounced, but when these people move, where do they retire to bed when they are tired of moving? When the sportspeople earn the money from their sweat, they need shelter. But the region seems to be oblivious of the matter.
There are several bilateral arrangements outside the bloc’s jurisdiction, but is that enough to standardise human settlements delivery practices? The region is trying to set codes of procedures for all the other sectors, but not same for human settlements.
The moment housing is treated as an after-thought, it is prone to be neglected. Countries are working in silos and the level of development is heterogeneous.
Harmonious development of human settlements policies cannot be overemphasised.
Some areas of focus have made great strides, for instance, removal of visas among SADC countries (in pursuit of free movement of people across territorial boundaries, efforts are underway to adopt free movement of goods and services (in pursuit of protocol on trade).
In the not so distant past, Zimbabwe chaired the Extraordinary SADC Troika on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation plus Mozambique Summit in Harare to deliberate on disturbances in Mozambique among other allied issues, pursuant to the protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation 2001.
Several initiatives have been undertaken on gender, environment and health and the list goes on. However, I stand to be guided, I have not read about any SADC pronouncement on human settlements in the same manner security, gender, health and environment matters are discussed, yet it is so apparent that housing shortages remain a menace to many SADC countries, if not all.
Is it that the sector is fluid and needs no attention or it was an oversight by the powers that be? I may not be privy to how a protocol is arrived at during the SADC summit, but I would like to believe that it is never too late to introduce the subject matter.
Maybe, it is a challenge to our own Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and his counterpart, the Minister of National Housing and Social Amenities to strategise on how to initiate a motion for debate at the next SADC Summit, baring the Covid-19 pandemic.
Time is ripe to advocate for the creation of a SADC Protocol on Human Settlements or at least Slum Upgrading, paralleled by the summit of SADC Ministers of Human Settlements or Housing, modelled along the same lines as the summit of Ministers of Health.