The New Humanitarian Annual Report 2021

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No hope yet for the homeless

Young boys try to catch a glimpse of a domestic violence play presented by Amnesty International Zimbabwe in Hopley Farm in Harare, Zimbabwe
(Amnesty International)

In Hopley Farm, a resettlement camp about 10km south of Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, Simon Dhewa's chicken coup has been converted into a bedroom for his three daughters, the eldest of which also uses it as a venue for her commercial sex activities.

The 20-year-old is the sole bread winner for her 45-year-old widowed father, her two sisters and two brothers. The residents of Hopley Farm have nicknamed her "chicken".

Her predicament can be traced back to 2005, when President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF government launched Operation Murambatsvina (Drive out Filth), and the family dwelling, along with her father's shoe repair business, was among the tens of thousands of urban structures that were demolished.

"I never imagined I would get into prostitution, and I never thought I would come to an extent whereby I would expose my sisters [aged 15 and 17] to this kind of life, but circumstances have forced me into this and I am now used to it," she told IRIN.

"My younger sisters dropped out of school because Father could not afford the fees, and even though I wish the best in life for them, they might end up as sex workers like me so as to survive," she said.

Dhewa is aware of his daughter's sex work but told IRIN: "What can I do about it? I am not employed and she buys food for me. This is the kind of situation the government has put us into, and it is sad that there is nothing our political leaders are doing to give us decent accommodation." 

Operation Garikai

An estimated 700,000 people were made homeless by Operation Murambatsvina; after international condemnation, Mugabe's government launched Operation Garikai (Have Decent Accommodation).

Dhewa's nephew, Timothy Mangena, 33, a Harare shop assistant, his wife and two children, who were made homeless by the operation that government termed "an urban clean-up", became beneficiaries of the new housing scheme.

Mangena and his family, along with several thousand others, were resettled at Whitecliff, about 15km west of Harare - one of the scores of settlements set up by Operation Garikai - where they were allocated two-roomed matchbox brick houses without toilets, running water or sewerage.

"My family had become accustomed to the pathetic conditions under which we lived but, unfortunately, I was evicted from the house by ZANU-PF militia in 2008 - ahead of the June presidential elections - who accused me of supporting the opposition [Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)]" Mangena told IRIN.

There was widespread election violence in 2008, in which Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980, and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai narrowly missed being voted in as president after withdrawing from the run-off poll in protest of political violence.

"I have moved from one suburb to another, where landlords have evicted me for failure to pay rent and now it seems I am back where I was in 2008, as a squatter," Mangena said. Unable to find a place to stay, he moved to Hopley Farm. His wife left him and took their children.

"My uncle [Dhewa] has given me temporary shelter in his shack at Hopley, and even though there are too many people at his house, I don't have a choice," he said. "It is very difficult to imagine that poor people like me will ever own a house."

John Robertson, a Harare-based economic consultant told IRIN: "There is a lot of land available to build good accommodation, and houses are being set up by private developers every day. Unfortunately, the poor cannot access these, as they do not have the money and are struggling to put bread on the table. Those that want to build on their own cannot borrow from banks, which have little to lend."

A unity government was formed in February 2009, but the fragile alliance between Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF and two factions of the MDC has yet to improve the material conditions of most Zimbabweans.

"Worse still, the coalition government has shown little evidence of being committed to providing acceptable shelter to the poor. This could be because it is preoccupied with mending the economy, and there is too much discord in the government of national unity," Robertson said.

Housing crisis

Fidelis Mhashu, the national housing minister, told IRIN that "The housing problem is a crisis that has been there for a long time, and there is no way the government of national unity can make it disappear overnight; it will take time."

He said the government had resolved to hand over the Garikai housing schemes to local authorities so that they could improve them and offer better accommodation to beneficiaries. "We fully support housing cooperatives' efforts to provide affordable accommodation to the poor, even though I am aware that some of them have not made much headway."

The Combined Harare Residents Association announced recently that more than 200 housing cooperatives were waiting to be short-listed to get land for residential settlement.

The national housing backlog is estimated at more than one million, with the Harare city council saying the capital alone had more than 500,000 families on the waiting list.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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