Low Income Housing In Harare Economics Essay

Provision of adequate and affordable housing is one of the main challenges faced by African governments. Rapid urbanization over the past four decades has widened the gap between supply and demand, leading to overcrowding, shortage of housing units, and the development of squatter settlements in African cities (Grey, 2012). As one of the basic human rights (UN, 1948), housing is high on the UN agenda and a part of the Millennium Development Goals, which aim “By 2020, to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum-dwellers” (Target 7D, MDM).

Comparison of urbanisation and housing indicators in Zimbabwe and other African countries reveals a mixed picture. On the one hand, the population growth of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare was at the rate of 1.87% per annum between 2005 and 2010, and thus significantly lower than in other African cities, such as Lagos – 3.74%, Maputo – 3.90%, or Algiers – 2.22% (UN-Habitat, 2010). Zimbabwe has one of the lowest proportions of urban slum population – 17.9% in 2007 compared to 34.4% for all developing countries and 62.4% for Sub-Saharan Africa (UN-Habitat, 2010). At the same time, however, the country has been affected by an enormous housing shortage of around 1 million units (Zimbabwe, 2011). In Harare only, the housing backlog was said to be at the level of 500,000 residents in 2010 (CHRA, 2010). This is particularly worrying since housing in developing countries bears numerous functions other than simply shelter. Most importantly, it acts as a productive asset through rental arrangements, and provision of space for informal activities, such as manufacturing of goods or selling services (Peattie, 1979; Arku, 2006). In unstable, inflation-ridden economies, it is also the most certain form of investment and insurance for the urban poor (Peattie, 1982).

Considering the size of the housing shortage and the importance of housing for urban livelihoods it is crucial to understand the reasons behind the current housing crisis in Zimbabwe. Taking the case study of Harare and its satellite town Chitungwiza, this paper will analyse historical contexts and government policies which have influenced the housing situation in Harare, as well as inspect coping mechanisms of urban dwellers in response to the housing crisis. Wherever relevant, gender issues with regard to housing will also be examined.

Theoretical Framework

African cities are extremely diverse in terms of planning policies and urbanisation patterns (UN-Habitat, 2011). Nevertheless, it is useful to begin by setting a brief theoretical framework, which will facilitate the subsequent analysis and put Harare’s development and housing provision in the broader context of sub-Saharan Africa.

Smout (1980) proposes a concise model of the evolution of African cities throughout the colonial and post-colonial era (see Figure 1). In the Anglo Southern African sub-model, to which Harare belongs, “the original urban nucleus was a planned spacious settlement built for incoming White settlers” (Zinyama, 1993:7). This was followed by the establishment of planned but higher-density neighbourhoods and townships for Black urban workers. Informal and squatter settlements (described by Smout as the ‘African village’ component) had not normally developed until after independence, when migration restrictions were relaxed and influx controls removed.

Figure 1: The evolution of city components in Sub-Saharan Africa (Smout, 1980 found in Zinyama, 1993)

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An overview of more recent global and African housing policies is provided by the UN-Habitat report (2011), see Figure 2. The report argues that the global housing policy of the 1950s and 1960s was dominated by capital-intensive provision of standardised housing by governments. However, as this approach failed, in the 1970s the policy shifted towards “redistribution with growth/basic needs” (UN-Habitat, 2011: 5). In Africa, governments implemented a number of self-help schemes, such as provision of ‘site-and-services’ for the poor to construct their own houses. In the late 1980s, the lack of affordable housing began to be perceived as a failure of the market caused by excessive government intervention, and private investors were expected to step in as the main housing providers. However, in practice, this period was largely marked by stagnation in the housing sector. From 2000 onwards, the emphasis on the role of the private sector persisted in most African countries, with an added “focus on sustainable urban planning” (UN-Habitat, 2011:8).

Figure 2: Global and African trends in housing policies (adapted from UN-Habitat, 2011:4-9)

In the context of the above two models, this paper will now analyse the housing provision in Harare in the colonial and post-colonial era.

