Common services approach (CSA) to initiating regularisation of informal settlements in Zimbabwe

Written by
  • Kudzai Chatiza, Noble Gakaka and Tariro Nyevera
  • posted 1 year ago
  • Common services approach (CSA) to initiating regularisation of informal settlements in Zimbabwe


    From a history of having little to no urban informal settlements Zimbabwe now has hoards. Some like Caledonia outside Harare, Cowdray Park in Bulawayo, Victoria Ranch in Masvingo, and others are larger spatially and population-wise than some of Zimbabwe’s towns. Most are on urban state land and their development was associated with and sprang up at the same time as rural land invasions occurred. Most are on the peripheries of existing urban areas. The degree of settlement informality is variable. For instance, some informal settlements have approved physical plans while others developed without these. In still others approved water and sanitation, roads, electricity, and other services were not installed fully prior to home-building. In some settlements homes are being built based on approved architectural drawings while in others housing structures are not based on any drawings, approved or not.

    National, provincial, and local governments in Zimbabwe have grappled with the heightened post-2000 informality. Settlements-related policy have been framed following considered conversations culminating in the inclusion of provisions for regularisation and upgrading being inserted in the 2020 National Human Settlements Policy. Yet, large-scale initiatives to regularise or upgrade the identified settlements have not been rolled. Three reasons explain this gap. The first relates to the dearth of resources to install the infrastructure needed to facilitate titling. Urban meta infrastructure has lagged for a generation plus. The new settlements are not connected to existing infrastructure (reticulated water and sewer in particular). To do so requires (in fact invites) the kind of urban infrastructure expansion Zimbabwe least affords. 

    The second is because the ‘how to’ side of upgrading and regularisation is absent. Part of this is because existing urban development laws and practices lack entry points that are sufficiently defined. Further, the technical steps are unclear to both politicians and technical officials at all levels of government.  For instance, urban land titling follows a land admin process that has been fractured by the ways in which the informal settlements in question developed. The third relates to the reality of unsettled local institutions or actors, which are disconnected with Councils that ordinarily facilitate urban development. Some of this unsettledness structures and sustains the disconnection as a way of ‘protecting’ settlements from local government interventions that may stop informalised land access that benefit local leaders personally. 


    Stabilising Zimbabwe’s informal settlements for purposes of establishing them on a path towards sustainability is an important area of research. Chulu Farm, one of six settlements where the Development Governance Institute is undertaking research, is searching for such a pathway towards official approval. Current residents experience the three challenges stated above and variously mobilise their affiliation with the ZANU PF party to secure their right to permanently settle at the farm. Most of them came to Churu in 2016 from different parts of Harare’s western and southern residential areas. 

    Resident numbers have been growing with new entrants still finding land at present. The farm zoned rural-agricultural was compulsorily acquired by government in 1993 from Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole (a ZANU founder-turned opposition party leader) who had started subdividing and allocating land to victims of evictions in the Greater Harare area and other home seekers. From 1994 to 2005 resident waves came to settle at the farm but were removed during Operation Murambatsvina. Most residents now at Chulu Farm came in 2016 and were led by a consortium of cooperatives who prepared a yet to be approved layout plan.  

    As part of the ‘Trajectories of Inclusion’ study from 2020 to 2023 funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC Ref No. ES/T008067/1) DEGI researchers are gaining an understanding of Chulu Farm as a settlement. The farm located 18km southwest of Harare city centre is covered by the now expired[1] Harare Combination Master Plan. As noted above the settlement has no approved local development or layout plan. At least three layout plans exist and are being used by different groups to sale and allocate land. The land allocations are made by resident and non-resident actors with variable political power. Open and underground fights over irregular land sales and allocations occur regularly at Churu farm. Some of these affect wetland areas, the banks of Mukuvisi River and the only primary school in the area, Churu Farm Primary School.  

    Established in 1960 the school is registered with national education authorities, is a Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (ZIMSEC) centre for grade 7, was previously managed by the farm owners up to the time the farm was acquired by government. The school falls under Mashonaland East Province under Seke District. As a farm school its land area was never defined let alone pegged or marked. This factor is creating challenges for the school. The school development committee (SDC) is taking measures to stake and protect its claim to land in a generally uncertain area.

