President Frederick Chiluba calls it "empowerment," but opposition and critics call it "looting." This is the controversial new housing policy that the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) has chosen in an ambitious plan to enable each Zambian to own a house.
About 150,000 houses are expected to become the property of local authority tenants by the end of this year. This follows President Chiluba's intervention in the sale of district council houses in the middle of last year. A further 9,000 government houses and over 10,000 houses belonging to the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM), which is undergoing privatisation, are to be offloaded to sitting tenants.
Of particular interest is the impact the sale of council houses has had on the running of local authorities in Zambia. Sale of council houses was based initially on government valuations. As soon as the sales were underway however, tenants complained that the government valuations were higher than those made by district councils, and that they wanted therefore to buy on the councils' terms. The President intervened in rather a flamboyant style in the middle of last year. He drove officials from Lusaka city council (LCC) around the suburbs, condemning properties and reducing their prices on the spot. For example, a house which LCC had pegged at K1.6m was reduced to K500,000.
The majority of houses, 7,000 of them, dating from 1959, are to be virtually given away - tenants need only pay K10,500 in legal fees. These houses were thus cheaper than the notorious bag of mealie meal which brought about former President Kaunda's down-fall in 1992.
Initially, LCC had planned to raise about K7bn from these 7,000 low cost houses. Instead the council will now only net K7m. Overall, LCC was supposed to realise about K40bn from the sale of close to 13,000 housing units. It will now reap below K10bn.
The President described previous prices as "crazy and inhuman." He said that councils had long ago recouped the money spent on building them in the 1950s.