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close this bookJournal of the Network of African Countries on Local Building Materials and Technologies - Volume 2, Number 3 (HABITAT, 1993, 42 p.)
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Zimbabwe: Low-income housing pilot projects


UNCHS (Habitat) has been assisting the Ministry of Public Construction and National Housing (MPCNH) of Zimbabwe since Independence in 1980 in developing and implementing appropriate housing policies, programmes and projects for low-income families in both urban and rural areas. This article highlights the unique features and achievements of two low-income housing pilot projects, one in an intermediate urban centre of Kwekwe and the other in a rural growth centre of Gutu.


A new post-Independence national housing policy

The pre-Independence housing policy was geared towards segregated development in the urban and rural areas. Housing for the indigenous low-income workers in the urban centres was provided mainly through overcrowded rental dormitory-type hostels with shared sanitary facilities. Housing for the majority of the population in rural farming areas was not provided and it was left to the individual low-income family to build traditional huts of mud and thatch with inadequate sanitary facilities.

With the achievement of Independence in 1980, the housing problem was reviewed within the context of national socio-economic transformation to meet the goal of growth with equity throughout the country. Home-ownership in both the urban and rural areas was introduced to provide security of tenure as the basis for the improvement of housing conditions. Three modes of house construction, namely aided self-help, building brigades and housing cooperatives, were brought in to replace the conventional private contractor mode of construction. Housing standards were revised to meet the socio-economic needs of the low-income families so as to provide decent shelter at affordable costs. A new rural housing programme for villages, resettlement schemes, communal lands and growth points was launched for the first time in the country’s history to provide shelter for the majority of the population.

Providing practical solutions to low-income housing problems in Kwekwe and Gutu

Need for pilot housing programmes and projects

In order to develop and test the new housing polices and programmes, the Government of Zimbabwe, through the then Ministry of Local Government and Housing, approached the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to provide preparatory technical assistance by the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat). This preparatory assistance request resulted in a project and a number of recommendations on housing options and standards. As a follow-up to the recommendations of this project, a report proposing two experimental low-income housing projects and community-development programmes was approved which resulted in the detailed planning, programming and implementation of the first two low-income housing pilot projects in Kwekwe and Gutu in November 1982.

Description of the projects


The objectives of the pilot projects in Kwekwe and Gulu were to test and monitor the following:

· New planning, design and construction solutions which attempt to achieve a closer match between the specific functional requirements of the lower-income beneficiaries and their financial capacities;

· New methods of organization in aided self-help, cooperative and communal efforts, including building brigades, which would enable the beneficiary groups to be involved more closely in the achievement of their own housing solutions through participation in the design, finance and construction stages of housing and community development;

· The possibility of expanding domestic thrift potential for low-income home finance through the establishment of new loan institutions (such as building societies) geared to the small loan requirements and savings capacity of low-income beneficiaries;

· The suitability of these new solutions for replication in future national housing programmes.

Selection of the sites

The selection of Gutu and Kwekwe as sites for two pilot schemes was made after careful consideration of several possibilities. Gutu, the district centre under the local authority of the Gutu District Council, is considered to be one of the most rapidly-expanding rural growth centres in Zimbabwe. Its residents include a large number of low-paid wage-earners and self-employed people who are in urgent need of acquiring their own houses. The location of the site in Gutu has special significance because it was selected to link Gutu and Mupandawana, centres that were separate prior to Independence. Kwekwe, under the local authority of the Kwekwe Municipal Council, on the other hand, is a typical example of an intermediate urban centre, with several mining and related industries. Most of the lower-income families are employed by the major industries or provide support services for these industries.

Project components

The major physical components of the projects in Kwekwe and Gutu comprise the essential elements for housing development programmes. These consist of:

· 1045 serviced plots or stands of 300m2 (12 m x 25 m) in Kwekwe and 199 serviced plots of 400m2 (14m x 28m) in Gutu, planned around cul-de-sacs and P-loops;

· Infrastructure services to each stand with individual water supply, sewerage, access and bus roads, stormwater drains, security (tower) lighting and electricity;

· Building-materials stores to supply building materials to project beneficiaries during house construction stages and later to be converted into primary-school classrooms;

· Provision of sites for future community facilities such as shops, markets, churches, day-care centres, schools etc.


A number of major achievements, which make the pilot projects unique, have enabled the Ministry of Public Construction and National Housing and the two local authorities to strengthen their capacity to develop low-income housing projects. Since the beginning of the projects, all the above-mentioned objectives of the project have been realized over a period of three years. Some of the significant achievements resulting from these projects are as follows.

