The term “crisis” is the latest buzzword in Zimbabwe meriting the attention of scholarly researches to establish if it is being used in the proper context.
Opposition political parties are in overdrive, attempting to draw global attention to what they perceive as a crisis in Zimbabwe.
However, the meaning of the term and the classification of a country in crisis remains contentious.
The term crisis was defined in preceding instalments and going by that definition, a politically impersonal and cool individual is bound to dismiss the crisis narrative that has become ubiquitous in the media.
In that vein, the recent bilateral engagement between ZANU PF and ANC of South Africa resolved that there was no crisis in Zimbabwe, but challenges that were not unique to the Southern African nation.
There are several indicators of a crisis, be it of political, social or economic nature. One of the indicators of a humanitarian crisis is related to accessibility to land, a significant resource that sparked liberation armed struggles in Africa.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development contains land-related targets and indicators under SDGs 1, 2, 5, 11 and 15.
Target 1.4 of the Agenda 2030 seeks to ensure that by 2030, all people, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property.
Target 11.1 under goal 11 strives to guarantee access for all, to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums.
Homelessness is the most visible manifestation of increasing social crisis.
A country in crisis is, among others, characterised by homelessness/landlessness that subsequently gives rise to informal settlements or slums.
Shelter is one of the basic essentials of a human being. The United Nations (UN)takes it as a basic right of everyone to have adequate shelter, thus, it has dedicated the first Monday in October as the World Habitat Day.
The opposition managed to pull the wool over the eyes of opposition political parties in the region. For instance, South African Communist Party secretary Bonginkosi Emmanuel “Blade” Nzimande recently said there was self-evident crisis in Zimbabwe.
“The assertions that there is no crisis in Zimbabwe are nothing but a denial of the self-evident truth. In fact, you don’t even have to go to Zimbabwe to see the crisis; you only have to go to our informal settlements in South Africa to see how many Zimbabweans, who are trying to make an honest living for their families, have had to come to South Africa to make a living because of the crisis we have there,” said Nzimande.
However, Nzimande used the wrong meter to pigeon-hole Zimbabwe in a league of countries in crisis.
Certainly, informal settlements are an indicator of a crisis but these informal settlements he is referring to are in South Africa, not in Zimbabwe.
So Nzimande used the crisis elsewhere to define the perceived crisis in Zimbabwe. It is probably that the Zimbabweans he was referring to only joined the landless in those informal settlements because of housing challenges in that country.
Zimbabwe has done comparatively well in the provision of housing since independence considering that it inherited a planning system which was drawn along racial lines.
The colonial regime did not consider land as a basic right for blacks and they enacted laws that only allowed blacks in urban areas on a temporary basis, and this was enforced by the Urban Areas Accommodation and Registration Act (Number 6 of 1946) which stipulated that only employed blacks could be allowed in towns and cities.
Housing is recognised, as enshrined in the national Constitution, as a basic human right, hence, since independence, the Government of Zimbabwe has been seized with crafting specific policies and strategies to redress the inequalities in the provision of housing.
Among the policies and strategies were Homeownership, National Housing Fund, Housing and Guarantee Fund and Aided Self Help.
In addition to these policies, Government also roped in the private sector in the provision of houses, resulting in building societies and banks financing low-cost housing in high-density suburbs on a greater scale.
Zimbabwe is a signatory to the Habitat Agenda and subscribes to the principle of improving the standards of human settlement to its populace.
Since its adoption, Zimbabwe has made great strides in tackling homelessness to its citizenry, particularly the urbanites.
For instance, the first five-year National Housing Delivery Programme which stretched from 2004 to 2008 delivered more than 20,000 housing units.
This was superseded by the second National Housing Delivery Programme (October 2013 to December 2018), which was crafted in sync with the national economic blue-print, the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZIMASSET). This strategy sought to deliver 313 368 housing units. Although Government made great strides in pursuing the set targets, sanctions-induced economic challenges militated against this endeavour.
As stated above, landlessness or homelessness usually leads to informal settlements which are a common indicator of a crisis. Zimbabwe, like any other country, is not insulated against this challenge.
However, Government has come up with a planning and development control framework that sought to prevent informal settlements. This has been done through urban renewal or rehabilitation, evictions or demolitions and slum upgrading interventions.
Epworth, for instance, was the first informal settlement that was upgraded in 1983 leading to the establishment of a fully-fledged local authority by 1986.
In the early 1990s, Government pulled down former “bachelor housing” in some old neighbourhoods in Bulawayo, Harare, Masvingo, Shurugwi, Victoria Falls, Kadoma, Kariba, Gweru and Mutare replacing them with newer semi-detached and double storey walk-up structures.
