(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Homeless put their hope in handmade bricks

[Zimbabwe]
IRIN

The use of handmade bricks is revolutionizing housing in Chinhoyi, 120km north of the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, where housing estates built by poor people have mushroomed in a development that has caught the attention of the housing ministry.



"We hope to come up with a new dynamic housing policy that addresses the needs of the poor, together with enabling legislation on standards, as well as how the homeless can access affordable funding," housing ministry secretary David Munyoro told IRIN.



"We also want to change the legal framework of housing delivery in Zimbabwe and learn from the best practices," said the national housing and social amenities minister, Fidelis Mhashu.



The nationwide shortage of accommodation resulted from a lack of government investment in housing, and President Robert Mugabe's Operation Murambatsvina (Drive out Trash) in May 2005.



Murambatsvina was launched on the premise of slum clearance, but was seen by analysts as retribution for city residents giving their support to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The evictions and demolition of homes and other buildings that began in urban centres and then spread across the country were condemned internationally; about 700,000 people were left homeless.



Before the operation began, more than 300,000 people in Harare were on the housing waiting list, but this is seen as a fraction of Zimbabwe's housing deficit.



In 1999 Timothy Garamimba, in Chinhoyi, signed up to a government housing scheme in which prospective homeowners paid monthly instalments to a national housing fund while they waited for houses to be built.



The scheme collapsed, mired in corruption and allegations of abuse of funds, forcing the government to allocate residential stands in lieu of refunds to subscribers, on which they could build their own homes.



"We waived the bye-law concerning standard building material on residential stands in three of the suburbs [that the town] council was opening up, and allowed people to build using farm [handmade] bricks," Chinhoyi's town engineer, Pretty Masekesa, told IRIN.



The cheapest manufactured bricks cost US$0.23 each - US$230 per 1,000 bricks, the equivalent of about two months' salary - compared to US$50 per 1,000 handmade bricks.



Homeowners have now built "farm brick" homes on more than 4,000 residential stands, but the local construction boom is also attributed to the presence of soils ideal for brick-making.



"You cannot tell those [houses] built with commercial bricks from the ones constructed of bricks that owners mould on their own," said Garamimba, 30, standing ankle-deep in thick mud.



"Using these bricks has really cut my construction costs, because I can mould them myself or buy additional quantities from groups engaged in brick-moulding - it is way cheaper," he told IRIN, pointing to a group of young men putting firewood into a kiln a short distance away.



It has been a long wait for Garamimba, who is building a three-bedroom house. "There is no security of tenure if you are a lodger, and nothing is as exciting as having a home of your own."



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