Abandon slum clearance policy


HARARE – The Harare City Council will tomorrow commence a slum clearance drive in this commercial hub and bustling metropolis with four million inhabitants.

In 2005, over 700 000 people were evicted from the townships in another slum clearance drive dubbed Operation Murambatsvina.

But eight years after Murambatsvina, the slums have sprouted everywhere again. It’s like a vicious circle.
Slum clearance is by no means a new objective in Zimbabwean governance.

Slum clearance and rehabilitation efforts get underway tomorrow in nearly every suburb in Harare.

The city of Harare has failed to fulfil its objectives of improving the living conditions of slum residents and preventing the development of new slums.

Infact, the city’s slum population is growing at an alarming pace, with an ever lengthening housing backlog.

The public outcry against evictions has been long and loud, and yet they are to continue.

The slum clearance is starting in Mbare, home to the densely stocked food market.

It is clear that the hopeful ideal of humane resettlement has become a reality of traumatic forced evictions, hasty and shoddy construction and uncoordinated service delivery.

Tomorrow’s evictions will render homeless the majority of urban slum dwellers in areas the state has designated as objectionable. These evictions will destabilise an already weak social infrastructure, leading to greater food insecurity, unemployment, child labour, and violence among the city’s poor.

Most of these hardships have resulted from simple mismanagement. This begs the question: why would the city administration take on the tremendous burden of relocating people, where infrastructure has to be built up from scratch?

Housing used to be considered a public good but it seems the real estate lobby is powerful and influencing council decisions.

But putting profit ahead of the public good is problematic. The latest thinking in urbanism is that it is far better to improve the conditions in the dynamic — if unstable — communities that have grown up organically in cities, and find ways to capitalise on their economic potential.

Every major contemporary city — including New York — evolved from formalising slums. Urban renewal projects must emphasise in-situ development, but most cities are under social, political and demographic pressure to clear the urban poor from the city.

Zimbabwe’s leaders need to abandon a slum-clearance policy that has already left irreversible damage.

We can never forget the trauma of Murambatsvina.

Things were getting a little bit better now, but for many people they are still struggling to recover.

There is no sense of peace for us.

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