Urban reform coalitions in Harare: A conversation with George Masimba

Mar 27, 2023

ACRC defines inclusive urban reform coalitions as partnerships between government, experts and civil society organisations – often directly involving communities and groups most directly affected by the issues at hand – to drive sustainable urban transformation.

In this episode, George Masimba from Dialogue on Shelter Trust – support NGO to the SDI-affiliated Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation – talks to Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael about the trust’s experiences of working within reform coalitions to improve access to urban services for marginalised communities in Harare, through initiatives including the development of an inclusive framework for participatory informal settlement upgrading.

He highlights how coalitions have been instrumental in securing buy-in for SDI’s approach to informal settlement upgrading in the city, and explores their value in leveraging financial and technical resources, strengthening engagement processes, and creating a community of likeminded stakeholders who can push for change together.

George Masimba is head of programmes at Dialogue on Shelter and is the lead for ACRC’s city of systems, uptake and informal settlements domain work in Harare. George appeared on a previous episode, discussing knowledge co-production in the city.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael is a postdoctoral research fellow at the African Cities Research Consortium, supporting research across the crosscutting themes of finance, gender and climate change.


The full podcast transcript is available below.

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Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Welcome to the African Cities podcast. I’m Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael, a postdoctoral researcher at African Cities Research Consortium. Today I’m joined by Dr George Masimba Nyama to discuss the experiences from Zimbabwe on coalition building for inclusive urban reform. This podcast interview is part of a mini podcast series produced in preparation for the Urban Reform Coalition conference to be held in mid-June in Manchester, organised by ACRC in collaboration with Manchester Urban Institute. My guest today, Dr George Masimba, is the director of programmes at Dialogue on Shelter, a support NGO for Slum Dwellers International-affiliated grassroots organisation called Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation. George also leads ACRC’s Harare City of Systems uptake and Informal Settlements domain research. Welcome, George.

George Masimba Thank you, Ezana.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael I’m glad to have you here and looking forward to our conversation. Just to kickstart our conversation and introduce our audience, what you do and which organisation you represent, please tell us what you and Dialogue on Shelter Trust do with Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation. And also briefly tell us your role and Dialogue on Shelter’s role in ACRC’s research in Harare.

George Masimba Once again, thank you, Ezana. So my name is George Masimba, as you have already stated, and I’m the director of programmes for an organisation called Dialogue on Shelter, which is an affiliate of Slum Dwellers International, the Zimbabwean affiliate. So basically Dialogue on Shelter works in partnership with the community-based organisation called the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation and a youth network called Zimbabwe Young People’s Federation. And we are an alliance that works around, in general, urban poverty issues and, in particular, focusing on how to support communities in urban areas, particularly those coming from marginalised sections of the city, to have access, or improved access in fact, to urban services. And in relation to the ACRC work, Dialogue’s role has been to support four pillars, if I can put it that way. Firstly, we are focusing on the city of systems, which I lead, and we are also focusing, secondly, on the informal settlement domain, which somehow resonates with the work that we do in terms of our work in informal settlements. Then, thirdly, we are also championing or leading the uptake component. And, lastly, I’m also one of the co-leads for the ACRC research work in Harare. And in terms of our role under the ACRC programme in Harare, basically the way we see our role is that, as Dialogue – being a network that works with communities in informal settlements – our responsibility is to connect this research with the grassroots, connect this research with the experiences of the urban poor in cities. And I think that’s the biggest role that we are playing under the ACRC: providing our experience working in informal settlements, so that we can bridge the gap between the academic side of this research with the grounded experiences from the communities, from the informal settlements that we work with on a daily basis as part of the SDI network. Thank you.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much, George. That’s a lot of responsibility, but I cannot think of a better place for the research you are undertaking. Continuing with our discussion, may you please discuss a few examples of Zimbabwe’s SDI alliance – that is, Dialogue on Shelter Trust and Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation and Zimbabwe’s Youth Federation – its role in urban upgrading, housing improvement intervention implemented with various stakeholders, such as central government, civil society organisations or universities. I know you have done a lot, but a few examples.