The major slums clearance of 2005 (Murambatsvina) which targeted residential and service industrial properties was followed by a Government-funded and implemented housing programme with two phases, with the first phase being the construction of 4 205 core houses with an additional 3 000 partially constructed houses being handed over to the affected citizens. The second phase was the allocation of land to home-seekers.
Defining crisis basing on land issue has always been subjective, flawed and gravely politicised.
The slum clearance of 2005 was viewed as a crisis to an extent that the UN sent an envoy, Anna Tibaijuka on a fact-finding mission to investigate the slum-clearance project.
The world missed the critical reasons for the project to an extent that Tibaijuka’s report was so badly politicised.
The crisis was the informal settlements that had unprecedentedly grown, thus the project sought to eliminate a crisis. It was the same case with the historic Land Reform Programme which was viewed as a crisis.
That programme was meant to eliminate a century-old crisis occasioned by colonialism. There was a systematic dispossession realised largely through violence, war and legislative enactments which resulted in racially cock-eyed land distribution and ownership patterns.
At independence, about 4 000 whites owned almost half of the country’s arable land. The skewed situation before independence where the minority owned the majority of arable land in a country is what can be rightly described as a crisis. Today Zimbabweans are proud owners of their land, a scenario that other African countries view with envy and are slowly emulating.
In comparison with other countries, Zimbabwe falls short of the characteristics of a country in crisis. Homelessness in some countries is a growing epidemic and land distribution still remains hugely unequal, with blacks still dispossessed of land and many still homeless.
In 2012, about 2 million Kenyans were homeless and the number is steadily increasing by about 200 000 per year.
About 68 percent of Kenyans do not own land and, 150 000 children were left homeless as a result of political violence.
In Nairobi, over 250 000 people live without a roof over their heads because of a 40 percent unemployment rate, and forced evictions by the country’s law enforcement.
According to World InfoZone (WIZ) which contains information and news for all countries, there are around 60 000 homeless persons in Botswana currently.
Africa Research Institute states that Ghana has an urban population of 14 million, 5.5 million of which live in slums.
Homelessness is far from a developing countries problem.
In Europe alone, there are three million people on the streets. An American YouTube channel, TheRichest listed 15 most homeless cities in the world.
Surprisingly, six of them are in the United States, a country that has been at the forefront of popularising the crisis narrative in Zimbabwe.
New York City was placed on second position with 60 352 people without a roof over their heads. Los Angeles is on third position with over 57 000 destitute people.
Most of the homeless abuse drugs, are physically disabled, and have a mental illness. Boston features on the 11th position with 16 540 people living in emergency shelters.
Despite being the capital of the “global prefect,” Washington DC is on number 12 and is facing crippling homelessness with over 57 000 people on the streets.
“These individuals are so deep in abject poverty that they cannot meet basic needs such as buying food or clothes. Five in every 10 homeless adults reported a $0 income while 30 percent tested positive for chronic health problems,” notes TheRichest.
San Francisco and Phoenix Arizona, both US cities are placed on number 13 and 14 respectively with corresponding numbers of homeless citizens standing at 10,373 and 11,314.
South Africa should be applauded for taking cue from Zimbabwe’s land reform. There are currently some efforts being taken to redress the skewed land distribution in that country. According to a 2017 government (South Africa) audit, 72 percent of the nation’s private farmland is owned by white people, who make up nine percent of the population.
Also to be applauded is Namibia which is doing much to address a situation where, according to Reall, a social enterprise focusing on urban poverty issues, 252 000 people, or 34 percent of the urban population live in slums in Namibia’s cities.
The situation prompted President Hage Geingob, to issue a statement calling the situation a “humanitarian crisis” in 2018.
“The situation in informal settlements is a humanitarian crisis, there is no other way to look at it,” said President Geingob in 2018 while officiating at a N$10 million (US$587,280.00) donation given to the Namibia Shack Dweller’s Federation by Mobile Telecommunications Company (MTC) to build 270 low-cost houses throughout the country.
The land reform is also shaping up in Namibia after inheriting a country with a skewed land distribution pattern in which 3 500 farmers, who were almost entirely whites, owned approximately 50 percent of the country’s agricultural land. These farmers constituted about 0.2 percent of the country’s population.
The land is just but one variable that can give a picture of a country in crisis. Zimbabwe has made great strides in the provision of land and shelter to its citizenry. In comparison with other nations in the region, Zimbabwe does not fit in the league of countries in crisis.
The categorisation is therefore done by people who have a political agenda to achieve.
Pardon Muzavazi is a housing development expert based in Namibia.