BY MASIMBA MANYANYA
Our question becomes how do poor vulnerable communities cope effectively with the social economic and legal challenges of peri-urbanisation in Zimbabwe.
Universally, humanity hungers for intimate connection and identification with land, as the primary centre of habitation and source of economic livelihood.
Just as land secures the livelihoods of simple village communities, it also shapes the economic and political destinies of nations.
For decades once so often Zimbabweans wake up to intriguing cases of land repossession, population displacements/evictions and conflict in the urban fringes including Epworth, Goromonzi, Chinyika and Domboshawa, including towns like Murewa and Bindura.
Simply put, at the centre of these conflicts erupting across the country is a mismatch between demand and supply of land.
But there are also lobbies and influences, high income inequalities, lack of proper markets in rural frontiers of expanding cities. Corruption is rampant.
One question emerges; do we have a regulatory or policy framework to guide the expansion of cities and towns in Zimbabwe?
Peri-urban land (also called outskirts or the hinterland,) includes spaces, forms, and structures resulting from urbanisation.
Peri-urban areas encompass landscape interfaces between town and country, or also as the rural-urban transition zone where urban and rural mix and often clash.
From an urban planning perspective, peri-urban areas represent the rural spaces for the expansion of cities.
While peri-urban areas are unique opportunities for profiteering, (as privately held rural land can be sold to municipalities for a fortune),these regions also present lucrative business opportunities in market gardening, as expanding urban populations invariably need food.
Peri urban regions are traditionally approached from an urban planning perspective, as ground for urban sprawl and location of regional and trans-regional infrastructures.
But increasingly, policy-makers and economic justice activists are re-discovering the importance of rural livelihoods in people-centred development in emerging economies.
This explains why peri-urbanisation in Zimbabwe, and the Sadc region, is drawing renewed interest from development activists.
Political independence in Zimbabwe and the rest of Sadc was rooted on costly wars that sought to restore ownership of land to indigenous inhabitants.
In Sadc, 60-75% of the population depends on rural agricultural livelihoods.
And in 2021, just as many cities in Sadc are growing rapidly, the number of poor in urban, peri-urban and rural regions in also increasingly at a fast pace.
Shanty towns are increasingly a common feature in Sadc.
Zimbabwe’s major cities are expanding rapidly, with the demand for residential land leading in these increases.
As the horizontal expansion of Harare follows the main transport arteries into the city, most rural districts in the perimeter of Harare are affected.
This reflects trends in the developing world where, according to UN projections, 60% of the population will be living in urban areas by 2040.
Over the past two decades, and with the expansion of Harare city into its hinterlands, the livelihoods of rural folks are affected in many ways, particularly as councils seek to acquire surrounding communal lands for urban development, and also as private developers descend into the district.
As a landscape interface between town and country, or as a ‘rural-urban transition’ zone where urban and rural social, economic and political values tend to clash, peri-urban areas need more attention from law and policy makers.
Because just as peri-urban land management is not a neutral technical exercise, it is also concerned with making ethical judgments.
It means that land management in peri-urban areas is shaped by values that have to be made explicit and clear.
Worth noting is that the resident has important entitlements and obligations in the constitution.
Goromonzi Rural District Council, reportedly among the wealthiest local authorities in Zimbabwe, almost encircles Harare city, as it covers an area of approximately 9 100 square kilometres, including Domboshawa in the west, Chinyika and Rusike in the east.
With a population exceeding 400 000 in 2021, Goromonzi typifies a conflict zone as Harare city expands into communal areas that do not have clear rights to land.
For many decades till the late 1990s, rural communities in Goromonzi earned their livelihoods tilling the land for maize, as well as livestock production.
Then one day the villages woke up suddenly to the realisation that the farming and grazing lands were no longer theirs, as it had been ‘pegged’ away by the Goromonzi Rural District Council (GRDC) for sale to prospective private homeowners, who are from other parts of the country.
With every day that has passed since the late 1990s, the threat of urbanisation looms over Goromonzi, with vast tracts of communal lands facing the prospect of conversion from communal to urban.
The disappearance of agricultural land against the background of expanding human needs in communal areas sparks off an economic and also social livelihood and environmental crisis, resulting in intensive land utilisation of limited spaces at homesteads.
Within a short space of time after the 1990s local communities, particularly women in Goromonzi were scrounging for money to pay for basic necessities such as food, shelter, health and education.
Over recent years, the experience of Goromonzi exhibits:
l high population mobility, which complicates local service delivery
l intense competition for land between urban elites, represented by advancing municipalities on the other hand and retreating rural populations on the other
l absence or lack of systematic planning by government and municipal authorities; implying activities in the peri-urban areas are shaped by ad-hoc reactions to emerging challenges and crises,
l extreme vulnerability of poor and landless people living in the peri-urban regions.
In Zimbabwe rural land is vested in the state, implying the state has a stake in what goes on in peri-urban areas. The question then becomes how do poor vulnerable communities cope effectively with the socio-economic and legal challenges of peri-urbanisation?
Without proper planning, peri-urban areas degenerate quickly into slums or “shanty towns” without proper public services, hygienic standards, and which are crime havens.
An inclusive win-win policy solution for Zimbabwe are institutional and policy mechanisms that:
l protect the poor and vulnerable rural communities during acquisition of communal lands by municipalities and councils;
l minimise land losses, population relocations/ displacements and disruptions of livelihoods and that are also environmentally sustainable;
l promote educational and public awareness campaigns on Constitutional rights and policy privileges in the context of the encroaching urbanisation, targeting:
l prioritise regularising existing land holdings in peri-urban and communal areas for conversion into urban residential plots. Where land had been taken away by councils, some form of compensation has to be considered;
l promote development of new urban residential plots with the active leadership and involvement of councils and residents associations;
l promote properly planned peri-urban regions, laying the essential basis for well serviced urban, industrial, agricultural, commercial and housing infrastructure in the future;
l encourage residents in peri-urban and rural areas need to be part of strong residents representative associations and institutions which lobby for their interests.
A final note is the issue of economic justice; defined here as “encompassing a set of moral principles for building economic institutions, the ultimate goal of which is to avail an opportunity for each person to create sufficient material foundation upon which to have a dignified and creative life”. (www.zimcodd.org)
This specifically means that local authorities have an obligation to build within vulnerable communities knowledge bases that equip such communities with information about challenges and opportunities in their economic and policy environment.
This also entails building the confidence of communities in peri-urban regions as they engage policy makers and local administrators about developments that concern, or affect their livelihoods.
Masimba Manyanya is an economist and policy analyst. *These articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance and Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe. Mobile no. +263 772 382 852 and email: email@example.com