George Masimba Okay. Thank you, Ezana. So maybe prior to that, I should mention that before these urban upgrading interventions, we have been engaging city governments, we’ve been engaging central government, in terms of trying to push for inclusive responses to the challenge of housing in urban areas, particularly focusing on the marginalised groups. So you will notice that prior to the period of participatory upgrading programmes, we would notice or would witness a lot of cases of exclusionary practices by cities, by central government, in terms of the use of demolitions as a way of responding to the challenge of urban informality. But through the work that we have done as an alliance engaging in sustained negotiations with the city, with the central government, we have been able to enter into relationships or memorandum of agreements, understanding with the city governments and central government around inclusive responses to the challenges that the urban poor face in cities. And as a result, in 2002, for example, we entered into an MOU with the City of Harare around an initiative that was dubbed Harare Slum Upgrading Programme. So this was a citywide informal settlement improvement programme that was anchored on resources that had been made available by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. So through this programme, we were able to, for example, conduct citywide profiling of informal settlements as a way of ensuring that the city acknowledges that informal settlements are a reality. And also, secondly, as a way of building capacities within the communities, in terms of ensuring that they have information about their settlements, information about their communities, in terms of opportunities and gaps with relation to urban services. So after that exercise, that citywide exercise, we were then able to zoom in on a particular informal settlement and then rolled out an in-situ upgrading programme in one of the settlements, called Dzivarasekwa, with the city together and communities as a partnership. And that was very critical, because it was the first time when you now had the city partnering with informal settlers, together with civil society organisations, around an inclusive response programme to the challenge of informality. So it was a first, in some respects. And besides undertaking tangible responses in terms of improvement of water, sanitation, access to housing, we were able through this programme to also come up with some institutional frameworks that would then guide subsequent responses to informal settlements in other areas beyond just the pilot that we had focused on. So that’s one example, for instance. Then in another city, Bulawayo, which is the second capital, we’ve been able to partner with the local authority and in partnership with the National University of Science and Technology and the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation. In fact, we signed an MOU again in 2015 before we could start the upgrading activities within the city. Someone may ask why signing MOUs? I think we believe it’s very key to have some institutional framework that then guides the kind of work that you want to undertake with the city. And also even when the officials that you are dealing with, for example, eventually leave office, at least you have some strategy or some institutional framework that would then guide similar responses, even with different officials that would have come into the city. So, following that, we went through a process of identifying informal settlements, then documented and mapped these informal settlements and followed by an intervention that again focused on a particular site, one of the sites that we had enumerated and profiled. And we started working around the upgrading of sanitation in that particular settlement, called Mabutweni and Iminyela. And the significance of this particular response is that besides providing or coming up with your hardware interventions around resolving issues to do with access to sanitation, we were also able then to connect these interventions with a conversation around improving the land tenure security situation in that particular settlement. And so we negotiated with the city that the improvements around sanitation would then pave way for  conversations, engagements around addressing long-term related issues, issues related to land tenure. So making sure that these communities would not face evictions, for example. So that’s the second one. And then the last one that I want to talk about is the Epworth upgrading, which  we started some time around 2009. Again, we came onto the table ourselves, Dialogue on Shelter, the CBO that we work with, Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation and the local authority, Epworth local board, together. In this particular case, we then also had central government, in terms of Ministry of National Housing, as well as local government and a private player, in terms of a consultant planner. So some bit of background. Epworth is an informal settlement, or largely informal, about 70% informal, with over 200,000 people. So it’s quite vast in terms of size. And so what we then did in terms of this upgrading, we first proposed an exchange visit to one of the SDI countries with experience around informal settlement upgrading. And we chose Kenya, because of the rich experiences that they have around this particular area. And we went to Kisumu with the officials from Epworth local board and communities as well as central government. And that was a very important visit, in the sense that it opened the opportunity for local authority and central government to see how others were dealing with the challenge of urban informality. That is, instead of resorting to evictions and demolitions, there was scope or opportunity to respond to this challenge in a more inclusive way – in this particular case, coming up with a range of participatory upgrading programmes that incorporate communities. So after that visit, we then came back and conducted a settlement-wide profile and mapping process. And remember I said this is an informal settlement, so there wasn’t no data, spatial data and even socioeconomic data within the official circles about the conditions in these settlements. So we were generating information that would then subsequently inform the Epworth-wide upgrading programme. So we did the surveys, door-to-door surveys, and then the profiles, and then the mapping with communities. I think the most important part is that the communities themselves were involved in this process, enumerating, leading the profiles, because in any case, they are the ones who live in these settlements, so they understand their realities, they understand the challenges in these settlements. They also understand, more importantly, the opportunities that are in these settlements. So the community was part and parcel of this entire process, with central government and local authority supporting and, more importantly, learning from these community members. And so we were able to enumerate, for example, about 6,636 households under this exercise, which then paved the way for an in situ informal settlement upgrading, targeting Epworth. And as we speak right now, the programme has managed to trigger similar processes, in other wards, besides the ward that we were targeting, that is Epworth ward 7, enabling communities that were previously living in conditions of land tenure insecurity to at least have security of tenure, in terms of their status in that particular settlement. So that’s what I can share in respect of the examples that we have undertaken as an alliance. Thank you.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much George. That was really interesting examples and my next question, you have touched upon it, because you mentioned that these interventions are not an end by themselves, but you want to change the laws or reform planning or the policy frameworks, using the examples of these interventions. In that regard, can you please elaborate on Dialogue on Shelter’s and the Federation’s efforts in scaling up these and other interventions, at the city level, or at the national scale? And in doing so, do you try to build an alliance not only with central and local government, but also other stakeholders?

