Everyone has the right to shelter

HARARE - Epworth is the home of the famous outcrops of rocks amongst them the “Balancing Rocks” depicted on the defunct Zimbabwean banknotes, rock paintings of repute which appear in important books and “Domboramwari” (Rock of God), where God is believed to have stepped on and left his footprint.

Originally known as Zvi remba, Chiremba, Nzvimbo ye Minana or Zvi Minana — it is a sprawling conurbation situated south east of the city of Harare.

Today, the area still retains the name Epworth, which was given to it by Rev. Shimmin — a white missionary in Africa, as a Methodist Mission station in 1890. Epworth Mission was named after a British lord — Lord Epworth.

Affectionately known as “Epaz”, “Epaton” or more formerly as KwaChiremba, it was established in 1929, as a suburb of greater Harare, where the population grew from 20 000 in 1980, to approximately 123 250 in 2002, and an estimated 670 000 live there today.

After Independence it was even known as a “Den of Thieves” as it housed many people drawn from illegal mining from the sand and cement industries where Epworth and Mabvuku meet.

Epworth was initially developed into four sub-areas, but as the population increased it expanded to nine sub-areas that had extensive squatter settlements.

Post-independence it “became the only informal settlement to have been tolerated by the Zimbabwean government” due to the “long history of settlement by some of the residents”.

The land was not designated for housing. Most of the houses are built haphazardly from poorly baked or unburnt “farm” bricks which disintegrate during heavy rains frequently causing many houses to collapse.

The area is subject to flooding, and there has not been a control of affluent. Yet some structures are being built.

It is always important to understand pre-colonial dwellings and designation of a place before we put our inherited colonial mentality on the distribution and designation of land which has now taken a haphazard method of distribution.

Who designated the land at Epworth? On what criteria was the land designated? Under whose jurisdiction was the land sold?

Traditionally, building was created for permanence.

Housing was and should be integrated within the ecological area. Buildings and houses should incorporate the environment.  There is a very strong inter-relationship between man, animal and botanical and ecological dispersion in the environment.

Epworth itself has many types of ecosystems: arid, marshy, rocky, wooded and sandy.  

The best pit and river sand excavations are found in this area with much of it having been excavated for building purposes all over Greater Harare, causing serious soil erosion. Since independence there has been serious desertification throughout Epworth leading to further desertification and land degradation.

One of the important issues of concern is how ecology, botany, insects, animals are interlinked and actually have a synergy between all groups.  

When environmentalists refer to disrupting the ecological order of a place it could be via the introduction of a new animals or insects into a place or by the building of new houses in a swamp or wetland area which are best left as ecological “green” areas.

Land at Epworth is allocated only to “party card” holders.

The land is being sold for $200 a stand, with no Deeds of Sale — only receipts.

Before independence the arable and most fertile land was deliberately chosen for the Rhodesians.

Today, land is still divided between the elite and the ordinary person. Are the stands measured correctly and legally pegged?

The question which needs to be asked, and answered is what crime have these pitiable downtrodden people — whose homes have recently been wrecked leaving them, with children, babies and hard-earned possessions exposed committed?

What is more baffling is that nothing is done to curb the unsightly, unhygienic, and in all ways destructive street vending and city vagrants.

 These vendors are responsible for congestion, polluting the streets, both with litter and human waste; hamper pedestrian movement; hamper and endanger vehicular movement; obstruct entrances to commercial enterprises; destruction of infrastructure; noise pollution; theft; subjection to danger of babies and young children; un-natural and unsafe environment for the growth of children.

In May 2005, the infamous clean-up operation Murambatsvina left close to 650 000 people homeless. The exercise was so inhumane that the then United Nation Secretary General Kofi Annan had to dispatch his emissary Annah Tibajuka to see for herself and report back to her superior the exact implications of the exercise.

Despite this international embarrassment for the country  a similar disastrous situation has been allowed to take place.

The need to respect the people’s right to shelter must in no way be overlooked and abused.  Zimbabwe is a signatory to the United Nation’s Habitat International as well as the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Icesc), and other such institutions, and as such should not be seen to be transgressing upon the population’s right to shelter.

How does this impact the Millennium Goals to which the government is also a signatory? For years, the government has been promising to build housing for the people. It is been a massive undertaking, which understandably, government has not been able to deliver.

However, when individuals who are already struggling under the heavy yoke of lack of infrastructure, liquidity to crunch, and ensuing economic fiscal meltdown, massive and unprecedented unemployment which stands well over 86 percent, and rising, the constant threat of typhoid, cholera, diarrhoea, etc, high rents, (the highest in southern Africa), the daily vexation of transportation and the struggle to put even basic food on the table, make the effort of providing their own housing, they should be applauded and assisted whenever and wherever possible — not condemned to further desperation and homelessness and vagrancy.

The company, Sunway City, a subsidiary of the Industrial Development of Zimbabwe, which carried out the callous and inhuman demolition, argued that the residents were unlawfully settled on land reserved for “Light Industry”.

The questions which beg to be answered are:

- Who allowed them to settle there in the first place — was it not the Zimbabwean government?

- Is the Industrial Development of Zimbabwe not an arm of the government?

- Why build another industrial area when it is common knowledge that the existing ones are virtually closed due to lack of resources and outside competition?

- Would the money not be better spent revitalising the existing areas, some of which lie neglected?

- Does this not fall under the ministry of Local Government and Housing — what has the minister to say regarding this disastrous and inhuman affair?

Given that Sunway City might have been in the right, were the unfortunate people of Epworth not entitled to decent notification and alternative shelter?

Furthermore, the managing director of Sunway City is Ghanaian — where do his interests lie? It is common knowledge that housing is desperately in short supply — not industrial areas — it smacks of profiteering and unfair exploitation of indigenous upon indigenous — or rich against the poor!

The inhabitants of Epworth have without a doubt struggled in the extreme to build shelter for themselves.

They posed little inconvenience to commerce and to the rest of Harare.  

Unlike the hordes of street vendors who daily pollute the city with human waste, litter, noise, causing human and traffic congestion and inconvenience.

All this in the face of the growing expectation of the UNWTO-2013 and impending elections!

Government should distance themselves from this latest Murambatsvina and bring the people concerned to book.

The directors of Sunway City have forgotten that the by grace of God, not very long ago, they too were lodgers in some small fleapit — they have grown too big for their boots and they should be made to compensate the inhabitants of Epworth whose homes they destroyed!

What do the thousands of people we are trying to entice to visit our country via tourism make of this human tragedy?  The war for liberation and our independence was futile if the indigenous people of this country do not have shelter — which is their basic human right. Who will look after the children? - Michelina

Michelina, M.E.D.C. I.D.G. A.D.I. C.M.G. Social Analyst/Commentator.We all have a right to shelter

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