No place for ‘undesirables’: the urban poor’s struggle for survival in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, 1960-2005.
This thesis studies the social history of the poor in Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe, between 1960 and 2005. This is accomplished by focusing on the housing and unemployment crises they faced and the manifest reluctance of authorities to either provide enough housing or to accept mushrooming informal housing and economic activities in response to these acute shortages. I attempt to highlight the fragility of the poor’s claim to the right to permanent urban residency emphasizing inadequate state funding and poverty and continuities in some discourses from colonial to the post colonial era as factors responsible for spreading and sustaining the discrimination against low income earners in the city. These included authorities’ perceptions that all Africans belonged to rural areas, have access to land, and that low income Africans were immoral and unclean. While these perceptions tended to be fuelled by the racial divide between whites and blacks during the colonial period, class and gender dynamics among Africans crisscrossed that racial divide. After independence, while these perceptions were still alive, central government policy ambitions and failures were instrumental in influencing the welfare and fate of the urban masses and their relations with the former middle class Africans and nationalist leaders who assumed power in 1980. It becomes clear that there was a misunderstanding by authorities on how most of the rural land was not able to support some families because of infertility or lack of resources to successfully till the land by most some families. The overall conclusion is that poor people’s rights to permanent residency were elusive up to 2005 and their living and survival space has been continuing to shrink in the city.