George Masimba Thank you, Ezana. So that’s correct that alongside the upgrading activities that we have been undertaking as an alliance, we have also tied to them a component of making sure that we have the policy framework also dimensions being addressed by the work that we are doing. So, for example, under the Harare slum upgrading programme, for example, which we did in partnership with City of Harare, ourselves, the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation and with the University of Zimbabwe coming in, in terms of that particular programme, so we also focused under this initiative on making sure that we come up with an institutional framework that then would support upgrading responses in the city, realising that the city had no framework or protocol that would guide informal settlement upgrading. And as a result of that, we in 2012 were able to come up with the Harare slum upgrading strategy. It’s part and parcel of the work that we’re doing under the Harare slum upgrading programme, which was very important, it created this framework, like I indicated earlier, that the city adopted, a policy on inclusive upgrading of informal settlements. So the city, as we speak right now, has what we call a Harare slum upgrading strategy, in addition to the hardware interventions that we have been doing. So the idea also is to make sure that we use the experiences and the learnings from the work that we are doing to inform some framework that then becomes part and parcel of the city’s institutional infrastructure that it uses to respond to similar challenges. And that’s one example that I can pick on in Harare. Then secondly, what we have also done as a way of making sure that we institutionalise these experiences and also even pave way for scaling, under the Harare slum upgrading programme, for example, we created what we termed a five city learning platform. What was this? Essentially it was a space or learning platform that brought together five cities that we were working with around this particular upgrading programme. So we identified, for example, Bulawayo City Council, we had Masvingo City Council, Kadoma City Council, Kariba and Epworth. So how were we handling this? We would have routine or periodic exchanges around the Harare slum upgrading programme with these other cities, and the logic was for them to learn and to create a space for sharing lessons, creating space for reflecting around the work that was going on in Harare, as a way also of ensuring that the local authorities that were on this learning platform would then potentially take up these experiences and use them in their own areas. So that was a way of making sure that the lessons under the Harare slum upgrading would then be potentially scaled in other spaces beyond Harare, through creating a learning space. So I think that’s the second one. Then, the way we have also approached upgrading programmes as an alliance is that alongside the interventions around water, around sanitation, around creating road networks, we have also included a very critical component around creating what we call city funds or core money to city funds and how do they contribute in terms of scaling, for example, in terms of institutionalising the work that we are doing. For example, in Harare and at the Harare slum upgrading programme, we were able to create what we called the Harare Slum Upgrading Finance Facility. And the reason, the rationale for creating this, was meant to ensure that beyond the investments that we’re undertaking through the support that had been made possible by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, would then be able to undertake interventions through this facility. So essentially creating a sustainability mechanism that would make it possible to scale the interventions into other areas  beyond the localities that we’re targeting. So that has been very important and how does this city fund, for example, operate?. So it’s co-funded, which means the city has put something into this, the communities have put something into this and ourselves as Dialogue on Shelter together with SDI have put something into this. And it’s also again, the first time that you are coming up with a financial vehicle that is composed of blended finance, which has incorporated within it, mechanisms for co-governance, accountability, etc, all that. So besides addressing issues of scale, the city funds are also a critical tool for promoting inclusive governance in our cities, considering that for a very long time the urban poor have not been part and parcel of the governance processes in cities. So that was key also in that respect. Then the final thing is that we have also led or undertaken processes of co-creating urban upgrading policy frameworks as a way of making sure that we are able to scale the activities that we have undertaken in a particular area. So these are some of the experiences or examples that I can think of, that speak to that desire and need within the alliance to ensure that the work that we’ve been doing in partnerships with local authorities can then be able to be scaled in other jurisdictions beyond where we would have undertaken some pilot.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much, George. On that point, what is the added value of building a coalition or partnership with a different public sector or NGO, civil society or other service-providing institutions with SDI affiliates, communities and, in general, urban informal settlement residents in Zimbabwe, in driving pro-poor and inclusive urban reforms? What advantage that working  in partnership with various stakeholders would bring in?

