WHEN Local Government minister Ignatious Chombo announced a reconstruction programme to cater for families left roofless by a government-sponsored slum clearance exercise, the homeless clapped
their hands in joy.
But five months after the state launched Operation Murambatsvina and sought to counter its disastrous consequences that left 700 000 people roofless countrwide, victims remain without homes and with little hope of getting housed any time soon.
Just across the debris of a demolished settlement along the main Bulawayo-Harare highway rows of unfinished houses stand as a testimony to the time-tested adage that it is easier to destroy than to build.
Gloating over a reconstruction programme put up to remedy an ill-conceived slum clearance exercise has come back to haunt the government so much that it has had to save face by claiming success for private-company housing schemes as its own.
In July government announced it had allocated $3 trillion to the reconstruction programme, hoping to parry criticism and worldwide condemnation of its callous demolition exercise.
This was dented when Finance minister Herbert Murerwa cut the allocation by two-thirds to just $1 trillion in his mid-term budget review, saying the clean-up was not planned.
Gradually the sad realities of exaggerating its capabilities to provide the number of houses it set itself seems to have dawned on it.
Two months after setting itself an impossible target, it moved the deadline for the completion of its Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle housing programme to December due to the slow pace of construction and lack of resources. It said building delays due to shortages of fuel and construction materials had necessitated the extension of the deadline beyond August 31.
Less than 400 housing units are under construction in the Harare suburb of Hatcliffe, where a total of 15 000 units are planned.
Recently, Chombo embellished the state’s success in meeting its targets by claiming credit for a housing project a private mining company put up for its employees in Zvishavane. Mimosa Mining company has, as part of its community responsibility, built more than 900 houses under a home ownership scheme in Zvishavane town, 30 km from the mine to avoid a “ghost” settlement when mining operations cease.
It intends to construct 151 units for its senior employees.
Government has also claimed credit for an on-going housing project in Cowdray Park initiated by the Bulawayo city council some five years ago.
In Manicaland province, less than 100 houses have been completed out of the 960 earmarked for the current construction phase.
The housing project has been hit by fuel shortages that constricted the delivery of building materials. About 350 houses are already under construction in the province, according to officials overseeing the programme.
Less than 100 of the 10 000 housing units planned for the Whitecliff settlement in the capital, Harare, have been built.
Prospective beneficiaries might have prematurely clapped their hands too as it has emerged that the majority of the people affected by Operation Murambatsvina may not meet the criteria for ownership of the new houses.
The programme is no longer specific to the poor who make up the majority of the victims.
“The government has effectively handed over the allocation of stands to municipal authorities. One has to earn above a specified salary category to qualify, be on the municipal (housing) waiting list and be able to afford the deposit and monthly installments,” the mayor of Gwanda, Thandeko Mnkandla, said.
“The houses will only be available to the gainfully employed, and one has to be well paid to afford the installments,” Mkandla was quoted as saying.
On Monday, the High Court in Harare ruled in favour of 252 families who were displaced by the blitz, granting a provisional order barring their eviction from open spaces in the Mbare suburb of Harare.
The families, who are now squatting outside Mbare No Five grounds and Jo’burg Lines, had decent homes until the demolition of their houses in May.
They could have been among those who have come to realise that they clapped their hands too soon when government promised a new beginning for them.