By Jeffrey Moyo
Harare, October 5, 2015-TEN years after grandstanding and undertaking to provide decent accommodation to citizens in dire need, the Zimbabwean government has gone mute on its much touted Garikai /Hlalani Kuhle (GHK) housing initiative. Instead, it has given way to free reign by a myriad of unscrupulous housing cooperatives which have apparently taken over the state’s role of ensuring citizens have decent shelter.
Following the 2005 Operation Clean Up exercise that rendered over 700 000 Zimbabweans homeless, and due to a large extent to the international backlash of the inhumane exercise, the government had established the ambitious GHK initiative.
But with the initiative facing insurmountable resource challenges, housing cooperatives sprouted to address the accommodation woes.
While the housing cooperatives claim they operate with the blessings of the government, integrity and fairness have so far been eluding these enterprises which, instead, reek of corruption and mismanagement.
Loosely translated, the GHK means live well – a somewhat highly inspired ideal the government expressed at the time. Ideally GHK was meant to build proper homes for the people whose illegally built residences were destroyed in 2005.
Official documents sourced from the Records Department in the Ministry of Housing show that faced with financial hurdles, government handed over the GHK houses to local authorities.
Records obtained betray clandestine deliberations held between the Housing Ministry and mostly opposition MDC-T councillors in 2011.
“Government has run out of money, which is why progress has stalled on the GHK houses. Councillors therefore implored the Honourable Minister of Local Government, Ignatius Chombo to hand over the projects to the local authorities,” read part of the minutes from one of the meetings then.
In that same year, the Zimbabwean government subsequently resolved to hand over all the hurriedly-built houses constructed in 2005 under a State-sponsored GHK housing scheme to local authorities ostensibly to ensure the inhabitants had access to water and sewer services.
Survivors of the 2005 homes demolitions have however dismissed this as government’s ploy to evade being sucked into the failing housing initiative.
“Government just didn’t want to be held responsible for our fate; hence it passed the job to proceed with handling of the Garikai homes to local authorities, which are apparently being overpowered by dubious housing cooperatives linked to the ruling Zanu(PF) party, demanding hefty monthly subscriptions from the beneficiaries of the housing scheme,” Thandiwe Mafu, a disgruntled Bulawayo beneficiary of the GHK housing scheme, told this reporter.
According to government insiders, housing cooperatives aligned to the ruling Zanu(PF) party haphazardly took over control of hundreds of unfinished homes ostensibly built for the victims of the controversial clean-up exercise dubbed Operation Murambatsvina.
Classified information from the Ministry of Local Government from minutes of a series of closed door meetings held earlier this year, revealed that the ministry had unearthed approximately 3100 housing cooperatives countrywide run by individuals purporting to have links with the country’s ruling party who had seized incomplete homes built for the 2005 clean-up victims.
Despite the deeds office showing the seized homes as belonging to government through its GHK scheme, the cooperatives claiming ownership of the homes have offer letters appended with different signatures of top government officials.
“This offer letter is to testify that Kaguvi Housing cooperative has been given the authority by the Housing Ministry to temporarily take charge of the Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle Housing scheme while government harnesses meaningful resources to put some final touches to the project,” read part of an alleged offer letter with a government logo addressed to one housing cooperative in Harare, the Zimbabwean capital.
But the Local Government Ministry now headed by Saviour Kasukuwere has distanced itself from such letters.
With this Southern African nation’s council authorities dominated by the opposition MDC-T, a 2010 report by mostly MDC-T councillors on the intricacies skewing the government’s housing initiative, fielded to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, has apparently drawn no action from the commission.
Consequently, the much touted GHK housing initiative appears to have become privatised through housing cooperatives, with even councils losing control of the initiative despite the government here having surrendered the project to the local authorities.
In spite of the apparent loopholes clogging the controversial housing initiative, the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing this year instead hatched an ambitious plan to construct 300 000 houses in three years to benefit homeless people.
According to the Ministry of National Housing’s forensic audit done by the Auditor General’s office in 2011, no money was paid for the GHK houses in question as 75 percent of the occupants of the homes were either politically linked to the ruling Zanu(PF)party or were merely unknown to authorities.
Of the approximately 700 000 people whose homes were razed down in 2005, only 1100 managed to get the GHK homes, with the difference still homeless, according to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency.
Even local authorities in Bulawayo to whom government also tendered the control of the controversial housing initiative, have found themselves stuck with the homes.
“There is no development occurring on the Garikai houses which we were cowed into taking to finish developing, clearly because government knew it had no money to proceed with the controversial project,” a Bulawayo city council official who asked not to be named for fear of victimisation, told this reporter.
The construction of the GHK homes had come after the demolition of the structures deemed to be illegal, a move the UN and several international non-governmental organisations condemned as inhuman.
In its report assessing progress a year after the forced evictions, Amnesty International said government’s 2005 housing initiative had failed to provide better housing for people who lost their homes during the demolitions.
The findings, contained in two Amnesty International reports, reveal that only 3 325 houses were constructed compared to the 92 460 homes destroyed during the blitz, a move that has irked local rights groups.
“So many rights are violated when a family loses what was supposed to be their shelter. In most cases they have to move, thereby violating the rights of children to education, right to water when they have to be exposed to vagaries of weather,” said Jestina Mukoko, national director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, a rights lobby group which works to advance peace.
Section 28 of Zimbabwe’s Constitution requires all government institutions at every level to take reasonable measures within the limits of their resources to enable every person to have access to adequate shelter.
According to the Ministry of National Housing, there are approximately 1.2 million people on the government’s national housing waiting list, although the exact figure is unknown because most local authorities do not collect the necessary data.
This is on top of those people who lost their homes in the controversial 2005 demolitions.
Although the 2005 clean-up blitz was most severe, over the years demolitions have recurred in various suburbs across the country, including Chitungwiza outside Harare, alongside the Zimbabwean capital’s high density suburbs of Glen Norah and Warren Park.