Back to Index
This article participates on the following special index pages:
Operation Murambatsvina - Countrywide evictions of urban poor - Index of articles
new homeless live 'worse than animals'
Mail & Guardian (SA)
July 18, 2005
South Africa's borders, a humanitarian crisis is brewing. Despite
a news blackout imposed by Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, conditions
in a large camp housing those displaced by Mugabe's Operation Murambatsvina
are drawing sharp criticism from countries around the world.
Since May this
year, thousands of people have been forced to desert their homes
and have been dumped at the makeshift Caledonia camp, about 30km
Last week, the
clean-up operation was extended to wealthier suburbs in Harare.
In the past
two weeks, there has been a stream of foreign visitors to Zimbabwe
seeking more information about the controversial campaign.
Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan sent Sharad Shankardass, the
executive director of UN Habitat, to Zimbabwe for two weeks to learn
more about the campaign. The envoy's report is expected to be completed
within a week.
Then it was
the turn of the African Union, whose representative Zimbabwe turned
away because the government said it was too busy to see him and
that he had not given the government enough advance notice of his
Among the few
foreigners to visit the camp was a group of clerics from the South
African Council of Churches (SACC). They returned to South Africa
with tales of horror, calling the situation a humanitarian disaster
waiting to happen.
It seems the
whole world is baying for Mugabe's blood, with United States President
George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair calling for strong
action by Mbeki.
This puts the
South African president in a tricky position. He seems to be working
behind the scenes to soothe tempers while publicly saying that Zimbabwe's
people must engineer their own future.
the director of public diplomacy in South Africa's Department of
Foreign Affairs, told the Mail & Guardian Online: "South
Africa respects the sovereignty of the people of Zimbabwe and will
continue to encourage dialogue among all the political and other
role players in Zimbabwe in an effort to create an environment conducive
to reconciliation and the reconstruction and development of Zimbabwe."
Mbeki sent his
new deputy, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, darting into Zimbabwe last week
for talks with Mugabe and her counterpart, Joyce Mujuru. It emerged
over the weekend that Mugabe asked Mlambo-Ngcuka for a loan of hundreds
of millions of rands to buy fuel, food, seeds and fertiliser.
Kota says: "South
Africa is also engaging with Zimbabwe on a bilateral level and the
latest visit by the deputy president ... is part of those ongoing
efforts to help Zimbabwe to solve its problems."
Bheki Khumalo told the M&G Online: "Zimbabwe must come
up with their own, homegrown solutions [to the country's problems].
Mbeki has been
criticised for his policy of quiet diplomacy towards Zimbabwe, which
Khumalo says is a term that doesn't exist in any political class,
adding that the president is sticking with this approach and it's
not going to change.
says: "South Africa will continue to work through collective
international efforts to assist the people of Zimbabwe to find lasting
solutions to their problems.
of his latest efforts, President Mbeki has consulted with the Secretary
General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, with regards to the work
of the special envoy, the executive director of UN Habitat, who
visited Zimbabwe a few weeks ago, to understand the situation of
the latest operation better.
engagement is also taking place within the Southern African Development
Community [SADC] and the AU in terms of how African multilateral
organisations can assist in the reconstruction of Zimbabwe's economy."
take 'more active role'
Pastor Ray McCauley, president of the International Fellowship of
Christian Churches and a member of the SACC delegation that visited
Zimbabwe, told the M&G Online that the Zimbabwean problem is
not only internal and that South Africa should take a more active
[have] happened to South Africa [during apartheid] if the international
world didn't take interest?" he asks, adding that the people
in the camp are "looking to Mbeki" to do something "constructive".
in the role of Nepad [the New Partnership for Africa's Development],
they see him as a leader. We just really want to see African leaders
taking an active strong role to stop Mugabe and bring sanity to
living in the Caledonia transit camp "are traumatised, bruised
and battered into deep trauma", says Methodist bishop Ivan
Abrahams, who was also part of the SACC group.
have been a camp of displaced people in [the Democratic Republic
of] Congo, [but] the whole tragedy is that we not talking about
people in Congo."
the same kind of thing you see in Bosnia," he told the M&G
Online. "A lot of their shelter and livelihood had been destroyed.
