Gov’t reports on the federation: Kariba, Zimbabwe

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat

The Zimbabwean Homeless People’s Federation, along with support NGO Dialogue on Shelter, met last month with Kariba council officials. This was not unusual in and of itself.

But often the documentation of such engagements falls to the federation and support NGO. So it was a welcome turn of events that the Kariba council itself submitted a report on last month’s meeting. The report lays out some of the possibilities and challenges facing many local councils working with the ZHPF. The same could, in fact, also be said for similar kinds of partnerships of slum dweller federations and local governments in other countries.

The full report, signed by Kariba’s director of housing, is as follows:

Homeless People’s Federation landed in Kariba in April 2001 when they were allocated  stand number 2561 Batonga to construct a model house. This allocation was actually a test case meant to gauge the effectiveness of the Federation and its capacity to deliver houses. In 2002 the model house was completed. The Federation managed to construct the required model house within the stipulated time. This proved a point to the Municipality and built confidence in the corporate body.

In March 2004 they were offered 136 stands. These were unserviced but surveyed. The Federation paid for the Engineering designs specifically for the area they were allocated. The Federation members provided labour for the servicing of these stands and they were getting technical assistance from the Dialogue on Shelter and Housing People of Zimbabwe. They successfully completed the servicing of the allocated stands and now they are putting up super structures.

The Municipality further allocated them an additional 12 stands in the same area to cater for extra membership and these successfully serviced and they are now putting the structures.

Then in October 2007 we offered them 52 stands in Batonga 2 and they are currently servicing the stands. In August 2006 they came to council with a request to construct temporary structures whilst developing their permanent houses. Council acceded to this request on the condition that as soon as the developer has completed or partially completed the main house, the temporary structure is demolished. We urge the leadership of the federation to observe this condition.

As council we are very glad that we have found reliable partners in Housing development. The Homeless People’s federation, Dialogue on Shelter and Housing people of Zimbabwe have proved beyond reasonable doubt that they are a reliable vehicle for providing housing/shelter to the poor, not only in Zimbabwe but beyond borders and all local authorities are proud of their work. The hopeless in terms of acquiring shelter have been converted to the hopeful actually reinforcing the concept that “A nation should be a beacon of hope”. The poor widows, orphans ,vulnerable and fully complemented families have been empowered through the provision of their own shelter. As Council we are proud of that.

The Homeless People’s Federation is also into herbal medicines, a venture which actually assist the vulnerable and less privileged members of society in that they cut on medical care. On top of that some of their herbs have proved to be more than modern medicines we get from the shelves of our pharmacies.


  • Five stands in Batonga are affected by the ZESA power lines and the Council and the Homeless People’s Federation are working together and to rectify this as US6,000.00 is needed by ZESA to divert the power line.
  • The terrain, the area the Federation is servicing has got an unfriendly terrain. It is rugged and rocky. Council does not have adequate equipment to assist the members. Currently our backhoe, back actor is down, it need to be repaired.
  • Council does not have dozer to assist in the opening of roads. What we have is a grader.

In the news

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat

Beyond the tragic earthquake in Haiti, we are taking note of a couple of other items of news affecting our partners in various parts of the world:


Earlier this month, traders in the large open market in Kumasi, Ghana faced difficulties when a section of the trading zone burned down in a fire. No official cause has been determined for the fire. It is the second such event in the past year, and authorities have expressed a desire to redevelop the site.


Last week, Zimbabwean National Minister of Housing, Fidelis Mhashu expressed anger and shock at the news that the Victoria Falls city council had authorized the destruction of a hundred houses in an informal settlement in the resort town.

Victoria Falls mayor Nkosilathi Jiyane was unrepentant for the destructive evictions. “As you are aware that Victoria Falls is a resort town, cleanliness is supposed to be maintained so that when foreigners come they are not discouraged by some funny houses. Besides we want to build a good image of our country,” he said.

An article in The Zimbabwean reported that Mhashu invoked 2005’s Operation Murabatsvina (translation: “clean out the trash”) nation-wide eviction campaign that affected 2.4 million people, according to a UN estimate.

[Mhashu] said the era of Murambatsvina lapsed in 2005 and no one has the authority to continue destroying residents’ houses because of their appearance.

“The policy is clear, if there are any houses that are below required standards, the responsible authorities should first build proper ones and then allocate them to the needy residents before destroying their shelter,” he said.

Mhashu also noted the folly of using the issue of sending a message to foreigners in justifying the evictions in Victoria Falls.

“You will remember that there was a housing convention held in Victoria Falls. So when the town council starts destroying houses, a negative message is going to be sent to foreigners who will start thinking that Zimbabwe is not a safe place to visit,” said Mhashu.

Earthquake in Haiti

Our thoughts and prayers go out to our partners and everyone else in Haiti. We will be sharing more information as we receive it.

Below is a message from Ana Paula Barretto, from our NGO partners in Brazil, Interacao. Brazilian federation members visited Haiti on an exchange last year, and have supported the work of communities there.

