By Mary Jane Ncube, Farai Shone Mutondoro and Manase Chiweshe
As political parties gear up for the 2018 national elections in Zimbabwe, urban land appears to be emerging as an important campaigning tool for ruling party Zanu PF.
Amid recent mass public protests against corruption, economic decline and an import ban on basic commodities, young people who showed loyalty to the party werepromised land.
The use of land as a political tool is not new in Zimbabwe – in the early 2000s acontroversial land reform programme was rolled out to provide rural farms to war veterans and landless communities.
But this time the focus is on urban spaces – and younger people.
Rapid urbanization as well as the country’s housing crisis has driven up demand for urban land, making it a lucrative economic and political asset that is also susceptible to corruption.
Urban land doesn’t come cheap
Some 33% of Zimbabwe's total population is now urban, with Harare being home to more than half of this group of people. Young job-seekers are increasingly leaving rural areas in favour of towns and cities due to a lack of economic opportunities back home.
But urban land doesn’t come cheap. With rent that can go up to as much as US$2,500 a month, the first choice for most people in urban centres is to own a house or stand.
While more than one-third of the population is between the ages of 15 and 35 years, a staggering 86% of young people of working age are unemployed. It’s this segment which is moving into urban areas. With the high cost of living there, poverty is widespread.
The movement of young people from rural to urban centres also signals a shift in the electoral market. Urban areas are traditionally strongholds for opposition parties such as the Movement for Democratic Change, while Zanu PF’s stronghold is in the rural areas.
Past elections have shown that Zimbabwe’s young people are key to the polling process and outcome.
Now more than ever, young Zimbabweans are harnessing the power of social media to mobilise themselves and speak out against corruption, economic hardship, unemployment and injustice in their country. This poses a threat to the ruling party.
In what would seem as a tactic to win back trust, Zanu PF resorted to parcelling out1,300ha of land in Bulawayo and Harare to a select number of youth, despite this violating urban regulations that require land to be bought through the local municipal council or private land developers.
Instead of addressing the country’s urban land crisis by working with local councils to clear the housing backlog, the party has shifted its focus to youth in a bid to grow its supporter base ahead of the 2018 polls.
Transparency International Zimbabwe is currently documenting the dynamics of power, politics and corruption in urban land governance and hosting a series of community, stakeholder and policy dialogues in this area. Our aim is to take the politics out of land governance, empower citizens to challenge the current system and influence the development of anti-corruption mechanisms to prevent such abuse in the future.
Mary Jane Ncube is Executive Director at Transparency International Zimbabwe
Farai Mutondoro is Senior Researcher and Regional Coordinator at Transparency International Zimbabwe
Manase Chiweshe is Senior Development Studies Lecturer at Chinhoyi University of Technology