[They are] feeling very disillusioned, and the vulnerable among
them are the women and the children.
the camp has no infrastructure in place and the only amenity available
is a clinic, housed in a tent.
the worst tragedy that the people there have ever witnessed. There
are many, many babies that are still [being] breastfed.
told that a doctor comes [once a day to the clinic]," says
Abrahams -- but he only saw community workers handing out female
were a lot of younger people. They were just loitering. Besides
one loud radio, other folk were just around. They were not productive.
There was a sense of helplessness," he adds.
are using plastic sheets as shelter.
from the most elementary and rudimentary shelters, it's plastic
bags supported by a few poles. I could not see everybody [in one
family] huddling in these rudimentary tents.
last week, the ruling Zanu-PF used its two-thirds majority in Parliament
to reject a motion by the MDC condemning the clean-up operation.
that state radio on Wednesday said: "After scrutinising the
ongoing clean-up exercise for over two weeks, members of the sixth
Parliament of Zimbabwe have rejected a motion by the MDC ... to
condemn the exercise."
Zimbabwe have not always been this way. During the late 1970s, Mugabe
was lauded by his people. He was credited with ending colonial rule
in Zimbabwe -- then formally known as Rhodesia. He also supported
sanctions against South Africa before the lifting of apartheid.
After he came
into power in 1980, many people viewed Mugabe as a war hero fighting
the racist white majority for the freedom of his people. Zimbabwe's
economy was booming back then, but soon living standards started
to drop. Unemployment and inflation increased, and the admiration
for the man who redeemed Zimbabwe was tainted.
the transit camp as having only the "bare necessities".
a lot of these people are traumatised. There's a sense of numbness
[in the camp]. They just seemed to be beaten into submission.
sees is the result of trauma ... I think these people couldn't believe
what was happening to them.
as if the government war on the poor is a kind of scorched-earth
policy to drive people into submission [politically]," he says.
On arrival at
Mbare township, close to Harare, where most of the houses were demolished,
Abrahams says he was shocked by what he saw. He compared it to a
town that had just been hit by air raids.
looked at the places from where the people were moved and it looked
as if there had just been an air raid, with so much litter ... [I
felt] outrage, absolute outrage and immense anger," he says.
He says the
SACC delegates were wary of taking photographs, fearing they would
be blamed for "inciting [the] people".
some of the haunting images that will be etched in one's memory
for life is looking in the eyes of women [and seeing] no hope. There's
almost a plea of 'get me out of this situation' or 'what can I do'.
One feels hopeless."
Mbeki will revise his stance of quiet diplomacy.
not working. This visit just reaffirmed that. To remain silent any
longer would be scandalous to us. The credibility of all African
leadership is at stake around what is happening in Zimbabwe.
it's somewhat scandalous that we have the AU meeting in Libya and
[the African leaders remaining] adequately silent [about Zimbabwe]."
media have been expelled from the country and the country's journalists
live in fear of their lives.
a lawyer for the Public Interest Litigation Project in Zimbabwe,
told the M&G Online that he went to the camp to represent a
woman who was arrested for taking pictures while she was compiling
a document for ActionAid, a British-based developmental charity
Her camera was
confiscated and the police are still investigating the case, but
she has not been charged with anything yet, he says.
About the camp
itself, Nyamurundira says: "I think it was a sad sight. It's
quite cold as well. It's one of the coldest winters I've experienced
it's unfortunate that no alternative housing was provided for the
people before their homes were demolished."
such as the "Women's Action Group, ActionAid and Unicef [the
United Nations Children's Fund]" are providing the people in
the camp with blankets and water, he says.
McCauley told the M&G Online that people in the camp are "living
worse than animals".
I spoke to says they were living for many years in a brick home
and were given permission from [the city] council [to do so],"
Many of the
people at the camp "began to weep and cry" when he was
speaking to them, he adds. One child, a "most beautiful big-eyed
boy", touched the pastor's heart.
one shoe on and the other was broken. [His] shorts were sopping
wet [probably from wetting himself], his nose was running and his
hair had lice in it," says McCauley.
no "purpose other than madness" for the forced removals
churches in Zimbabwe, he says, there is some infrastructure in the
camp. People were told that they would be given water, but they
have to provide their own tubs to bathe in.
they owned has been bashed down."
