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  • Operation Murambatsvina - Countrywide evictions of urban poor - Index of articles

  • Operation Murambatsvina: an artist's interpretation
    Taurai Maduna,
    February 06, 2006

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    BoysWhen Zimbabwean artist Josiah Bob Taundi grew up in the townships of Harare he saw bulldozers as emblems of construction - machines that came to clear land for building houses and roads. But last year all this changed. Bulldozers came back to the townships and razed the very same houses that they had constructed. The Zimbabwean government called this "clean up", Murambatsvina (Operation Restore Order).

    Murambatsvina is nicknamed the "Tsunami" by many Zimbabweans. It is estimated that around 700 000 people were left homeless and without sources of livelihood after Murambatsvina. Anna Tibaijuka, the UN Special Envoy, who came to investigate the effects of Murambatsvina reported that the Zimbabwean government had acted in an "indiscriminate and unjustified manner" with "indifference to human suffering."

    While the urban demolitions were in full swing across the country, Zimbabwean artist, Josiah Taundi could not help but see the agony and pain reflected in the eyes of those that had been affected by Murambatsvina. In an effort to depict their plight he began to vividly re-construct Harare’s urban destruction.

    In the black and white painting titled "Boys", Taundi brings out the emotions of fear, anxiety and apprehensiveness on the faces of children who watch their homes being demolished.

    Josiah Bob Taundi The jovial artist clad in shades and looking like American hip-hop artist Kanye West, says that he was inspired to capture this scene after watching the news on national television when riot police armed to the teeth went to demolish houses in Chitungwiza. And as children, some in school uniforms, looked on in confusion. - listen to audio file

    "Thinking Hard" depicts a man sitting outside his home wondering whether the authorities will consider it legal or not, and whether it will survive Murambatsvina. The barefooted man sits holding his head in confusion wondering who might have angered God to this extent that people were being made homeless.

    "Day of Reckoning depicts young entrepreneurs who have had their plumbing business destroyed. These "indigenous businessmen", one wearing a ZANU PF t-shirt and the other an opposition MDC t-shirt walk together as they map out the way forward for the future. This painting shows that the demolitions did not only affect members of opposition political parties as some would like to believe. But that Murambatsvina also affected staunch supporters of the ruling party, who they had voted into office just a few months earlier.

    Taundi says that one of his paintings that has a lot to tell is called "Does God Have a Conscience". Taundi said he was trying to put forward the many questions that people were asking during Murambatsvina. Why did the demolitions take place in winter? Does God not care about his subjects or does he simply not have a conscience? Who is to blame? Is it Mugabe, Bush or Blair?

    Water CrisisMurambatsvina created a major humanitarian crisis. The South African newspaper, the Mail & Guardian, described people living in conditions that were 'worse than animals'. In the painting "Relief" Taundi depicts people accepting food handouts from the donor community while the police closely monitor the proceedings.- listen to audio file

    Taundi’s depiction of life post Murambatsvina says a lot about day-to-day life in Zimbabwe. In ‘"Water Crisis" the ongoing water shortages in the capital city are well illustrated. "It is unfortunate for some reason, it’s history being told that in Harare people have almost reduced themselves to what we used to do in the villages. Carrying water using buckets. The artists adds that "unfortunately the water in the urban areas isn’t even fit to drink."

    The fuel crisis comes up in one of the paintings called "The Wait". Taundi said this picture is about people that have been waiting for hours at a bus stop. This is a comment on Zimbabwe’s severe fuel crisis, which has disrupted transport services, as well as making the cost of transport exorbitant. According to Taundi, the people who are waiting cannot change their way of life. "They are powerless and powerless people cannot do anything but wait for change", the artist says.

    Time to rockHowever, amidst the ongoing Zimbabwean crisis, there is joy in the painting entitled "Time to rock". The artist says that there are people who have made so much money during these desperate times that they are the ones who have time to rock – time to have a party and a good time. He reckons that if Michael Jackson came to Zimbabwe today that there are people who could afford to go to his show. But Taundi insists that people should find time to rock even with the few resources that they have got. He said people who are sitting and hoping things will be ok might not live to see that day so they should "Rock!" - listen to audio file

    One of the major issues that bothered Taundi during Murambatsvina was the way in which people seemed to rejoice when houses belonging to war veterans were destroyed. And the cheers on national television when people were asked to comment on Murambatsvina going to the low-density areas, which, until then, had not been targeted. The artist said two wrongs did not make a right and compared such a scenario to someone whose daughter has been raped and when they hear that their neighbour’s daughter has been raped, they say it is fine. He argues that a bad act is a bad act no matter who is affected.

    Taundi’s work carefully and sensitively reconstructs the demolition of houses in Harare and at the same time makes a clear representation of the actual events that took place in Zimbabwe during Murambatsvina.

    Taundi who is currently a media research officer with a local NGO, began painting while he was at school. He is also a graphic artist and an Illustrator and has illustrated the award winning Zimbabwean children’s book called The Dream of Stones written by Chief Masimba K. Biriwasha. The artist who holds a political science degree says he has not formally studied art but intends to do so in the near future.

    A person of many interests and talents, Taundi has also set up a clothing label called "The Sun Afro-Designs" which, as the name implies, is about African art.

    The Harare based artist can be contacted via email at

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