George Masimba Thank you for that question Ezana. So maybe one thing that I would say first is that the significance or the added value from these coalitions is that the coalitions, they help you to secure buy-in from central government, from local government. For example, you would have set up a coalition that brings together ourselves as the alliance, then you have central government, local government, and then you have the university. So through creating such a space, you create a whole new dynamic in terms of the engagement processes. And the city or  central government is more likely to listen to you when you have the university, for example, legitimising the work that you’ve done. So through that strategy, we think coalitions have been very instrumental in this phase, securing buy-in around the kind of approaches that we are pushing as part of the SDI network, and we think our collaborations with the academia have been very important, insofar as getting that support from the government, in terms of central and local government. So, firstly, securing buy-in. Then, secondly, the added advantage around coalitions has also been the idea or the notion of leveraging resources. Obviously, as a network, we have some resources that we have been directing towards, for example, upgrading, but the resources aren’t adequate, obviously. When I’m talking about resources, I’m also referring not only to financial resources, but I’m also referring to technical resources. So through building collaborations, through building coalitions with other partners – the state, private sector, including the academia – we’ve been able to leverage resources, for example, technical resources. The expertise that we’ve managed to secure from universities around research, for example, has been very key in terms of adding value to the coalitions or to the engagement processes with this stage. Then, besides securing buy-in and leveraging resources, we have also used these coalitions to create more voices around what we are pushing as an alliance. So, you now, beyond being yourselves, talking about the need for inclusion in cities, you’ve created a whole community of likeminded stakeholders that are echoing the same message that you have been pushing through central government, through local government, in terms of the need for a shift, the need for revisiting or relooking, the strategies that have been used to respond to the challenge of informal settlements. So you have more people adding onto your voices, in terms of clamouring for changes or shifts in terms of how we respond to  informal settlements. And that’s very key. And that is likely also to change the way the government would then listen to you, if they also hear the university say, “you know, we think evictions, demolitions no longer work, they are not sustainable”. That for us has been very key, in terms of changing the dynamics around how then the state responds. Then also another added value from the coalitions, I think it has provided us an opportunity to create some reflection space, where we sharpen our solutions, we sharpen our ideas, where we can freely engage with each other, and be willing to revisit some of the things that we have talked about for many years and say, “how do we adjust the kind of things that we have been pushing?” It could be strategies, etc.. So it has provided us with that critical space to reflect and readjust some of the strategies, some of the tools that we are using as part of the way we work as an alliance. So that’s very key, because the urban space has been very dynamic, things are changing. Perhaps what used to work some five years ago may no longer apply now. So it’s always important to have a network of individuals that are ready to share and reflect on what we consider solutions and see whether they really apply on the problems that we are facing as cities. And lastly, I think the collaborations with the university, they’ve also improved the quality of evidence that we are generating through the community-led enumerations profiling processes. So those collaborations have been very key in terms of even the translation of the evidence that we have been producing into some range of analytical products – it could be outputs, for example, journals, policy briefs. So we have managed to leverage on the expertise and skills of the different players that are within this coalition, so that we can reach out to as many people as can be possible, through adding value to the data that communities are generating on a daily basis through the enumerations. Thank you.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank very much for your very eloquent and detailed explanation. You have mentioned one of the key opportunities, but along with these opportunities, what have been the key challenges of  bringing together diverse partners, to stimulate inclusive urban reform from Dialogue on Shelter and the Federation’s experience?

