Zimbabwe’s Civil Service Urban Land Offer: Capital and Co-optation?

By Takura Zhangazha*

The Ministry of Local Government in consultation with Apex, the umbrella body of civil service associations, announced that it is rolling out a residential stands allocation scheme for government workers.  While not mentioning the commencement date of the scheme, the government  outlined that it had identified land that could be allocated for residential use by civil servants on the outskirts of some of our major cities.

The land will however not be free.  It will be given to those that are on the Salary Services Bureau (SSB) payroll.  Depending on the size of the residential stand that they want, they will pay a maximum of U$4 per square meter per month for the smaller stands that will be deducted from their monthly salaries.

The task for the civil servant though appearing to be a ‘no brainer’ due the severe shortage of housing in the country, is to accept this sort of ‘housing loan’ while at the same time having less money in their pockets at the end of the month.

Given the fact that already those on the list ar at least 113 000 (and probably rising), it would also mean that governments wage bill, in real cash, is reduced fairly significantly.  And that also civil servants will feel, with ownership of urban land/capital that their salaries are giving them fair returns for their labour.

The impact of this new government facility for its workers are multi-fold.  The obvious one is political.  Allegations of the ruling party seeking to endear itself to the civil service ahead of general elections in 2018 will soon, if they haven’t started already, emanate from the opposition political party ranks.  And understandably so. The allocation of land to so many government workers will not doubt have a significant political impact, not only in terms of establishing new demographics to the voters roll, but also inducing loyalty to the party that has gone the extra mile of providing elusive and expensive urban land/capital.

It is also a loyalty that will spill over into the economic sphere by not just mitigating any intentions by the civil service to undertake national strike action similar to that of July 2016.  It will also lead to increased economic activity and employment, depending on how transparent the tender processes of support services (engineering companies, mortgage giving banks/building societies,) or the ease with which small scale businesses can be allowed to flourish in the new ‘suburbs’.

Socially it will mean a rapid expansion of urban population and land use, a process which has been underway by default via housing cooperatives and controversial ‘land barons’.  It will also make the civil service much more close knit socially (almost setting them apart as a distinct social group) because of geographic proximity. This may induce a strong sense of community among citizens that work for the government and with that may come a certain pride (or restoration thereof).  That is if the envisioned new residential areas for them can be immune from the urban vagaries of poverty, unemployment and lack of social service delivery.

Perhaps the more significant off-shoot of this policy is the conversion of the focus of the fast track land reform programme from agriculture to urban use.  It may not be as violent, racially and politically charged as its predecessor but it is a direct consequence of it.  And it has its fair share of violent evictions, demolition of houses, distribution by patronage and political affiliation (Norton, Harare South).

With this new scheme the civil service is being sprung up the ladder of privilege. And even in that it is not necessarily all about equality.  The different categorisations of land size and (probable housing structure/plans) means that despite being blanketed a ‘civil servants’, they remain viewed through class and seniority lenses by government.  For the lower paid civil servants go the ‘ghetto’ size equivalent stands, while those that earn more get the ‘suburb’ size ones.

So in essence while the civil servants and the leaders of their associations/unions welcome this particular move by government they must be wary of the fact that they are essentially being co-opted into a materialistic silence.  The land that they get should not be a political burden nor a sign of their specific uniqueness above other citizens through proximity to the state.  Every Zimbabwean should have the right to shelter.  We hope they know that. We hope they will remember that.


Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity)

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