Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Multi-Habitation: Urban Housing and Everyday Life in Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe


Research report No. 123

Focus country: 

Focus city: 

Published by: 
Nordiska Afrikainstitutet (The Nordic African Institute)

Publisher town: 
Uppsala, Sweden


THIS RESEARCH REPORT explores living conditions in a poor urban neighbourhood in Zimbabwe and, more specifically, the experience of “multi-habitation” – the situation in which people who do not define themselves as a household share space that is designed for use by one family. Although home ownership has been the dominant housing policy in Southern Africa since the 1970s, the reality is that in most urban areas, the majority of residents are lodgers, renting space informally in the homes of other families. This study considers the perspectives of the residents themselves, both owners and lodgers, and describes the conditions under which they live.

Chitungwiza, the town in which this study took place, is about 30 kilometres south of Harare. Although multi-habitation is also common in middle-class and even wealthy areas, the neighbourhood investigated in this study was Unit N in Seke North, one of the poorest parts of town. Unit N consists of plots of land, or stands, on which the local authority constructed “ultra-low-cost” two-room units, which residents acquire under rent-to-buy contracts – an experiment in housing provision for those with very low incomes. These were appropriately called “units” rather than “houses” – built of flimsy, temporary materials, with packed earth floors. The tenant/purchasers of these units were expected to replace them with more permanent structures over a given period of time. Relatively few tenants over time have actually managed to pay for their units in full, however, and few have been able to afford the construction of an approved permanent house. Instead, the construction of sub-standard and illegal outbuildings has been common, a response to the economic pressure to rent out any available space to lodgers. Between 1989 and 1990, for instance, the number of stands containing illegal outbuildings climbed from 20 to 60 per cent. Rental to lodgers was a main source of income for many house “owners” and, in 1998, the average number of residents per stand was estimated to be 17, with lodgers outnumbering owners.

For this research, five houses and their residents were selected for case studies, some more detailed than others, representing a range of situations and conditions. They include in each case a social history of the house in question and the survival strategies of those residing there, and a description of the gradual evolution of each stand and its buildings over time. A separate chapter discusses the quality of living conditions in the community, focusing on a larger number of houses. A final chapter looks at how the experience of multi-habitation varies with tenure, age and gender, and discusses this housing phenomenon as a significant element in the struggle to cope with poverty.

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Published by and available from Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, P O Box 1703, S-751 47 Uppsala, Sweden email: orders@nai.uu.se. UK distributor: Africa Book Centre Ltd email: orders@africabookcentre.com USA distributor: Transaction Publishers email: trans@transactionpub.com

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