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Can Elections Solve Zimbabwe’s Housing Crisis and Reduce Urban Dwellers’ Dependence on the Favours of the Ruling Party?

As elections loom, powerful figures linked to Zanu-PF, the ruling party since independence, are exploiting desperation for housing to ensure loyalty – and punish opposition supporters. In 2019, a report by a government commission into the sale of state land revealed the extent of abuses. The judge who led the inquiry found there had been: “creation of new urban settlements by aspiring or sitting members of parliament as a way of mobilizing political support; abuse of political office in the allocation and appropriation of urban state land; and use of names of top ruling party leadership to exert undue influence on government institutions and processes”. The report criticised “land barons who are usually politically connected, powerful and self-proclaimed illegal state land ‘authorities’”, as the power players who “illegally sold state land in and around urban areas without accounting for the proceeds”. Illegal sales had cost Zimbabwe nearly $3bn, the inquiry found. Since the report was published, little has changed. In the run-up to this year’s presidential and parliamentary elections on 23 August, land barons remain an important instrument to garner votes for the ruling party, says Prof Innocent Chirisa, acting vice-chancellor at the Zimbabwe Ezekiel Guti University and an expert on regional and urban planning.