Local bricklayers, carpenters and plumbers are employed to build houses

Layout design outline for aided self-help in Kwekwe

Aided self-help is the most popular choice of the majority of beneficiaries in Kwekwe and Gutu

Choice of modes of construction

The three modes of construction, i.e., aided self-help, building brigades, and housing cooperatives, provide a range of construction options to low-income households to suit their income levels, savings, skills, and availability of time to build their own houses.

The aided self-help construction mode implies a high degree of self-reliance on the part of the beneficiary, with limited technical assistance provided by the project staff. Building brigades consist of qualified and experienced carpenters, bricklayers and plumbers, who are employed by the local authorities to build houses. They are non-profit organizations whose aim is to provide skilled labour to those beneficiaries who do not have adequate time to build their own houses. Housing cooperatives, which are guided by basic principles of open and voluntary membership, are aimed at meeting the needs of their members through collective efforts and the pooling of human and financial resources.

Aided self-help has been found to be the most popular choice selected by almost 100 per cent of the beneficiaries in Kwekwe, while in Gutu 69 per cent of the beneficiaries selected the aided self-help mode, 24 per cent selected building brigades of the local authority and 7 per cent formed a housing cooperative. The aided self-help mode has the lowest cost especially in terms of labour, since the labour costs are higher by about 10 per cent in the case of cooperatives and about 50 per cent in the case of brigades which have higher overhead costs. However, each of the three modes of construction is cheaper than the conventional private contractors; assists in enhancing the building skills of the project beneficiaries and local small-scale builders; and generates employment at the local level.

Community participation

The project beneficiaries have been involved closely in the achievement of their own housing solutions through participation in the design, construction and finance stages of the housing development process. The site layout plans, the house design options and the choice in the modes of construction provided housing solutions which aimed at a close match between the specific functional and social requirements of the low-income households and their financial capacity. The new planning and sub-division of plots based upon cul-de-sacs and P-loops not only provided an efficient and cost-effective plan for infrastructure services but also provided a departure form the rigid grid-iron sub-division plans used in the past, thus responding to the local socio-cultural and physical conditions. Individual families selected their house plans from a range of house-design options, including room sizes and layouts, to meet their specific social, functional and economic needs. Since the majority of the beneficiaries selected the aided self-help mode of construction, they actively participated in the supervision and construction of their houses. In these tasks they were aided by community development officers and building promoters, who provided on-site advice and supervision.

Role of women

Women played a significant role in the pilot projects in Kwekwe and Gutu. They gained training and experience in community participation, learnt how to set up and manage credit facilities, participate in the design and construction of their homes, and availed themselves of employment opportunities in and around the project areas. For the first time, housing allocation criteria were revised and designed to consider heads of household regardless of sex. Thirty-six per cent of the household heads in Gutu and 20 per cent in Kwekwe are women. All are either wage-earners or self-employed supporting their families, and yet earn less than the median income.

Project beneficiaries are closely involved at every stage of planning and construction

Thirteen women, together with one male household head, formed the first housing cooperative in Gutu. The woman chairperson, who took the leadership role to mobilize the group, is a self-employed vegetable seller in the nearby market like the other members of the cooperative. Furthermore, it was a common sight to see women with their babies on their backs transporting building materials in wheel-barrows, in the tractor/trailers provided by the project, or by hand, and others mixing concrete, laying blocks and supervising construction.

Joint public and private sector financing

The pilot projects are the first example of joint public and private-sector financing for low-income housing in Zimbabwe, involving one of the three building societies which have mainly financed middle- and high-income housing in the past. An innovative housing-finance mechanism geared to small loan requirements and savings capacity was introduced to mobilize the domestic thrift potential of low-income households. The public sector, through a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), provided the capital cost for land and infrastructure development while the Beverly Building Society provided the capital cost for building-materials loans.

The low-income project beneficiaries also mobilized their skills and savings in the construction of houses. These, together with the loan-repayment guarantee from MPCNH, provide the necessary collateral for the mortgage. Furthermore, the basic principles of affordability, minimum standards and full cost recovery have been applied in the finance mechanism. In Kwekwe, for example, the average infrastructure cost per stand (plot) was about Z$1250 and the average building loan for a four-roomed core house of 50 sq m was about Z$2350 with a total average capital cost if Z$3600 per house, which was to be recovered over a period of 25 years at an interest rate of 9.75 per cent for infrastructure and 12.5 per cent for building loans. Based upon this, the average monthly repayment including service and supplementary charges was about Z$33, which was about 27.5 per cent of the income of a household earning Z$120 per month, i.e., below the median income of Z$150 per month. (The quoted figures are based on 1985 rates).

