Emergent settlements in Zimbabwe: Conceiving and working in/with them

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  • posted 1 year ago
  • Zimbabwe’s urban development spiked alongside rural land redistribution initiatives after 2000. Inadequately planned, incompletely serviced and often yet to be fully recognised dense settlements have emerged. These emergent settlements are mainly on city edges and around rural business centres. They come up regularly in policy and popular debates. The Government of Zimbabwe invariably defines them as dysfunctional, needing sanitization, illegal, an eyesore and health hazard.

    Here we use ‘emergent settlements’ in recognition of the reality that these are only just coming up. Most of them are barely 20 years old. They are therefore still developing. Their policy and popular visibility arose from the size of individual settlements, fast-paced growth, the overall number nationally, actual spread throughout the country and the issues associated with their development and management.

    Zimbabwe’s emergent urban settlements demand attention from policy makers, development practitioners and researchers. Such attention will aid understanding of the social, spatial, political, and economic experiences that those living in them go through. As they emerge these settlements defy existing and familiar development and policy options. Local and national authorities are inadequately connected with the residents and promoters of these settlements. There is also mistrust on both sides arising from poorly facilitated previous engagements as well as Zimbabwe’s history of demolishing settlements of this nature.

    The Uchena Commission of Inquiry[2] that into the sale of state land in and around urban areas since 2005 produced a 2019 report cites the occupation of farms around urban areas as being behind the creation of these ‘new’ urban settlements. The settlements are characterized by lack of basic infrastructure and services (water, sanitation, education, and health facilities). Also, most straddle local authority boundaries creating jurisdictional challenges regarding the cycle of planning, development and management or regulation. The authority gaps and conflicts have affected oversight or regulatory functions and service delivery. While exceptions inter-local authority collaborations[3] allowed more organised oversight most of the settlements have had little technical support regarding land access to housing development resulting in serious tenure insecurity.

    At both national and local government levels, emergent settlements are neglected spaces. This neglect forces residents to improvise in terms housing development cycle and in their daily lives. The labelling of the settlements as illegal and informal does not tell all. This is because some of them are on land formally allocated by the state and have approved layouts. They are just not yet complete in terms of installation of services. Essentially, their illegality is contestable. The daily lives of residents in emerging settlements remain masked and overlooked making it difficult to integrate their concerns into everyday urban governance.

    Emergent settlements are characterized by many socio-economic challenges. These relate to systemic problems of i) lack of access to affordable housing, ii) inappropriate spatial planning policies, iii) incomplete systems of land management and iv) growing urban poverty. Conditions in emergent settlements fuel socio-economic inequities. The state has responded differently to emergent settlements. The common responses have been demolitions and evictions. Of late, regularization and upgrading approaches have gained traction. The 2020 Zimbabwe Human Settlements Policy[4] provides that a Regularization Protocol of Guide will be developed to standardize processes of facilitating further developments in these areas. However, the Protocol is yet to be developed let alone rolled out in identified settlements. As such there is currently no guidance and thus no work in some of the settlements identified for a pilot[5].  

    Past experiences have shown recurrences of evictions and demolitions of settlements that are characterized as illegal by national and local government authorities. Specific demolition examples include i) 200 structures demolished along Highglen and Kambuzuma Roads, in Harare, 2015[6] ii) more than 3 000 families left homeless along Harare-Masvingo Road, in Harare, 2016[7], iii) more than 143 houses demolished in Budiriro 5, in Harare, 2020[8], iv) hundreds of houses demolished in Melfort, in Goromonzi District 2021[9]  and v) 13 housing structures listed for demolitions in Runyararo West, in Masvingo, 2021. These cases demonstrate the lived experiences of people in emergent settlements.

    A way forward for emergent settlements rests on i) social mobilization of residents, ii) connecting them with relevant local authorities, iii) engaging in participatory assessments to aid re-planning, and iv) facilitated regularizing and upgrading the settlements. Where planning and other land administrative laws were broken, investigations should be done and those found guilty prosecuted. Proper compensation frameworks ought to be developed so that those affected by developments are supported to relocate within the settlement or to other locations. In short, Zimbabwe’s emergent settlements must be facilitated over the medium to long term so that they fully develop.


    [1] Photo by DEGI Team. 
    [2] Justice Tendai Uchena’s Presentation, 2019. The Commission Of Inquiry Into The Matter Of Sale Of State Land In And Around Urban Areas Since 2005. Available: http://veritaszim.net/sites/veritas_d/files/Justice Uchena's Presentation of Reports to the President.pdf
    [3] Masvingo City and Masvingo Rural District Council have cooperated over the development of Victoria ranch on the city’s edge. Still issues of land governance, overall development and services remain
    [4] Government of Zimbabwe: 2020. Zimbabwe Human Settlements Policy
    [5] The Government of Zimbabwe’s Ministry responsible for housing identified four of the biggest ‘emergent settlements’ where feasibility studies are at tendering stage. The studies will provide practical guidance regarding work in the specific settlements. An Urban Forum established in 2018 and co-hosted by DEGI, DOS and the Department of Architecture and Real Estate at the University of Zimbabwe will consolidate implementation experiences into a Slum Upgrading and Regularisation Protocol
    [6] The Herald, 11 December 2015. 200 houses demolished. Available at: https://www.herald.co.zw/200-houses-demolished/
    [7] The Herald, 27 October 2016. Demolitions leave 3000 families homeless. Available at: https://www.herald.co.zw/demolitions-leave-3k-families-homeless/
    [8] The Herald, 09 December 2020. Council demolished 190 houses
    [9] Africa Press, 26 June 2021. Hundreds Of Houses In Diamond Park, Melfort Demolished. Available at: https://www.africa-press.net/zimbabwe/all-news/hundreds-of-houses-in-diamond-park-melfort-demolished


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