Colonial era (1890-1980)

Harare, known as Salisbury until 1982, was established by the British colonial rule in 1890. In accordance with the Smout model, the city centre was built on a grid-iron plan with wide streets and spacious public spaces (Brown, 2001). From the earliest days, the city council had used strict planning regulations to exercise control over the development of residential areas for different racial groups (Davison, 2002). These early controls had a profound effect on the later shape of the city, as exemplified by the government regulation which dictated that every plot with septic tank sewerage disposal should be not less than 1 acre (Zinyama, 1993). Consequently, this became the standard plot size in White neighbourhoods which, even after subsequent subdivisions, are still known as low-density areas (LDAs).

First African neighbourhoods were established to the south-west of Harare shortly after 1890 as a result of demand for Black urban workers, and gave rise to what is now known as high-density areas (HDAs). The location reflected politics of racial segregation, which required African settlements to be ‘sufficiently’ separated from White areas located mainly to the north-east of the city. Urban blacks were regarded as temporary workers, and thus African accommodation consisted mainly of single men’s hostels and small, compact houses (Musekiwa, 1993). Land and property ownership was illegal, and the rental contracts were closely tied to employment, which largely excluded women from the access to urban areas (Schlyter, 2006).

The strict colonial policies were only relaxed following industrialisation after the Second World War, when more jobs became available and the inflow of Africans into Harare increased (Musekiwa, 1993). In a more liberal political climate of the 1950s and early 1960s, the government began to provide housing for married couples and families (obtaining accommodation remained next to impossible for single, divorced or widowed women), and allowed a certain degree of house ownership in African areas (Cumming, 1993). However, the imposition of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by the apartheid-leaning White regime in 1965 meant that the early restrictions were reinstated and further tightened (Schlyter, 2006). Large parts of Harare were designated as European areas, and African population was re-directed to outlying townships, such as Seke or Chirambahuyo, which later formed Chitungwiza (now the 3rd largest town in Zimbabwe). In the late 1970s, the housing situation in Harare further deteriorated as a result of an increased demand following the influx of immigrants during the War of Independence. A housing shortage of around 16,000 units led to the development of squatter settlements in such areas as Epworth (one of the only slums in Harare) and Derbyshire, which was later demolished and the squatters were moved to Chitungwiza (Musekiwa, 1993).

To reiterate, three main issues can be identified regarding the provision of low-income housing and government policies in the colonial-era Harare: (1) the racial segregation of black townships, which were often established at a significant distance from the city centre, and thus away from its opportunities; (2) close ties of housing to formal employment, which excluded certain demographic groups, such as women; (3) ‘supply approach’, that is provision of ‘ready-to-occupy housing’ characterised by relatively high per-unit costs (Musekiwa, 1993).

Post-colonial era (1980-2005)

At independence in 1980, the new government led by Robert Mugabe removed restrictions on internal migration, which resulted in a large influx of people from rural areas into cities. The population of Harare nearly doubled in size from 650,000 in 1982 to 1,200,000 ten years later (Rakodi, 1995), putting a considerable strain on the city’s infrastructure and exacerbating the existing housing shortage (Colquhoun, 1993).

Nevertheless, the early 1980s were marked by popular optimism as the economy flourished and the government promised affordable housing for everyone by the year 2000 (Mlambo, 2008). The emphasis was put on home ownership and self-help projects such as site-and-service and rent-to-buy schemes, under which the government provided serviced plots with basic housing units. Land titles were subsequently transferred to occupants on fulfilment of conditions such as regular rent payments and completion of the full house within a given timeframe. The self-help approach lowered government’s costs, and was perceived as a cheaper alternative for those who could not afford conventional housing (Musekiwa, 1993).

The initial period of optimism proved short-lived as an economic crisis hit Zimbabwe just a few years after independence, and by the late 1980s it became apparent that the housing crisis was unlikely to be solved. The costs of building materials soared (Figure 3), and the government faced additional constraints such as shortage of professional manpower and lack of sufficient funding (Mlambo, 2008). At the same time, the over-regulation of the housing sector made investment in housing unprofitable, effectively deterring the private sector (Kamete, 1997). Consequently, construction of new houses virtually stopped in the 1980s, see Figure 4.