George Masimba Thank you, Ezana. Yeah, I totally agree that besides the successes that we have witnessed under these collaborations, under these coalitions, we have also encountered some challenges in terms of the collaborations. For example, firstly, it has not been a part of urban development practice that communities play a very key role in terms of coming up with solutions to the challenges that they face. And yet under these coalitions, under these collaborations, as is SDI, as is Dialogue on Shelter and Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation, we are championing or pushing the fact or the view that communities should be part and parcel of these coalitions, because they provide the experience, in terms of what needs to be done and how it should be done. And yet, some of our colleagues may not have yet that experience in terms of providing space for communities, because they are schooled or they were taught that solutions come from professionals. So that obviously presents some contestations in terms of how you then work together as a coalition. And I’m happy to say that even though this was the case, these are some of the things that we then managed to get around, to solve. And how do you solve them on a very practical level? How do you address these anxieties that other professionals may have? So, for instance, as part of these coalitions, one of the things that we have included is providing or making room for community exchange visits, where we bring along these professionals, so that they can see what the communities are doing back in their settlements. And that’s very key in terms of changing mindsets. That’s very key in terms of creating confidence amongst these professionals that communities, after all, they have the capacity to transform their neighbourhoods, in as much as they may not have gone to the universities, but communities are actually universities where professionals can actually learn, in terms of how to respond to the multiplicity of challenges that they face in the informal settlements. So that’s one area, the role of communities in these coalitions. And then secondly, when you bring a number of players on the same chessboard, they are collaborating around a particular agenda, I think there’s always initially some level of suspicion, in terms of what’s driving this party, what’s the interest behind them coming on board? You don’t know at the onset and it’s only after you’ve travelled together over some some period of time that some confidence and comfort is created around these coalitions. And it’s something that we have learnt through the various collaborations that we are having here with central government, with the academia, with private sector, that in the very beginning there’s obviously some level of suspicion. But as you move along, it’s something that you then manage to address. Then, thirdly, something which is also obvious, when you bring together different parties, they are also inspired by different ideologies. They are also coming from institutions that have different approaches. And that also presents some challenges, in terms of how do you then harmonise these different approaches into some kind of common approach, or common agenda that you begin to push as a collective? And it’s no easy task to get around that – it takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of engagement, until you get to a point where you agree in terms of how should be the urban question addressed. So that’s another area also, how do you then harmonise different institutional approaches, so that you can all be working towards one goal as a collective? So that’s the one. Then, last but not least, in terms of challenges around these reform coalitions, the issue of financial resources. I think, in terms of the donor landscape, there hasn’t been, I guess, sufficient resources that are directed towards supporting financially reform coalitions, collaborations. I think there’s an interest towards supporting interventions. But I am not convinced there is equal interest in terms of supporting collaborations or coalitions that then help to undertake interventions. So that presents a challenge, in terms of how to then sustain these coalitions in the absence of resources, in the absence of financial resources. Because it takes resources, for example, to host a seminar, to do research, etc., all  that. So that’s one area that also needs to be addressed, in terms of generating sufficient interest within the donor community, in terms of saying that it’s equally important to finance spaces that promote reflection, spaces that promote learning, so that you then use those lessons, those experiences to ultimately undertake the interventions that we do as different organisations. Thank you.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much George. You have really highlighted the most pressing challenges that need to further work on and further analyse. Again, dealing with one of the challenges in such platforms, when you involve different public, private and civil society organisations, there is always power asymmetry among coalition members. So from your experience, what are the mechanisms that are put in place to ensure that the demands of informal settlement residents are seriously considered and to enhance their bargaining power during those negotiations or platforms.