Supply of building materials

In order to reduce the cost of construction and to provide an easily accessible supply of building materials, the building loans to the beneficiaries are in the form of building materials available at the on-site store. This store is managed by a store manager and assistants as part of the site team. Most of the materials have been procured through competitive tendering for bulk supplies to reduce costs and achieve economies of scale. The materials production brigades of the two local authorities supplied building blocks and other concrete products manufactured at the small decentralized production units near the project areas. A stores system using kardex cards, receipts, and accounts cards, and which can operate both manually and using a microcomputer, has been specifically developed to ensure the efficient delivery and dispatch of building materials and to keep stock of materials and the building-loan accounts of the project beneficiaries. Most of the beneficiaries used materials supplied from the stores but a few used their own materials procured through friends and relatives.

Building materials are accessible at on-site stores

Training and support communication

After the selection and verification of the applicants, one-day weekend workshops on the housing process were organized both in Kwekwe and Gutu. The aim was to provide a comprehensive orientation regarding the various aspects of the project and the role of various people involved, including the beneficiaries. Audio-visual aids, including video films, exhibition of plans, models, building manuals and information sheets, were used during the workshops to supplement the discussions held with the groups of 50 families in each workshop. Furthermore, on-site training and advice was also provided as a follow-up by the building promoters and the community development assistants.

In addition to the training and support communications for the beneficiaries, the local project staff, including the staff of local authorities and the Ministry, were trained before the commencement of the project, through an intensive three-week group course on project implementation and management. Furthermore, MPCNH staff involved in the project execution also benefitted from UNDP/UNCHS (Habitat) fellowships for in-service training to attend short-term workshops and course organized by UNCHS (Habitat) and other institutions outside Zimbabwe. All these efforts have been helpful in strengthening the institutional capacity at the community, local and national levels.

Multilateral co-operation

The pilot housing projects have been a joint multilateral cooperation venture of MPCNH, UNDP and UNCHS (Habitat). As mentioned earlier, USAID and the Beverly Building Society have provided financial support. In addition, the two local authorities, in Kwekwe and Gutu, together with the project beneficiaries, have played a significant roles in the implementation of the projects. At the time of writing about 95 per cent of the houses had been completed.

Process and replicability

Monitoring and evaluation

One of the objectives of the pilot projects has been to test and monitor the suitability of the new housing solutions for replication in future national housing programmes and projects. This has been achieved through the use of necessary monitoring and evaluation instruments. The joint MPNCH/UNCHS/UNDP Project team has been monitoring the projects’ progress through weekly/fortnightly review meetings and monthly site visits and meetings to ensure that the work plan for implementation is adhered to. Monthly progress reports have been prepared to monitor the problems experienced and actions taken. Furthermore, routine tripartite review meetings between the Treasury, MPCNH and UNDP/UNCHS (Habitat) have been held to review the project at the policy level.

Impact on on-going housing projects

Even before the final completion and evaluation of the pilot projects, the initial approaches and findings from these projects have had several effects on on-going projects in other urban and rural areas, which are funded by MPNCH and/or funded with other multilateral or bilateral donor agencies such as USAID, the World Bank, the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC), and the Government of Italy. Such donor-funded projects, amounting to about US$130 million, were implemented in different parts of the country on a similar basis to the pilot projects and are thus gaining from the experience accumulated from the new housing solutions attempted in Kwekwe and Gutu.

Replicability in future housing programmes

The lessons learned, the experience gained and the policy feedback from the pilot projects have established a significant base for the replication of the new housing solutions and achievements in future national housing programmes and projects. The Government of Zimbabwe, through MPCNH, has already received preparatory technical assistance from UNCHS/UNDP and US AID to prepare a feasibility study to establish the Zimbabwe Housing Development Corporation (ZHDC), which will be the major housing agency to enable the implementation of such projects in future. Furthermore, UNCHS (Habitat) has also provided preparatory technical assistance together with the Overseas Development Administration of the United Kingdom to establish a Building Research Institute in Zimbabwe, which, amongst its other activities, will be involved in future pilot housing programmes and projects.

Cross-section of one of the house-types

Possible development from a basic core house

Diversity of urban form