Dear partners,

I would like to express our condolences to all family members, friends and Haiti people in name of the Brazilian group (NGO and Federation members).  We are shocked with the news that we have seen about the earthquake and we hope that all of you are fine.  Please let us know when possible if you and the people who we met in Haiti are well.  Please let us know also any ways of helping.


Ana Paula Barretto

SDI Bulletin: The cruel contest between community organization and state corruption


By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat; photos by Irene Karanja, Pamoja Trust

By early December, ordinary people living on the riparian reserve in Deep Sea informal settlement had organized themselves to move off the land. The move was in compliance with a Kenyan Ministry of Environment order. The people on the reserve assumed that they would end up living on the land within the settlement that had been designated for this relocation. Muungano wa wanavijiji, the Kenyan Homeless People’s Federation, assisted the people living close to the water to count themselves. The completion of this exercise meant that community members would know exactly who would be affected by the move to a far away corner within Deep Sea informal settlement, in the Westlands division of Nairobi. 160 households — 349 people — were now set to relocate.

So why was the land allocated to others? Why are Muungano wa wanavijiji members from this community in prison? Most significantly, why are the people once living on the riparian reserve now homeless?


Violence, displacement, and legal disempowerment perpetrated by entrenched political and market interests are systematic realities in the lives of slum dwellers the world over. In the past six months, we have noted threats and witnessed acts of evictions in the historic Old Fadama informal settlement in Accra, Ghana, as well as the death, destruction of houses, and illegitimate arrest of slum dweller activists in the Kennedy Road informal settlement in Durban, South Africa. In both of these cases, it was clear that moves towards people-driven development were threatening vested interests of capital and power. Local politicians and businessmen resorted — either by themselves or through associated vigilantes — to violent means to assert their claims to the spoils of development. This is the same development that should be going to those who are otherwise the legitimate owners of their own fate: informal settlement dwellers themselves.

In previous bulletins about these cases, we have noted the need for closer analysis of the vulnerabilities of slum dwellers to the structural violence, either direct or indirect, perpetrated through state, parastatal, and market forces. The new case from the Deep Sea informal settlement illuminates the ways in which these susceptibilities arise when communities organize themselves towards their own development. This exposes the cruel contradictions of the state and the market as custodians of housing and urban development.


According to Pamoja Trust, a support NGO for Muungano wa wanavijiji, construction began on the allocated parcel of land for the relocation shortly after the Muungano-led enumeration. These houses went to allies of the local chief, according to residents. Those living on the riparian reserve were cut out of the move.

Community leaders drew up a letter of complaint, which was taken up by the Westlands District Officer. In response, he ordered a partial demolition of the new structures on 18 December. Now those who occupied the new structures protested, demanding back the money they claimed to have paid for the right to live there. According to eyewitness accounts gathered by Pamoja Trust, the police, local chief, and district officer began searching for the community chairman to serve as a scapegoat.

While the demolition was taking place, local police handcuffed the chairman, Richard Monari, who had helped write the letter of complaint. He was held in a police car for two hours, during which time witnesses report seeing a stranger handing a sachet of bhang (marijuana) to a plainclothes police officer. Three police officers and the local chief then took Monari to his house. His wife protested to the police and district officer, according to her testimony given to Pamoja Trust:

“I have seen and heard you from the time you came. You arrested my husband for exposing the transactions that have happened over this parcel of land through your office. Now I have seen this policeman plant the bhang in my bed. I know you want to get rid of my husband because he is contesting the business that you have been doing in this community in the name of resolving the riparian reserve issue.”

As she held her baby, a policeman slapped her. Her husband was arrested and taken to Parklands police station on charges of drug possession.

The crowd saw what was taking place and turned on the government officials. Both the chief and district officer had to flee.


The Deep Sea case is just the latest to highlight the need for slum dwellers everywhere to organize around their own capabilities and resources to fundamentally alter the ways that state and market assets accrue to them as urban citizens. Deep-seated interests are vested in the urbanization of poverty. Laws, near-pyrrhic victories in courts, and unfocused public demonstrations will not restrain them. It will take the full force of ordinary slum dwellers organizing themselves community-by-community, coming together at the city level, at the national level, and at the international level. It will take alliances with professionals who reinforce and enable the priorities, methods, and capabilities of poor people themselves.

The state and the market clearly must be challenged when they perpetrate acts of violence and oppression against ordinary poor urban dwellers like in Deep Sea, Kennedy Road, Old Fadama, and elsewhere. But ultimately, these forces must be engaged to achieve the development priorities of ordinary poor people at a scale that will change the course of the urbanization of poverty in our world. People-centered development will come when the people are truly the focus the state’s political structures purport to serve.

Governments can provide the resources to facilitate development. Still, they must ultimately recognize the primacy of the priorities and capabilities of organized, ordinary poor people. Such organized communities, working in hand with the facilitating power of the state, will put an end to the all-too-present specter of the cruel hand of the market and government, and engage the poor as full citizens of the places where they live and work.