George Masimba Thank you, Ezana. I totally agree with you that whenever you have collaborations, whenever you have reform coalitions, indeed there are power imbalances, power asymmetries that are associated with coalitions. And how have we handled that as an alliance, in terms of dealing with that challenge? So, for example, what we have done is that most of the collaborations that  we have anchored or supported by an MOU, for example, an agreement, for example, which is signed by all the parties, including communities. And that’s very important, because by ensuring that communities are on the table, you are also making a statement in terms of them being recognised that they are an equal partner, just like your professionals, just like your central government, your local government. So those MOUs, they’ve also been critical in terms of defining how you relate, in terms of the different parties that have come together around that particular coalition. Then secondly, and related to that, what we’ve also done in terms of our experiences around the reform coalitions or coalitions that we have built as an alliance, is that we’ve also set up committees, for example, around the work that we will be doing around the projects that we will be undertaking. For example, under the Harare slum upgrading programme that I spoke about earlier, we created what we called the project management committee, which was overseeing the work that we were doing as a collective. And under that project management committee we had representatives drawn from the different organisations. So you had your city, ourselves, the communities coming together, being part and parcel of the structure that we created. So creating structures that become institutionalised around the collaborations, the coalitions, is also key, because then you are also defining specific roles and obligations for all the parties that are involved. And we did the same with the other upgrading programmes that I mentioned earlier, in terms of creating that structure that brings together all the parties, including communities being represented, as a key stakeholder, bearing in mind that the central government, local government, ordinarily they would not have recognised communities. So if you then go a step further and create structures that include communities, I think it’s also very key. But I also admit that having structures alone is not enough. You need to have structures that then are operationalised, in terms of making sure that you stick to the agenda, you stick to the way in which you have agreed, in terms of ensuring that all the parties to this collaboration are equal. So that’s what we have done. Then secondly, we have also used the exchange programmes, exposure programmes or learning visits as a way of addressing the power imbalances that may take place within these collaborations. And how have we gone about that one? So, for example, in terms of the learning, when you create a learning space, that is hosted by the communities, in communities, in informal settlements, where you have people learning or hearing stories about how communities have transformed their neighbourhoods through bringing in water, through bringing in sanitation and creating roads, and all this happening within the communities, not at the university, not at the town halls. I think that changes also the whole dynamics around engagement and ultimately dynamics around power. So you’ve taken these officials away from their offices with their air conditioners and you have put them in an informal settlemen, where they are seated under a tree, listening to stories from these communities. That also is a way of changing the core dynamics around power. And we think it has contributed significantly in terms of creating confidence within communities that we are, after all, we are equals. They may be officials, but who we are also equally contributing solutions towards the challenges that the city is facing. So those are some of the examples that I can think of that have contributed towards addressing potential power imbalance issues. And maybe, lastly, I can also talk about the issue of contributions by communities through savings, the contributions towards what I talked about, area city funds, all that has a role in terms of realigning power issues. When you have communities that have come on to the table not with empty hands, but with resources through the savings that they’ve put together under the saving schemes or under the Federation networks, that changes also the dynamics of engagement, because they are not coming in begging the city, but they are also saying “this is what we are contributing towards transforming our neighbourhoods”.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael And also, the community organisation that comes with the saving groups. Another challenge is that even within the informal settlement communities and other excluded groups, there is always conflict of interests, conflict of or diverging aspirations. So what is the experience of Zimbabwe SDI Alliance in identifying widely supported reform proposals among the diverse communities, and presenting that reform proposal to policymakers and other partners and other decisionmakers?

