Zimbabwe Adopts National Human Settlements Policy

On the 3rd of November, 2020, the government of Zimbabwe approved the National Human Settlements Policy. It was a policy adopted after several deliberations regarding improvement of human settlements in Zimbabwe. The policy seeks to introduce several measures regarding human settlements and their planning. The adoption of the policy came after various consultations were done with key stakeholders to improve the draft and align the policy with international and regional best practices. Therefore, the principles of the policy focused on the fulfilling of the provisions of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Previously, at a consultation workshop in August 2019, the Minister of Local Government and Public Works, Mr. July Moyo iterated these principles: “Zimbabwe’s settlements are expected to be hubs of innovation, commerce, equitable socio-economic development and expression of the diverse cultural heritage at local as well as national level.”

The policy was influenced significantly by the leading stakeholders in human settlements. Key among the focus of the human settlements policy was the right to adequate shelter. This is a focus supported by most organizations that participated in the formulation of the policy. It is a focus that also align with the Section 28 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe on the responsibility of government to provide every person with adequate shelter.

During the consultation process, emphasis was given on the need to draw lessons from countries such as Rwanda, Ghana, Zambia, Australia and South Korea, countries that have adopted the National Human Settlements Policies. Emphasis was also given to aligning the policy with key global frameworks that include the New Urban Agenda, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.

Major Policy Proposals

The policy made five major proposals spanning from spatial planning, housing and land administration to social inclusion.

1. Strengthening of Spatial Planning and Management

The policy emphasized the need for strengthening of spatial planning and management of human settlements. This is to be guided by the Regional, Town and Country Planning Act, Chapter 29:12. The enshrinement called for every settlement to be planned spatially by registered spatial planners in accordance with the Act. This also prescribed all local authorities responsible for human settlements to establish spatial planning units that are staffed with registered spatial planners, that every urban settlement shall employ a spatial planner and an economist to co-lead the growth and development of the settlement. This institutional set up is to be supported by local authority committee that will coordinate the spatial planning of land and its governance.

2. Economic Development of Settlements

The policy acknowledged poor economic growth in human settlements across Zimbabwe. Given the economic purpose of human settlements to support the livelihoods of the settlement dwellers, the policy proposed that every settlement shall have an Economic Development Plan and Program and that the policies of local authorities shall emphasise he Local Economic Development (LED). The policy also proposed the designing and zoning of settlements to reflect the labour and economic resource allocations of the specific settlements.

3. Land and Housing Administration

The policy acknowledged the poor administration of land for human settlements across Zimbabwe which has led to significant environmental damage and high land tenure insecurity. The challenges of centralized land administration system was identified. The policies proposed clear process of land acquisition for human settlement development, surveying and titling of land identified for human settlements, which assures tenure security and favourable investment climate. The policy also put local authorities in the responsibility of spatial planning of land and housing provision. The overall administration of land for human settlements was put under the Ministry responsible for housing. Some of the key  proposals were that of densification where at least 40 percent of housing development will be designated for high-rise buildings in efforts to combat sprawl and promote densification.

4. Social Inclusion

The policy also emphasized the need for settlements to be inclusive of all classes of society in functions of the settlement and service provision. Local authorities are mandated with ensuring implementation of social protection policies in human settlements under their jurisdiction including areas such as budgets, service provision and infrastructure design.

5. Environment and Climate Change Considerations

Inadequate regulations regarding environmental considerations in the planning and development of human settlements was acknowledged which threatening the sustainability of human settlements and their resilience to disasters. The policy proposed to align planning and development of human settlements with environmental policies, laws and standards. It also proposed harnessing indigenous environmental knowledge, building partnerships among various stakeholders in promoting environmental resilience of human settlements.

In implementing the policy, the Ministry responsible for local government was mandated with implementing the policy and the relevant laws as well as coordinating with national and international institutions. The policy also proposed developing and revising Urban Renewal and Slum Upgrading guidelines or protocols.

Prospects and Challenges

The new national human settlements policy of Zimbabwe provide for many opportunities for the built environment in the country. One of the pressing issues over the years is the poor planning of human settlements given that the spatial planning profession is not protected legally as the exclusive practitioners of spatial planning. Most of the local authorities over the years had disbanded the spatial planning units. Other local authorities did not have spatial planners in their employ leaving the planning role to local authority professionals without proven competence in planning. The adoption of the policy is a huge progress for the spatial planning profession in Zimbabwe. It has become a policy window for spatial planners to become a recognised profession through enactment of an Act and registration of professional body for spatial planners. To achieve this requires strong political liaison with the current administration in Zimbabwe, which has shown interest in improving human settlements planning. It may require further establishment of political liaison office for spatial planners to improve the lobbying as well as the legislative action centre to track and promote the enactment of the required legislation by legislators.

The emphasis on densification for housing has revived the long-standing need to improve densification of cities. This again has given spatial planners and local authorities a policy window to revisit their manuals and guidelines, plans and standards regarding densification to ensure the human settlements they create align with the densification. As the densification proposal is set at 40 percent for all future housing developments, it challenges spatial planners to come up with ways of operationalizing this provision. A major challenge has been the risk of developing density without urbanism where the high-rise buildings that are developed do not provide good walkability thereby undermining provision of public transport and the vitality of new housing developments. A major benefit of the densification proposal of the policy is that it is a huge stride in the depoliticisation of urban land which has been a leading factor in the poor housing provision and poor planning and management of human settlements. As Zimbabwe adopts the national human settlements policy, it remains to be explored how it will be implemented by responsible authorities to realize its goals and principles.

Isaac Muchineripi
Isaac Muchineripi is the executive director of the African Urban Institute. He is a regional and urban planner with focus on urban governance, local government economics, land use planning and urban transport. He has worked with various cities and organisation on strategies to improve the liveability of African cities

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