Government as “outsourcer”, government as “facilitator”

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat

David A. Smith of the Affordable Housing Institute has a great post about a Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP) – led enumeration in Durban last month. It gives a good sense of how the community-led self-surveying is a key tool for community empowerment, as well as how this fits into the greater strategies of community-driven housing delivery and slum upgrading. Here’s a key quote from Smith:

Enumeration by the people themselves represents outsourcing an essential governmental function both to accelerate its delivery and to create political standing for the poor themselves. If you won’t do it for us, we will do it for ourselves and make you acknowledge us.

When we talk about “outsourcing an essential governmental function” such as census-taking for evidence-based solutions, I wonder what does it really mean to “outsource” such a project? If governments are not doing it, then is it really an “essential government function”? And what does it even mean to call something an “essential government function”?

The political value of an enumeration sheds some light on these questions. As I mentioned, enumerations are not just about momentary community empowerment for the sake of community empowerment. Having witnessed other FEDUP enumerations, I can say that the show of songs, slogans, and speeches can have a powerful emotional effect, something Smith also describes in his Durban experience. But the real test of enumerations is the way they can change our very notions of government.

It is helpful to think of these surveys not as “outsourcing,” which implies that it is some kind of half-hearted, last ditch measure, but rather as the most effective way to do such a survey to begin with. Poor communities are best placed to know the kinds of issues that really need to be surveyed, they stand to benefit the most from the information, and they have the most legitimacy to conduct the surveys. Once they have the information, they can negotiate with governments from a more informed, more organized, and more constructive standpoint.

In fact, it may be more useful to think of such “outsourcing” as the most effective thing government can do on this particular issue. But we can do away with this market-based language (every time I type the word “outsourcing” I think of big telecom companies, but maybe that’s my own problem). Ultimately, the government will have to act on this information. Instead of being the driving force behind development of poor communities, governments can think of themselves as facilitators working in partnership with poor communities — in fact, being led by poor communities. Poor communities need the political will, the technical capacities, and the finance that only governments can provide. And governments cannot facilitate these things without encouraging the organization of poor communities around their own resources, a key example being the information gathered through enumerations.

So it is not a binary of either governments leading or governments throwing up their hands and “outsourcing” community development and organization. Instead, governments can be facilitators, encouraging the very people they serve to take the lead and organize themselves. Then, governments will benefit through the strengthened political will and practical expertise to work towards development that can only come from these kinds of “people-centered” approaches.

Zimbabwe fed builds on housing convention gains


By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat

The Zimbabwean Homeless People’s Federation put on a real show at October’s National Housing Convention in Victoria Falls with an eye-catching double-storey housing model, and song and dance inside the conference room. But big news was happening behind the scenes.

During last month’s SDI Council meeting, I caught up with Patience Mudimu, a project coordinator at Dialogue on Shelter, an NGO supporting the activities of the ZHPF. She told me that the Federation and Dialogue held a number of meetings with local government authorities during the convention. “For possibly the first time, we were getting directors to queue up to have appointments with us,” she said.

There have been follow-up engagements with authorities from five different cities — Harare, Masvingo, Chiredzi, Mutare, and Bindura. The plans under discussion in all of these places reveal a lot of the challenges and possibilities of local administration and urban housing in Zimbabwe.

In Harare, Dialogue on Shelter is talking with Mayor Muchadeyi Masunda about a partnership between the ZHPF and local government to renovate hostels in four settlements. Though town planners are often responsible for much of the implementation process of policy, mayoral will is key, Mudimu told me, to give political clout to a project like this.

In Masvingo, the Federation is facilitating exchanges of local ministers between different cities. As part of the exchange program that they agreed to at the housing convention in October, Mayor Femias Chakabuda wants to bring Federation members in Masvingo to visit the Federation-built settlement in Victoria Falls. According to Mudimu, Chakabuda was particularly impressed by his visit to the settlement.

The Chiredzi local authorities invited Dialogue on Shelter and the Federation to give a presentation to the full town council. They gave this presentation in early November about the difficulties that homeless people have in obtaining land.

The authorities in Mutare had given land to the Federation to build boreholes, a project being funded by SDI’s Urban Poor Fund International (UPFI). As part of the negotiations at the housing convention, the Mutare authorities gave a verbal go-ahead, but there is still no written agreement on the issue.

Finally, Bindura authorities have offered space to the Federation to build a community resource center.

As Mudimu noted to me, while it can be tough to achieve much publicly at these big housing conventions, the public show can serve as a good backdrop for successful negotiations and partnerships behind-the-scenes.


By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat

Hello and welcome to SDI’s brand new blog! Shack / Slum Dwellers International (some people say “Shack,” others say “Slum”) is an alliance that has brought together organized poor communities and federations in 30 countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, as well as associated professionals.

Our hope is that this blog can serve as a way to keep anyone interested in the work that our federations do — as well as urban poverty in general — up-to-date on the latest SDI goings-on. Moreover, this blog can serve as a forum for the exchange of ideas, news, and strategies, as part of the bigger community online of people working on and discussing the issues SDI affiliates deal with on a daily basis.

Please do not hesitate to comment on anything you see or think about it, share anything from this blog with others. Organizing communities is a piecemeal, difficult process, requiring lots of innovations and improvements every step of the way. This blog will probably go through its own changes and difficulties and we’ll need your help and suggestions to move along that path.