George Masimba Thank you Ezana. True, whenever you are pushing a particular reform agenda, in terms of urban upgrading, for example, you are bound to encounter some challenges, because there are also a multiplicity of interests that may be indeed divergent. And we have some experiences or examples that I can talk to in terms of that one. So I will give an example for Epworth, the Epworth upgrading programme, for example, which we started in 2009. And so we were pushing for an in-situ upgrading programme that would result in regularisation of this informal settlement. And we proposed a settlement-wide enumeration that would document each and every household. And in this settlement, so we had landlords together with their tenants. And what we discovered was that the landlords were not very keen to have the tenants recognised in this upgrading programme. Why? Because one of the conditions of the upgrading was that the plot sizes would be reduced. So in order to accommodate, for example, infrastructure, your sewer, your water and road networks, you had to reduce the plot sizes because then people had staked sizes like 1,000, 4,000 square metres. And the upgrading was coming in at a cost, so to speak, in terms of the sizes of the plots and, one, with the need to include the infrastructure but also even the tenants, we were arguing as an alliance that the fact that these are community members who’ve have been part and parcel of this settlement, they actually also signify a demand for housing. In other words, they are genuine home seekers that do not have anywhere to call home. But because the communities linked this with the idea that their plots were going to be reduced in size and yet they’d been used for years to these massive plots, it created some bit of tensions and we had to go through a series of negotiations, engagements with these communities. For example, we were arguing that if we are to proceed with this upgrading, one thing that we are surely assured of is that it’s going to improve your security of tenure. But if we are not to proceed with the upgrading, then your tenure will remain insecure. So we went through a process of negotiating that, until we had to agree with this community, supported of course, with the local authority. So that’s one example where people had divergent views, in terms of the plot sizes, in terms of pushing for an in situ informal settlement upgrading in the case of Epworth. Then I will also cite another example in one of the settlements here in Harare in Dzivarasekwa, under the Harare slum upgrading programme, where we noticed some different interests also clashing to a certain extent. So, for example, under that particular project that we are undertaking with City of Harare, the proposal was to go the densification route. And in this particular case, it meant building vertically, building upwards, instead of horizontal. We had to reserve some plots where we were making a proposal together with the city that in order to maximise space, let’s go up. And we had resistance from the communities and obviously the resistance is also as a result of cultural issues that are unique perhaps to our society, where when you talk about land tenure security, when you talk about land access, people want to really exactly point to these four pegs, that I own this particular plot and people are not used to the idea of going up in multistorey buildings. So people were very, very much against the idea. They resisted the idea of going up, densifying, which would have ultimately increased the number of beneficiaries for that particular project. So this is just meant to share with you some of the challenges that you need to navigate around, negotiate around with the community, until you get to a point whereby you agree on something. And we eventually, in the case of Dzivarasekwa, we ended up densifying horizontally instead of densifying upwards. So we ended up having cluster houses, rather than having multi-storey residential buildings. So those are some of the examples that I can give in this particular case. Another example, also from a project that we did in a high density settlement called Crowborough North in Harare – again, it involved issues to do with densification. Why densification? Because access to land is very difficult. There’s so much demand for land here in Harare, being the capital, and also densification on the basis that considering the communities that we work with, it would be affordable for these communities to go the densification route. So again, we also encountered differences, divergent interests, with some group of members saying “no, we want a single plots”, whereas we were pushing for, as a collective that “let’s densify and create two plots from a single plot”, resulting in each household having 150 square metres from a 300 square metre plot. So those are some of the experiences that I could share in terms of some of the challenges that we encountered through these upgrading programmes in terms of reform coalitions. Thank you.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you, George. One interesting thing in my stay in Harare that I saw was the urban informality forum. Can you please tell us about the urban informality forum? What’s the rationale of establishing it? Who are the participants and what’s its contribution and what has been planned going forward?

