Co-learning for inclusive cities: Seven local authorities and Federation members meet in Zimbabwe

by James Tayler

By Diana Mitlin (IIED), Beth Chitekwe-Biti (Dialogue on Shelter, Zimbabew) & Noah Schermbrucker (SDI Secretariat)

New relationships between urban citizens and their local authorities are central to the upgrading of informal settlements and new urban development options for the lowest income and most disadvantaged urban dwellers. Such new relationships were recognised and explored in a meeting that took place in Harare on March 18th. The meeting drew together seven local authorities and the organized communities with whom they are working: Chinhoyi; Epworth; Bulawayo; Masvingo; Kariba; Kadoma and Harare. The community organizations present were all members of the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation (ZHPF).  Their work is supported by Dialogue on Shelter (DoS), a Zimbabwean NGO affiliated to Shack Dwellers International (SDI)-who also participated in the meeting. Some years ago government and communities would have blamed each other for the lack of improvements in high density, low-income neighborhoods. It is clear that both parties now recognise collective responsibilities, accountabilities and  are working towards shared solutions.

The meeting provided for frank discussions about the challenges involved in improving informal settlements. In joint presentations, municipal staff and federation leaders did not waste time congratulating themselves on work completed but instead focused on current challenges. Discussions highlighted the frequently rapid turnover of municipal staff, the lack of well-located land with easy access to employment opportunities and the lack of resources for investment in service improvements. It was suggested that municipalities and central government should give greater priority to the upgrading of informal settlements, and that this requires both effective strategies and new policy imperatives.

Epworth’s Housing Officer Mr. Muranduri spoke about the need to work with existing residents to manage the increase in residency following planned improvements to Ward 7. Patience Mudimu, Dialogue on Shelter, challenged the authority to increase the scale of its work and “to avoid the problem of people coming to improved areas and creating more overcrowding.” She emphasized that “slum upgrading needs to be city wide”.

William Hwata, Federation representative from Kariba, challenged the local authority’s preference for rapid upgrading of land allocated to the Federation. While the authority has been pressing the community to construct concrete two room houses within six months, he argued that the lowest income households couldn’t upgrade so quickly. He further reflected that perhaps this is becoming less problematic as authorities are able to see the progress residents are making (e.g. making plans, connecting water and accumulating building materials). Mr. Chipepo the Assistant Housing Director from Kariba City Council, was more ambivalent at this suggestion and emphasized the importance of the deadline.

The Housing Director of Kadoma Municipality Mr Hanyane recognised the problems that had resulted from the rapid turnover of local government staff with three housing directors having been appointed to city council since 2010.  It was tabled that the Kadoma federation has been promised land in three different developments, only to have the offers withdrawn and/or the federation being forced away from the development because of the planned level of improvement and associated costs. Mr. Hanyane and others also recognised the problems that some officials raise with respect to standards particularly around eco-sanitation units that have been challenged by public health authorities. However, the persistence and quality of the Federation engagement with the authority was recognized.  He suggested that this is because 80 per cent of the membership of the federation is made up of women: “I take my hat off to the ladies”. 

The meeting took place in Harare and site visits were made to two informal settlements. The first, Dzivarasekwa Extension, is benefitting from a comprehensive upgrading programme. Reticulated services are being installed and 16 model houses have been completed. The second, Gunhill, is an informal settlement close to the racecourse in Borrowdale an affluent Harare neighbourhood. The Gunhill settlement has no access to services. The community is in the process of being relocated.

Community participants at the meeting were all members of the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation. However, the presentations highlighted the ways in which membership is expanding as non-Federation members are included within activites.  In Dzivarasekwa Extension in Harare, for example, the federation families allocated land and relocating into this area simply incorporated the 160 other families on site already into their settlement development. These 480 households now work together to upgrade the area.  In Chinhoyi, non-federation members have benefited from sanitation investments as settlement improvements are inclusive of all local residents, offering all households the possibility of better access. A group established to improve a communal sanitation block includes members and non-members alike.  More than one official recognized the value of these visits in both pointing out the nature of the problem of informal settlements, and in demonstrating that upgrading is possible and desirable. Bridget Mandizha (Housing Manager in Harare) reflected on what the City of Harare had learnt from the project during the meeting.  She argued that “the project is a de-learning platform for technocrats. It has taken us from the theoretical background of a top bottom approach to the provision of services through the participatory approach.  We have been re-taught.”