The Sunday Mail
Harmony Agere and Debra Matabvu
The upsurge of squatter camps in Harare has sparked debate with some saying the informal settlements are a result of lawlessness in the capital while others are adamant that unaffordability of urban accommodation has fostered the situation.
Squatter camps — some of them even disguised as formal settlements — have been mushrooming in places like Hopley Farm, Mabvuku, Waterfalls, Chitungwiza as well as Borrowdale and experts say council is being passive on the matter.
As a result, public health and order is greatly compromised.
With the housing backlog standing at an estimated 1,2 million units, residents of some of the squatter settlements say they have no other option since they cannot access formal residential stands.
Mr Nyasha Mutsindikwa, a lecturer in the Department of Rural and Urban Planning at the University of Zimbabwe, said the number of squatters is increasing because authorities are failing to manage urban areas.
“Urban areas are artificial ecosystems which must be managed well if they are to operate sustainably and the existence of squatter settlements is a clear manifestation of poor urban management,” he said.
“They (squatters) are on the increase because the authorities are not taking action against them and, therefore, they are setting wrong precedents which is not good for our urban settlements.
“We should stop ruralising our urban areas and those who cannot afford urban life should consider going back to the rural areas where there is a lot of land for ‘free’.”
Mutsindikwa said local authorities, the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing together with other relevant ministries should evict all squatters or illegal settlers.
A resident of Amsterdam, an informal suburb that has mushroomed in gullies that were left by sand poachers in the south-western parts of Harare, said he settled there because he could not afford to pay rent.
“It is not by choice that we live in such places. We too wish to live in suburbs such as Borrowdale but we are unemployed and we cannot afford to pay rentals,” said the resident only identified as Baba Ngoni.
“I moved to this place three months ago after my landlord in Highfield kicked me out because I could no longer pay the rentals.
“My greatest fear at the moment is this house falling over my family whilst we are asleep. The thought of this house falling on my two-and-half-year-old son brings shivers to my body,” he said.
Harare City Council principal communications officer Mr Michael Chideme said council will only act on the matter after an ongoing land audit is finalised.
“All these illegal land invasions in the city are being covered in the land audit which is being carried out by the Harare City Council and the Provincial Joint Operations Commission (JOC),” he said.
“When the comprehensive report is released we will abide by its recommendations and act accordingly.”
Harare Residents Trust board member Mr Tawanda Zinyama said Government should allocate land to disadvantaged people to avoid squatters.
“This is an international problem. What differs are the magnitudes. The Government should avail land to disadvantaged sections of our society to build their houses.”