George Masimba Thank you, Ezana. So in 2018, ourselves, the Alliance of Dialogue on Shelter together with Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation and the Planning School from the University of Zimbabwe and a private consultant company called Development and Governance Institute, and Shelter Homeless Trust, we came together and set up what we called the urban informality forum. Essentially it’s a reflection space, it’s an urban lab, where we periodically meet and reflect around a whole range of urban themes that are relevant for Zimbabwe in general and Harare in particular. And also, more importantly, we saw this space as an opportunity to have conversations around policy and, more specifically, policy related to informal settlement upgrading, because as a country we don’t have a protocol or a framework that governs or speaks to issues of inclusive, informal settlement upgrading. So we see this space as a very critical platform that can allow us to engage with different actors, pull together ideas and insights that can potentially inform institutional frameworks such as the National Regularisation Framework that I made reference to. So that’s one element also. Then, secondly, we also use the space to talk about issues to do with research, to build a body of evidence that helps to back some of the arguments that we have been talking about in terms of the need for inclusion, the magnitude and scale of informality in the city and also even bringing in different insights from various global experiences that we are connected to as part of the SDI network. So that’s how we have been utilising the space. And in terms of the specific activities that we have done, for example, we have held close to ten seminars using this urban informality forum, where we have identified a range of different topics, where we invite different speakers to present. And amongst the speakers that we’ve heard, for example, we’ve heard speakers from central government, speakers from local governments, City of Harare in particular. We give them a topic, so that they can share, for example, the city’s position regarding informal settlements. For example, the city is currently talking about regularisation. We requested the city to share with the stakeholders in terms of what’s the kind of regularisation that they are talking about? What does it entail? What is motivating the regularisation? So inviting the city to this space, where they talk about their approaches, their experiences, and then the stakeholders, the participants engage with the city around some of the things that it’s pushing or it’s driving, in a very comfortable, non-confrontational space, where the city hopefully can take some of the ideas that come from these engagements. And the same applies with central government. We have invited, for example, the Deputy Minister of National Housing to present on informal settlement issues in the country, and as a result of that particular seminar, the Ministry then invited the urban informality forum to spearhead the formulation of the framework or protocol on slum upgrading regularity by coming up with the concept paper, essentially, which defines the scope of what should ultimately encompass the regularisation framework for informal settlements. So that’s how we have been utilising this space. It also has been helping communities, more importantly, communities coming onto this space, making presentations about their experiences, in terms of the work that they’ve done around informal settlement upgrading or the data that they’ve collected around the challenges that they face with respect to access to water, sanitation and many other things. So having communities presenting to city officials, central government officials and academics is one way through which we have used this space. And the significance of that is that it has also been able to inform curricula at the university and also helping enable students to have a feel of what is happening in informal settlements. Because nowadays students do not have the opportunity, for example, to get into the field, understand the realities in these informal settlements, and yet they are being taught to be planners, to be engineers, etc., all that. And having a space where you bring a whole lot of stakeholders coming together helps in terms of enriching the kind of courses that are being taught at the university. So it is also been useful in that regard.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you, George. One final question that I have is, as you know, the theory of change of ACRC is strengthening and building reform coalitions. In that regard, the ACRC Harare study, what’s the progress in terms of identifying and sensing reform coalitions that will capitalise on the ACRC Harare city study?

George Masimba Thank you Ezana. So what we have done under the ACRC programme here in Harare is I mentioned earlier, that as Dialogue on Shelter we are also leading in terms of the uptake work. And the conversation that we are having today has some very strong connection to the uptake work that we are working on, as Dialogue on Shelter. So under the ACRC programme in Harare, we have created, for example, a platform that brings together different stakeholders with the main key stakeholders in the City of Harare. So we have a team of professionals from the City of Harare that we engage with on a routine, regular basis around the work that we are doing under ACRC. So the importance of that is that the City will not eventually come at the end of the study, but the City has been part and parcel of the study from the very onset. And they are also involved intimately in terms of feeding back into the processes that we are undertaking here in Harare. So that has been very crucial, creating a space, a platform composed of the different departments from the City of Harare and beyond that, also, even stakeholders, likeminded stakeholders from university, for example, and even central government, they have been part of the conversations that we are having as we begin to think of how do we ensure that the findings, the insights that are coming from this research that we are doing here in Harare and at the ACRC programme, can be translated into tangible benefits for the residents in Harare, can be used to then transform the neighbourhoods that we have in Harare who do not have access to water, who do not have land tenure security, who do not have access to improved sanitation. So we have created this space, this platform, that is led by a technical team from the city, together with other stakeholders, where we periodically meet, engage with the different researchers presenting their findings, the city challenging some of the findings that are coming. And then we have some conversation, so that ultimately the city can then say “this is our study”. Because eventually that’s what should happe – that the ACRC work in Harare should contribute towards enabling the city to address the structural problems that it is facing, in terms of providing services to its resident. So one step towards that is making sure that the city is right at the core of this process, and that space has enabled that to happen.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much George, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to discuss your experience in building and sustaining reform coalitions. George, we’ll be looking forward for your presentation at the Urban Reform Coalition conference to be held in Manchester between the 13th and the 15th of June, which is organised by ACRC in collaboration with Manchester Urban Institute. Thank you very much, George.

George Masimba Thank you for having me Ezana.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael You’ve been listening to the African Cities podcast. Remember to subscribe for more urban development insights and interviews from the African Cities Research Consortium.

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Header photo credit: Dialogue on Shelter Trust. Shops at Churu Farm in Harare.

Note: This article presents the views of the author featured and does not necessarily represent the views of the African Cities Research Consortium as a whole.

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