Located in Southern Africa, Botswana is categorized as a middle-income country, making it one of the most economically stable countries on the continent. Botswana models an egalitarian philosophy with judicial respect toward human rights following its Constitution adopted in 1966. Equal and affordable housing has been a pillar of the country’s rhetoric. However, in recent years, with growing population density and uncertain job prospects, cost-effective housing is no longer guaranteed. Here’s what you need to know about homelessness in Botswana.
6 Facts About Homelessness in Botswana
- In Botswana, land is divided by locally elected officials who serve on land boards. Members of the board allocate pieces of land to citizens free of charge. As 79% of the country consists of viable land for agriculture and recreational use, selling property personally is illegal.
- Nearly one-third of Botswana’s population lives in peri-urban areas outside of the capital. In recent years, the country’s extraordinary population growth has led to a large population of squatters outside of Gaborone, the nation’s capital and largest city. Since the 1990s, the number of people living within Gaborone and its periphery has increased by 90%. The reason for this large and sudden migration is a shrinking interest in agriculture. People move closer to the city in search of work. But the cities are not equipped for such a high concentration of people, and the government is slow-moving in processing land requests. As such, citizens have to to fend for themselves. Because of this land scarcity, landowners are dividing their property and charging rent.
- The government objects to this unofficial market for a few reasons. The first is that people see land as being sacred. For the government, citizens do not own land but instead enjoy it as a customary right. The second reason is that goods and services such as electricity, water and sewage are harder to distribute if the land is cluttered with unregistered housing. In some cases, when squatters settle in unused agricultural land, the government believes that the land is wasted. A piece of agricultural land populated with 5,000 squatters could have held 20,000 to 25,000 households if divided correctly.
- The government received backlash in 2001 when more than 2,000 squatters’ homes were demolished. Citizens firstly disagreed with the government’s choice to not address the faults of the land allocations that had forced people to live in unregistered housing. They also expressed their distaste for the apathetic manner in which the homes were destroyed. Since then, some communication has occurred between Botswana citizens and the government regarding the tradition of sacred land and the opportunities present in an open market.
- Due to the lack of available land and the consequences of living on unregistered property, some citizens’ living conditions are less than sufficient. Many areas are overcrowded. In addition, citizens often face a lack of water, sanitation and electricity. As a result, their settlements come to be marked as slums. The most recent data on the population density in Botswana slums was taken in 2001. It reported that 61% of citizens lived in slums, which means that Botswana has a high prevalence of slums. Generally, the prevalence of slums is higher in countries that rely on government land distribution like Botswana.
- Administrative land allocation can be slow and unorganized, but it can also be discriminatory. In Botswana, citizens who earn less than $630 a year are denied housing. This is due to their presumed inability to pay their housing fees. As a result, this contributes to the issue of homelessness in Botswana. Furthermore, citizens who make less than $3,439 do not qualify for building loans, which prevents them from constructing a home.
Moving Toward Change
In 2016, Botswana’s Ministry of Lands and Housing held a national workshop to discuss the Participatory Slum Upgrading Program. The Participatory Slum Upgrading Program is a plan that incorporates Sustainable Development Goals to assess and address the needs of slum dwellers. Additionally, the ministry announced its $150,000 budget for the improvement of living conditions. This plan primarily focuses on areas of basic services such as access to clean water, adequate space, sanitation and electricity. Along with the Homeless and Poor People’s Federation of Botswana, the ministry plans to legalize an open housing market and privatized land allocation.
Another organization rising to meet the challenge of housing is the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), which focuses on child welfare and builds halfway homes. These homes serve as an in-between living space for homeless children who have been abandoned by family members or left as orphans. They stay in halfway homes, which also accommodate adults and caregivers, before they are given proper placement. Each home features a lounge, kitchen, rest area, bathroom, office and storage space. In addition, the BDF helps build homes, collect trash and establish community gardens.
Things have changed since Botswana’s land and agricultural rights policy. Citizens and larger organizations are working to balance the government’s emphasis on law in order and the benefits of an open market. The return to affordable housing could be the tipping point citizens are looking for to change the current state of economic inequality and eliminate homelessness in Botswana.
– Alexa Tironi