ZIMBABWEANS remember with bitter memories Operation Murambatsvina, a purported urban clean up exercise devised by the Zanu PF regime which in the winter of 2005 left over 700 000 people homeless, according to the United Nations, while driving thousands to the rural areas.
The operation was reportedly a result of Mugabe’s paranoia over the spectre of a possible revolt after general elections by a hard-pressed, teeming urban population which mostly supported the opposition in the midst of hyperinflation and served as a pre-emptive strike against such an uprising.
It has been suggested that, by dislocating and disbanding opposition supporters to remote rural locations, the Zanu PF government would find it easier to control any possible riots or mass protests.
During the operation, reportedly coordinated by security forces, all unplanned and unapproved buildings were demolished. Harare was worst affected with illegal structures being demolished in the suburbs of Mbare, Chitungwiza, Tafara, Mabvuku and Budiriro, among others.
However, eight years after the sweeping and devastating demolitions, the slums appear to be back in a big way, especially in Harare where unplanned developments are mushrooming supposedly with the approval of Zanu PF which now enjoys political hegemony once again.
New illegal and haphazard settlements have emerged all over the city with the most prominent being Bob in Mabvuku/Tafara, Eye-Court and Hopley along New Chitungwiza Road, Hatcliffe Extension north of the upmarket Borrowdale suburb and Snake Park along the Harare-Bulawayo highway.
The biggest slum is at Hopley on the outskirts of Chitungwiza adjacent to Waterfalls. The settlement, a Zanu PF stronghold, currently has more than 10 000 residents, most of them victims of Operation Murambatsvina who have forcefully bounced back.
But Hopley has no running water, sewerage reticulation, roads or electricity. Most residents have built tin shacks, or small three-roomed structures — risking serious health problems and disease outbreaks.
The buildings are constructed in a random manner confirming that the settlement was not built in line with urban planning regulations. Each household, barely 200 square metres in size, has a small blair toilet and an unprotected well for domestic water needs.
A resident, Tinofa Hove, said he was happy to have a roof over his head, but expects council and central government to urgently provide onsite and offsite infrastructure.
“We expect the new government and incoming council to provide roads, sewage and water reticulation and also connect us to electricity supplies,” Hove said. “This place is scary at night.”
Women mostly bear the brunt of social hardships at the settlement as they have to fetch water from unprotected wells, hunt for firewood for energy and have difficulties in disposing refuse and children’s waste.
Angela John, a housemaid, said finding an alternative energy source is becoming a burden, particularly for poorer families.
“We are spending many hours fetching firewood in the diminishing forests at adjacent farms that still have wood,” John said.
Most of Hopley residents find menial jobs in nearby Mbare or Glen Norah informal markets.
The place has also become a haven for vice such as mugging and prostitution, especially during the tobacco marketing season due to its proximity to the Boka Tobacco Auction Floors.
There are no medical facilities or schools at the settlement forcing residents to walk to neighbouring suburbs for most essentials.
The situation is more or less the same at other illegal settlements which government has deliberately turned a blind eye to for political and electoral reasons as they mushroomed under the guise of housing schemes.
The slums are a worrying trend across Africa’s urban development. South Africa has its own slums such as Diepsloot and Alexandra in Johannesburg, the Cape Flats and Joe Slovo settlements in Cape Town as well as Cato Manor in Durban.
The biggest slum in Africa is Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya, which has about two million residents.
Demolishing or regularising the slums has become a nightmare for cities. Property owners in Borrowdale have complained bitterly about the new Hatcliffe high-density area arguing that it is depreciating the value of their houses.
Shadreck Muzongomerwa of Philadephia, Borrowdale, is particularly angered by the continued growth of Hatcliffe’s unplanned development next door to the affluent suburb.
“In many countries, it is unheard of that high-density suburbs or unplanned suburbs are tolerated close to low-density residential estates,” Muzongomerwa said.
The poor location of high-density suburbs has mainly affected Harare as other cities like Bulawayo, Gweru and Mutare have well-planned residential areas with no townships close to low-density areas.
Controlling unplanned developments is one of the major worries the incoming Harare City Council will face, especially providing water and sewer connections to the slums.
Residents in these illegal settlements openly declare their support and affiliation to Zanu PF saying their development has been approved by party heavyweights. The party won both the Harare North and Harare South constituencies under which some of these slums fall.
In the past week, Zanu PF leaders in Harare such as Deputy Lands minister Tendai Savanhu, have spoken out against new slums while police last week moved in to stop construction at some illegal settlements.
However, such efforts seem concentrated only on new developments as they do not deal holistically with all unplanned developments in Harare and other urban centres.