Housing co-ops banned from occupying state land in Zimbabwe

The government of Zimbabwe has announced it will stop allocating state land to co-operatives. The move comes after a number of houses built at Arlington estates near the...

The government of Zimbabwe has announced it will stop allocating state land to co-operatives. The move comes after a number of houses built at Arlington estates near the Harare International Airport were demolished because they had been built illegally on land designed for port expansion.

Earlier this year the city of Harare also stopped issuing land to co-operatives following a review of its housing policy. The council issued a statement in which it warned residents that they should not deal with “middlemen” and “housing co-operative management committees”.

However the temporary measure will not have any impact on co-ops developing housing on land bought from private land owners, says Mike Duru, chair of the Zimbabwe Association of Housing Co-operatives.

“Housing co-operatives were not banned in terms of their existence but in terms of public land allocation until corruption is tackled,” he said.

The statement reads: “The policy outlines that residents should not deal with middlemen/housing co-operative management committees. This warning comes in the wake of reports that some co-op management committees are misrepresenting facts on the ground – lying to residents that they have entered into partnership with councils.

“The city of Harare has not entered into any such agreement with the housing co-ops. Residents are urged to visit our district offices to verify any demands of cash payments made by these people.”

Samora Machel Avenue in Harare
Samora Machel Avenue in Harare

The decision has led to disagreements between government departments. Deputy minister Noveti Muponora described the demolition of houses built illegally on public land as “unfair”. He explained that land barons were to blame for the situation, not co-operatives. However, Mr Muponora said that some co-operatives had taken advantage of people desperately seeking homes.

Zimbabwe currently has over 7,000 housing co-operatives that have been registered with the Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprises and Co-operatives Development.

Mr Duru argues that land barons are the real problem, not co-operatives. According to him, the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing is investigating land barons, including some councillors that allocated land to housing co-operatives. “There was random allocation of such land,” he said.

“This has seen some of the houses built being destroyed, ironically, by the same council whose workers had approved the designs and plans, supervised the process and given compliance certificates.”

The people whose houses had been destroyed were allocated new land under the government’s supervision. From now on housing projects on public land will be developed by the Urban Development Corporation, a government body within the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing.

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