    Churu Farm Layout Showing Location of School
    School authorities fear being choked by the ongoing housing developments. Without distinct boundaries outlining the school’s area or a fence the school is experiencing considerable encroachment. Different people survey and peg close to school structures. 

    Regarding education administration school authorities are seeking to be under Harare as they hope that it would make it easier to effectively run the school and that their concerns may be responded to effectively including fending off encroachment. Figure1 shows the current ‘stressed’ spatial position of the school.


    DEGI’s fieldwork and mapping exercise showed the spatial nature of the encroachments, their extent in relation to child safety, the school spatial viability and the actors involved in land allocations. Our researchers met the school head and staff, representatives of the School Development Committee and some members of the community. School authorities availed a layout map they got from one of the housing cooperatives, which shows the school area. The DEGI team, using a GPS receiver took coordinates of the land the school has unhindered access to i.e. land free of encroachments. 

    This exercise was led by the school authorities and representatives of the community.  The coordinates were then used to create a map of the area that is currently available for the school. This was overlayed onto the layout availed by the school to produce some options which can be adopted following participatory discussions with stakeholders.

    There are three options for the school plan including the one provided for in the layout obtained from the cooperatives. The area that has been encroached onto covers 5000m2 and there are currently four structures. There is a possibility that open spaces in the areas encroached onto already have ‘owners’ who may be absent.  Further, land sales being unpredictable makes the determination of a community-agreed boundary very critical. Taking these into account a redesigning process is needed.  It will be possible to accommodate the ‘encroaching and yet to be allocated/sold stands’ alongside other options as shown in the Table below.

    Table 1: Options for school land share

    Options | Area (Ha) | Comments
    No Change (Encroachments Stopped) | 3.93 | 4 encroaching structures fenced out
    Option 1 | 3.88 | 12 unoccupied stands removed from the layout
    Option 2 | 4.23 | 19 unoccupied stands removed from the layout
    Option 3 | 4.21 | 30 unoccupied stands removed from the layout


    Lack of public resources even for formal settlements is constraining sustainable urban development in Zimbabwe. Combined with the challenge of unsettled local institutions including models for land allocation and absence of clear entry points the mobilisation of informal settlers is difficult. Negotiating agreement over land needs for common facilities like schools amongst the agents driving unending land subdivisions and sales that are informal provides a way forward. Such a common services approach can be used to initiate i) local dialogue, ii) engagement with authorities, and iii) settling on a settlement-specific model of regularising or upgrading informal settlements. 

    The approach allows a focus on what residents of emergent settlements are more likely to agree on. Such a local compact may help stabilize a settlement potentiating creation of appropriate pathways towards sustainable regularisation. The prospects for better-structured engagement with outside authorities also potentially improve while at the same space being provided for ordinary residents to become able to at the very least ‘see’ state officials. Such prospects for enhanced popular participation in shaping local development may improve conditions for human security and land rights protection.

    Proposed next steps by the DEGI team include i) sharing the spatial challenges the school is facing, ii) presenting the available options, iii) facilitating a school land protection compact using the layout plan options DEGI developed, and iv) supporting initiation of a Strategic Development Plan for the settlement to guide the local people’s engagement with appropriate authorities. The layout plan options will be put on public display and participants facilitated to ‘vote’ for options with justifications in a plan observation book.


    Initiation of community-led local discussions centred on common services like schools, reticulated water and sanitation, road, and other services to ensure participants and relevant public authorities remain engaged around settlement regularisation and upgrading as needed. At the same time issues of land and general social conflicts including crime, encroachment onto land reserved for public uses and ecologically sensitive areas, practically expanding livelihoods, and settlement sustainability are critical items for facilitated community-led dialogues alone and with city, provincial and national level public sector agencies. 


    Kudzai Chatiza,, Noble Gakaka and Tariro Nyevera
    Development Governance Institute

    [1] Operational from 1994, the Plan had a 10-year lifespan which has long been overrun

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