Moreover, the self-help approach failed to improve the affordability of low-income housing as the minimum standards were set an unrealistically high level, which included full servicing, four-roomed core house and the minimum plot size of 300 m2, among others (Chenga, 1993). Provision of housing remained closely tied to employment, and losing a job often meant losing place on the long waiting list (Schlyter, 2006).

The Smout model predicts development of slum areas in the post-Independence period. However, this did not take place in Harare, as the new government maintained the strict anti-squatter policies of their colonial predecessors. With the notable exception of Epworth, where the choice was made to upgrade the settlement in 1983 (Butcher, 1993), squatter settlements and ultra low-cost units constructed by the previous governments were regularly demolished (Schlyter, 2006).

Although racial segregation in urban planning was theoretically abolished after the Independence, in practice the new low-income HDAs, such as Buduriro or Hatcliffe, continued to develop away from the city centre (Bryceson, 2006) due to a number of factors including lower building costs and availability of established infrastructure in the suburban areas (Butcher, 1993), see Figure 5. Furthermore, a number of schemes had been started before independence and the new government simply continued to implement the projects initiated by the previous White regime (Zinyama, 1993).

It is thus evident that the efforts to solve the housing backlog in the post-colonial era proved mostly unsuccessful for a number of reasons, such as the economic crisis and inappropriate housing policies. The inability of the government to diverge from colonial policies was also a key factor, as Davison (2002) argues that urban development in Harare remained largely influenced by Western planning models such as Garden City or Redburn, which were idealistic and not feasible in the African setting.

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Coping Mechanisms – 600


No policy statements advocating lodging, but in reality a pro-lodging strategy was operative

Lodging as an important source of income for many families (especially female households) & alternative provision of housing in the system characterized by strong anti-squatter policies

Positive/negative aspects of lodging

Development of illegal backyard shacks for lodgers

Housing Co-operatives

Have played a crucial role in the delivery of urban housing since the late 1980s

Pros/Cons – The case study of Kugarika Kushinga housing co-operative in Harare

Government responses to housing co-ops

Operation Murambatsvina (May – July 2005) – 300

Background: Deterioration of the economic situation of Zimbabwe throughout 1990s and early 2000s, and fast-tracked land reforms in the early 2000s (targeted white farms for compulsory acquisitions)

Housing crisis – urban dwellers responded by building unauthorized extensions (backyard shacks) and squatter settlements around the city

Aim: to eradicate ‘illegal housing’ and informal jobs (OM was not the first ‘clean-up’ operation, but by far the largest in Zimbabwe)


an ideological adherence to modernist planning and the image of a ‘modern city’

a desire to decrease the presence of poorest urban people, by driving them out of towns

political motivations

Government’s argument that displaced people should ‘return’ to rural areas – based on a false assumption that they all originated from rural areas – i.e. have somewhere to ‘return’ (gender issue: women’s claim to land far weaker than men’s in patrilineal systems)

An overview of the direct and indirect effects of OM on urban population and housing situation

an increased overcrowding in the legal houses

shift in the family composition (primarily wives and children left for the rural areas)

Post-Operation Murambatsvina – 400

The long-term effects of OM – what happened to the displaced people?

the majority of them returned to cities within a year of the OM – case study: Hatcliffe Extension (by August 2006 most Hatcliffe residents were back on their original stands)

[There does not seem to be much research into Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Harare. However, Solidarity Peace Trust did a survey of IDPs (mainly) in Bulawayo (2nd largest city in Zimbabwe) one and five years after OM]

By the end of 2006, 2000 new housing units were built nationwide (many of those are unoccupied); between 2006-2010 no new housing units for IDPs

A large number of IDPs still lived in ‘holding camps’ in 2010

Desperate overcrowding of legal houses, and a large increase in the slum population

What next? – 600

Building at higher densities, mixed income neighbourhoods, and more provision for informal activities

In-fill development

More lenient anti-squatter policies: the provision of more land for low-income people to enable them to build sub-standard housing which can be upgraded later – (when?)

Participatory approaches – e.g. Epworth

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