Slum Dwellers International were the main participants in a Housing Forum in Livingstone Zambia that was organized in late November 2009 by the Zambia Homeless and Poor People’s Federation and the Zambian Government. The Forum coincided with the opening of houses that had been built by the Federation.
The official handover of houses to the Mwandi community was the result of an 8-year endeavor; the community had started a savings collective in 2001 and after many years had secured their own land on which to start building. The Zambia Homeless and Poor People’s Federation is a community-based organisation made up of urban poor and homeless families that have constituted themselves into housing savings schemes. The Zambian Federation was set up in 2001 with the support of Slum Dwellers International (SDI) and the Zimbabwean Alliance of Dialogue on Shelter and Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation. To date, the Zambian Federation has a membership of 32,000 in 17 local municipalities. Their objective is to work with poor, homeless urban communities and assist them in finding solutions to their homelessness and poverty, as well as other challenges such as health and the lack of access to water and sanitation.
The Livingstone savings groups that are affiliated to the Federation applied to the Livingstone City Council for land in 2006. The council eventually offered the community a plot of land for ZK 2.5 million (R40, 000) per person, however because of the savings collective, the community was able to negotiate it down to KZ 150,000 (R230) per person. Instances such as this demonstrate why the savings rituals are so crucial to creating strong communities. The savings process is designed to maximize the contact that people have with each other, enabling strong bonds to form around their shared identity as poor people. When people interact with each other every day – whether it be over savings and loans or the threat of eviction – their sense of being a community intensifies.
With this growing sense of community, the group in Mwandi also had to negotiate for water, but had the confidence to start building without a confirmed supply in September of 2007. They started buying water drums that held 250 litres of water for roughly KZ 13,500. Through the community’s continual lobbying, the council finally secured a deal with the Southern Water and Sewerage Company (SWASCO) to supply the community with water, who have put in larger pipes in anticipation of future settlement expansion.
The Housing Forum that was held on the 24th of November 2009 was focused on highlighting the critical link between the government and communities. Improving the living conditions of impoverished communities is difficult to accomplish without the involvement of the government. The savings groups fulfill the role of mobilizing the communities, which in tern pushes the government to meet them half way. It also means that the communities do not have to wait for the government to initiate the development. These thoughts were echoed by many of the speakers, especially the Minister for National Housing and Social Amenities of Zimbabwe, Fidelis Mhashu, who said that communities ‘cannot wait for the government, if there is an opportunity to organize– one must take it’. The Zambian District Commissioner stressed that the communities should not be in isolation, and that the forum served to ‘cement the relationship between the poor and the government.’
The day culminated with the signing of the Zambia-Livingstone Declaration, which stated:
As informal settlement dwellers, NGOs and governments, participating in this international workshop, we feel obliged to redouble our efforts to take joint responsibility for the restoration of the dignity of the poor and mobilize governments and organizations world over, to make the provision of access to shelter, potable water and sanitation an urgent and first priority.
The following day was the official handover, and the mood was jubilant. There were traditional dancers and constant cries of Halala Federation, Halala! In his address to the gathering Jockin, the President of SDI, implored the local government to supply the communities with an additional 1000 plots, stressing that ‘we don’t believe in hand outs – the communities are ready to build.’ Whilst there was no definitive answer on the additional thousand plots, what was clearly evident across the two days was the acceptance on both sides of the need to work together to fix the housing deficit in Zambia. All hopeful eyes are now on the Zambian coalition of the federation and government and will be watching closely for progress.