Age of Zinc is proud to present the eighth installment in a new memoir from the slums of Harare, Zimbabwe. Check back every week to catch the next part of the story!
The Mbare enumeration took place in 1999. The Federation had been officially launched as an organization in 1998. We were young and still wanting to grow.
The federation in South Africa was the major support to us. I went on an exchange to Cape Town in South Africa. When I saw the federation houses in South Africa I asked myself, “Are we also going to have houses in our country?”
I was not even dreaming of having a house. There was a need for such housing and our future thinking was that we might have houses. The South African houses were very good: Four rooms with electricity. Some have water and some have no water. I slept in someone’s house, a federation member’s house. I was asking myself, “Am I going to have a house? The South African members gave us courage, and belief that it is going to happen through savings.
Daily savings was not difficult to us. If there was no money then we did not save cash but we saved through sharing in ideas. I understood that just coming to the meeting is saving. Working together to address challenges and solve problems made me comfortable to be with the others. But the little that you get, you save.
Before joining this Federation I told myself that I was very poor. I knew about the housing cooperatives but I never even asked to join. I cannot fit with the laws in the cooperative. There is a joining fee and then a fixed amount to be paid each month.
There was then a big housing problem in Harare and it was difficult for people to go and register themselves for the waiting list. I had tried to get registered. But what they asked me to bring with me, there was no way to get them. During that time they wanted a pay slip and this was the first challenge. The second challenge was the marriage certificate as I do not have one. I was married in the customary law and not with a formal wedding.
But then one of the Federation leaders was the late R______. I remember her telling me in 1999 that she had been on the waiting list since 1972. She had to renew each year.
After we took our officials from Harare on an exchange to Namibia and South Africa, we then had a discussion with them about the rules of the housing waiting list. After this discussion, they let the federation members register on the housing waiting list using our savings booklets. We succeeded in doing this at end of 1999.
After Mbare, we did an enumeration in Dzivarasekwa Extension and Porta Farm. Before we began, we asked for permission from the police and the councilors so they knew who we were and what we do. During the exercise you could be called for questioning by these people, and you would have to explain what we are doing and why we are doing that again.
We were not stopped from having the enumeration. Then, during the enumeration, some people – local people – asked, “What is happening?” You might find some complications here and there on the questions. But, in general, it was okay.
We tried to make Porta Farm an area to be upgraded. In 2005, with Murambatsvina, it was evicted. But in 1999, many people were living there. Now it is green land today. When we went to the city of Harare to ask for the lan, the city said, “It is not in our boundary. It is the Zvimba Rural District Council area.”
They refused like that until they evicted people. We had to learn many things.
We did our first housing development in Mavambo (meaning “the beginning”). There were 20 households who were identified to receive the serviced plots that the government made available to us. These people were living in holding camps that the local government had sent them to after evicting them from many areas. We helped by molding bricks, and there were many federation volunteers.
We had many challenges. There was another housing development after the federation negotiated for land in Victoria Falls. I did an exchange with Victoria Falls. We set up a group to get the money back from the residents. These members had taken loans to build houses.
What I remember is some people did not want to pay back their loans. In Victoria Falls we said, ‘We will take off the sheets (the roof sheets).” We said, “Bring back your money and we will bring back the sheets.”
The exchange helped a lot. The people refused to pay to the local members but paid when outside members came. We collected some money during that exchange and the people continued to repay. In this way we learned how to improve our work.