To put up the
tents made from plastic and wooden poles, "some of the wood
has been broken from their own furniture", he says.
were absolutely dazed at what they were going through. Some of them
had cuts and holes in their skin.
was singing [from some kids, while] others were just sitting around."
going to do a national and an international drive to raise money
[for the people in Zimbabwe]. We have the infrastructure through
the churches," says McCauley. "We need to stop this deadlock
just dumped there'
Reverend Ron Steele, McCauley's spokesperson at Rhema and another
SACC delegation member, told the M&G Online that Rwanda's refugee
camps, which he visited in 1994, "would be a five-star place
compared to what we saw".
see groups of people around a fire.
people have just been dumped there. There's no running water ...
it's dusty, dry, windy and cold. [The camp] is a piece of land with
sand, some trees and rocks.
a long way out of Harare ... about 30km [away from] where these
people were moved.
it almost impossible for people to get into town and get jobs. There
is a fuel shortage in Zimbabwe which is absolutely appalling. The
transport system is just not working because the fuel supply is
so short," says Steele.
He adds that
approximately 25% of Zimbabweans are HIV-positive. Though the number
of them in the camp is unknown, he is concerned about how they will
receive anti-retroviral treatments now that they are so far away
from Harare and their hospitals.
not getting any medical treatment. They don't have that access any
Steele, the only thing the Zimbabwean government provides is portable
toilets. There is pressure on the camp's amenities because of the
large number of people living in the camp.
"half their day" walking to water tanks and back again,
and there is no electricity, "so they were cutting down trees
to make a fire".
was a little tent this child had made. It was tiny and he could
just squeeze in and it would cover him," says Steele.
have a future any more'
He met a woman whom he describes as "articulate and very angry".
She used to have a stall in the flea market, and had her electric
strove and fridge with her.
sitting in the middle of the bush ... it's so ridiculous,"
woman claimed she had no parents and was looking after her three
clothing was in a pathetic state and you could see lice in their
hair. [She told me] 'I don't know what I can do. I don't have a
rural area to go to. I don't know what I can do. I have no village.'"
victim of the removals worked as a security guard before he was
moved to the camp. He told Steele: "I haven't got a future.
Nobody knows me [in the rural area]. I'm 25 years old. I grew up
in the city. I was trying to plan for my future. Now I don't have
one any more."
Steele says, was "just stand after stand and it was just rubble.
It was pathetic. The flea market was deserted."
there are solutions to the crisis in Zimbabwe, but that Mugabe doesn't
want to implement anything.
has been no planning [in Zimbabwe]. Everything has been done ad
hoc. They can't solve their problems themselves ... I would put
money on it," he says.
saw a happy person [in the camp]. I thought people in the camps
would mob us and say, 'Tell Mugabe this and tell him that' ... It
didn't happen. There's a sort of numbness in that place ... they
don't know how to react. They feel helpless.
that the government can treat people like this. There's no care
and no compassion [for its people].
appalling situation that people are being treated as objects,"
similar to the apartheid era in South Africa when the blacks were
treated as objects, says Steele.
He feels South
Africa is doing what it can for Zimbabwe, but thinks people there
are "running out of time".
is getting desperate. There's a new urgency to get something concrete
is slowly disintegrating."
Paul Nantulya, from the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation
in South Africa, told the M&G Online: "One did not expect
to find camps such as you'd find in Burundi. [The camp] resembles
a refugee-type situation.
was a sense of anger and confusion [around the camp]. Crucial facilities
are non-existent in some places and if they are, they are overtaxed."
many people in the camp are confused and still have their property
title deeds and trading licences.
He feels South
Africa "needs to take a stronger stance with the people"
of Zimbabwe because any sort of uprising there would reflect badly
on Southern Africa.
thought I'd see something [like this] just a few kilometres from
our border," says Nantulya.
very demoralising experience, to live in a camp like that [in Zimbabwe].
I'm very worried it's going to be permanent."
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.