But a group of Harare domestic workers are proving that dreams can come true — they have built at least 53 houses in one of Harare’s middle income suburbs and another 163 are in the pipeline – from their measly income.
Malbereign Housing Cooperative, which has a membership of 200 people who are mostly domestic workers has helped Dorcas Mvundura (56) punch above her weight by building a house with her meagre salary.
Domestic workers are some of the least paid professionals in the country.
The highest paid gets less than US$100 a month and some are given as little as US$30 by contemptuous employers.
Mavundura, who joined the cooperative in 1998, three years after it was founded by Israel Magwenzi, a former Malbereign councillor, says she had never dreamt of owning a house.
“This cooperative has completely changed my life,” she said. “I never dreamt of having my own house because of the little income I get from my employer.
“I have four children and I faced a lot of challenges whenever I tried looking for accommodation.
“The landlords would say my children are too many and this house has given me some relief.”
Unlike other cooperatives where members are often left counting their losses after leaders had made off with their contributions, Mvundura said theirs had been a success because they hold regular meetings and closely monitor how their money is spent.
Seventy four year-old Farai Chikuso who has been a domestic worker since 1980 says completing her house with the assistance of the cooperative was a culmination of a tortuous journey.
Chikuso, a divorcee remembers times when she would move her children from one house to another as relatives were reluctant to accommodate them.
She often rented a single room for her family and the rentals would gobble her entire salary.
“Life can be very tough. At times I would hide some of my children in the ware house and some of them in the garage,” Chikuso said.
“I would make sure that my boss does not see them because that was going to be the end of my career.
She joined the cooperative in 1995 and would sacrifice Z$2 in monthly contributions from her Z$20 salary.
In 2001 she was allocated a house in the cooperative’s Mabelreign phase one project.
“Although l got the house some 10 years ago at times I have a feeling that someone might come and kick me out of the house any time,” she said with a chuckle.
“It’s too good to be true.”
Zivanai Mapeno, the chairperson of the cooperative says although they faced challenges, the commitment of members had seen them through.
“Every month each of our 215 members pays a total of $20 and that’s the money we use to purchase building materials as well as to pay our builders,” Mupeno said.
“At times we face problems that some our members fail to pay the monthly contributions and the prices of some of the building materials keep going up.
“For example the price of cement recently went up from $US9, 50 to US$11 for a 50kg bag and this goes against our budget.”
To ensure transparency, the cooperative audits its books twice a year.
“Ever since we started our operations in 1995 our books of accounts have been audited,” he said.
“We will continue this because we have seen its effectiveness as we are able to identify loopholes and it also benefits in the sense that it shows how money is being used.
“Auditing of books is quite expensive but it’s worth it because for a cooperative to effectively function there is need for transparency.”
The cooperative has just finished clearing a road and is currently negotiating with the council to finance the construction of the road.
Phase one the project has 52 complete houses and 163 more would be completed under phase two.
Harare’s housing backlog stands at a staggering 500 000 and most of the people without houses are young professionals who for the past 10 years could not access any mortgages because of the economic collapse.