Transforming Relations between Local Government and the Urban Poor in Zimbabwe

IIED Zimbabwe paperThe Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation (ZHPF) was founded in 1998 and is one of 33 members in the Shack/slum Dwellers International (SDI) Network. Writing for the Human Settlements Group of The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), Beth Chitekwe-Biti explains that the ZHPF partnership with the City of Harare has led to more inclusive, pro-poor, urban development in “Brick by brick: Transforming relations between local government and the urban poor in Zimbabwe.” In her article, she notes that initiatives around community-led settlement upgrading and funding mechanisms for upgrading have been instrumental in strengthening collaborative partnerships. ZHPF has also “pursued city-wide profiling and an alternative incremental approach to development to achieve strategic gains such as pro-poor policy and legal reforms.”

In the late 1990s the Federation addressed practical issues by creating community saving schemes which families could use for saving and accessing small loans in times of crisis. The ZHPF then began negotiations with the government to limit the amount of evictions that occurred in the community. Their approach was to push for recognition by the government and present the Federation as an organization bringing people together to address their challenges and seek solutions, and then going to the state with their proposals. The ZHPF was shaped by its early interactions with organizations from other countries, such as the South African Homeless People’s Federation. The South African experience taught the ZHPF that a non-confrontational relationship, in which one was subtle but persistent, would lead to long term gains in the future.

Local government at the time reacted positively but cautiously. Smaller town authorities were often more receptive than those in larger cities. In 1999 the Federation established a fund called the Gungano (gathering) Urban Poor Fund. This Fund attracted money from NGOs and became a bargaining tool with local authorities.

A breakthrough came in 1999 when the Victoria Falls Town Council allocated the ZHPF’s Victoria Falls Chapter 565 residential plots after the Federation had demonstrated that a majority of people were living in backyards with no access to proper sanitation but were still paying rent to landlords. The Federation developed a layout plan and installed water and sewage. The Federation set up a tripartite council with the Dialogue on Shelter and the Town Council to oversee the project. This tripartite council committee was a strategic move that allowed the Victoria Falls Town Council to claim ownership of creating a different kind of relationship: joint ownership. This project also enabled the Federation to demonstrate its ability to manage projects.

The Federation encountered difficulties in large urban areas like Harare and Buluwayo. This was due to political difficulties as well as the complexities of rapid urban growth. A breakthrough came in Harare. In 2002 there was a threat of evictions in the township of Mbare, so the Federation approached the Chair of the Commission, giving her data on overcrowding and affirming the willingness of residents to find a better solution than eviction. The Commission then decided to make the first allocation of land to the Federation in Harare.

Tangible benefits have already been made thanks to the partnership between the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation and the City of Harare. The partnership has resulted in a documentation of slum areas in the city, created the institutional process through which the people can engage with the city in improving their settlements, a financial facility to finance the upgrading of slums, and a positive collaboration between the city and the urban poor. Going forward, the challenge will be to institutionalize such partnerships within the city and mainstream the process of delivery.

The paper is available here.

Information about the Federation is available here.

One thought on “Transforming Relations between Local Government and the Urban Poor in Zimbabwe

  1. I’m no longer sure the place you’re getting your information, but good topic.

    I must spend a while finding out more or working out
    more. Thank you for great information I used to be looking for this info
    for my mission.


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