Photo: Slums like this have emerged over the years as poverty erupts in an area called Lion's Den, 20km outside Chinhoyi town in Mashonaland West province in Zimbabwe. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IDN-INPS - Photo: 2017

Poverty Swoops on Southern Africa’s Urban Dwellers

By Jeffrey Moyo

HARARE (IDN) – At one stage in her life, she was a top accountant with the National Railways of Zimbabwe. Now, domiciled in Epworth, a crowded informal settlement in south-eastern Harare Province, 25 kilometres outside Harare, the Zimbabwean capital, hers has turned out to be a riches-to-rags tale.

Shuvai Chikoto, a 48-year-old mother of three who was widowed five years ago, is just one of millions of other Southern African urban dwellers who have plunged into poverty over the years – and she is not particularly impressed that the United Nations has set the goal of ending poverty in all its forms everywhere within the next 13 years.

For Chikoto, the strides by the United Nations to fend off poverty are as good as non-existent. “I’m aware of those aims tabled by the UN in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but look where I stand today, deep in poverty. Would you believe that I was once gainfully employed in a government parastatal?” Chikoto asked, speaking with IDN.

Chikoto’s situation is matched in Malawi by that of 66-year-old Kondwani Chiyemekedzo, who lives in a slum area in Blantyre, Malawi’s oldest city established by Scottish missionaries in the 1870s.

“I live here in this two-roomed makeshift home with my grandchildren and none of us has a job and we all sell various items by the roadside to survive,” Chiyemekedzo told IDN, adding that she has since stopped sending her grandchildren to school because she has no money to pay their school fees.

She lost her own five children to AIDS, leaving her to take care of their orphans, but with poverty in hot pursuit.

Although Malawi’s extreme poverty rates have been cut by more than half since 1990, one in five people there still live on less than 1.25 dollars a day, according to the United Nations.

For Malawi’s urban dwellers like Chiyemekedzo, things have even become worse.

“Food is also hard to come by, but this has become my home over the years, for generations, and I can’t leave because I have nowhere else to go; I will die here although poverty hits me harder,” Chiyemekedzo said with a sad chuckle.

In South Africa, children are hit hard by the scourge of urban poverty. According to Statistics South Africa, 9.7 million children in the country are domiciled in urban slums.

In a country with an estimated population of 52 million people, approximately 1.9 million South African households live in informal dwellings, according to South Africa’s Department of Social Welfare.

As in many other African countries, over the years this has been linked to increased urbanisation, and there are South African development experts like Johannesburg-based Mehluli Khumalo who blame the country’s urban poverty on the pre-independence white minority government.

“The apartheid government of the Boers didn’t create adequate urban space for local black South Africans, yet blacks kept coming to the cities over the years, over the centuries in search of jobs while moving from their remote homes, and now what we have are increasing slums erected by poor people living in towns and cities,” Khumalo told IDN.

Poverty is rampant in the city of Johannesburg where, according to Statistics South Africa, there were 47,000 poor households with approximately 150,000 people who had become food insecure.

For Zimbabwe’s human rights defenders, it is greed by the country’s leaders that has led to increased urban poverty.

“It’s an infringement of citizens’ rights when in towns you find people having inadequate meals, having poor shelter and this is because of a government that has not placed its focus on improving people’s livelihoods, but has chosen to look after its own political elite,” Terry Mutsvanga, Zimbabwe’s award-winning human rights defender, told IDN.

According to civil society organisations, urban poverty in Zimbabwe reigns supreme.

“Based on poverty measurement tools (household income and expenditure surveys) that we used in the poor urban communities living in Mutare, Bindura, Masvingo, Bulawayo, Gweru and Shurugwi in the period between June 2016 and May 2017, we observed that more than 80 percent of the households surveyed are earning income below the average cost of the urban basic needs basket,” Judith Kaulem, executive director of the Poverty Reduction Forum Trust (PRFT), told IDN.

According to PRTF, the urban basic needs basket is the minimum amount required by a family of five to live a decent and dignified lifestyle.

PRTF is a Zimbabwean civil society organisation founded in 2008 from the then Poverty Reduction Forum to conduct research with the aim of influencing the formulation and implementation of pro-poor socio-economic policies.

North of Zimbabwe in Zambia, about 40 percent of Zambia’s population of 17 million people (6.8 million) live in cities, with 23 percent of these mired in abject poverty, according to the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

Poverty is even worse in Angola where, according to USAID, 68 percent of the 4.8 million people in the capital Luanda are living under the poverty line.

About 70 percent of Angola’s population of approximately 25 million people live in Luanda’s peri-urban shantytowns called musseques, where public services are very limited, providing deteriorated facilities, resources and basic services.

For Hodukoma Bagamba, an independent development expert based in the Angolan capital, poverty is spiralling consistently across the country’s towns and cities.

“There is no respite for people living in towns here in Angola as poverty takes its toll on millions of city dwellers here because everyone just wants to be in the city although not everyone is liable to getting decent employment and so poverty is finding more room in towns,” Bagamba told IDN.

In Botswana, poverty is said to have become more urban than rural in a country with a population of 2.3 million people.

In a report titled “Botswana Poverty Assessment”, the World Bank noted that “although urbanisation levels were unaltered between 2002/03 and 2009/10, poverty became more urban. In 2009/10, 43 percent of Botswana’s population lived in rural areas, a decrease of only 1 percentage point since 2002/03. Poverty in Botswana became relatively more urban between 2002/03 and 2009/10.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 28 August 2017]

Photo: Slums like this have emerged over the years as poverty erupts in an area called Lion’s Den, 20km outside Chinhoyi town in Mashonaland West province in Zimbabwe. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IDN-INPS

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate

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