Zimbabwe: Mugabe's ambitious housing dream faces ruin

HARARE - Zimbabwe's grand programme to build houses for close to a million people displaced by its urban clean-up exercise appears set to fail with only 170 foundations laid so far ahead of an August 31 deadline because there are no funds for the much publicised reconstruction drive.

Local Government and National Housing Minister Ignatius Chombo yesterday told ZimOnline that Treasury had so far released only Z$50 billion out of a total of $3 trillion which the government says it needs to build houses for evicted families and to clear a national housing backlog of more than two million people.

The $50 billion - a paltry sum given high building costs in hyperinflationary Zimbabwe - will be shared among the country's 10 provinces but only $1 billion has been given to each province so far.

President Robert Mugabe's government, facing international condemnation and pressure to halt its controversial urban renewal programme, announced last month it was embarking on a major reconstruction exercise after its demolition of city backyard

cottages and shanty towns left thousands of families enduring cold nights deep into the winter season.

But economic analysts dismissed the reconstruction programme as a ploy to hoodwink the international community saying Harare, already hard pressed for cash for fuel and food imports just did not have enough resources to undertake such a massive building project at short notice.

"A total of $50 billion has so far been released by Treasury out of the $1 trillion set aside for the first phase of the reconstruction programme," Chombo said. "Government is inviting all stakeholders to participate in the programme to maximise resource utilisation," he added.

Chombo said the government would construct a total of 5 000 core houses by the end of this month throughout the country and at that rate, many of the displaced families will still be homeless by the end of the government's August 31 deadline.

In a tacit admission that it does not have adequate resources, the government has now decided to allocate residential stands to homeless families wishing to build on their own. But the stands are not serviced with roads, water or sewerage reticulation facilities.

The government has also allowed displaced people allocated new stands to build makeshift structures, the same which were declared illegal and demolished by the police.

Harare and Chitungwiza, the most hit by the operation, are expected to have 2 010 houses built by the end of this month but as of last Friday, only 170 housing foundations had been laid in Harare while a few demo-houses were being finished at Whitecliff, just outside the capital.

Murerwa, who publicly admitted the massive housing programme was not budgeted, is expected to seek extra funds from Parliament in the next two weeks when he presents a supplementary budget, a situation analysts say will help widen the budget deficit and fuel inflation.

A UN envoy is expected to publish findings of her two-week assessment mission of Harare's housing demolition campaign before the end of next week. - ZimOnline