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Operation Murambatsvina - Countrywide evictions of urban poor - Index of articles
truth is 10 times worse
July 18, 2005
Many years ago
I asked a Ugandan classmate whether horrific accounts of Idi Amin's
regime were true or the result of Western propaganda. Though we
were in Senegal, on the opposite side of the continent many thousands
of miles from Uganda, Joe looked around to check if anyone was listening,
leaned forward and said in a whisper: "My sister, the truth
is 10 times worse than anything you have ever read in the papers."
often came to mind in the past few weeks when I have been confronted
by the heart- rending reality of Zimbabweans who have had their
lives and livelihoods destroyed by the Mugabe regime's Operation
For the victims
of this heinous campaign, the truth is 10 times worse than anything
portrayed in the international media, yet Robert Mugabe apologists
dismiss their experiences as nothing more than the exaggerations
of the Western media. Their suffering is just so much dirt to be
swept under the apologist's carpet, while through some strange twist
of logic, the man responsible for their misery is portrayed as a
victim who has been unjustly vilified by a vengeful West.
fulmination against Western vilification of Mugabe is the work of
an apologist par excellence ("The hypocrisy of Mugabe's critics",
July 8). He trots out the tired old argument that "Mugabe is
unacceptable to Britain and the West mainly because he has chosen
to evict whites and redistribute land grabbed in colonial times,"
yet not one single victim of the Murambatsvina evictions is white.
Furthermore, some people who had been settled on land taken from
the white farmers have been forcibly removed from that very land.
dismisses the numbers cited in the international media, arguing
that "a few thousand have been filmed in makeshift camps, but
not many more".
the estimations of those evicted on the basis of the population
of Harare alone, yet the removals have taken place across the length
and breadth of Zimbabwe. What Vidal neglects to mention is that,
as a result of Zimbabwe's draconian press laws, large parts of the
country are closed to media scrutiny. The few thousand shown in
the footage are only the tip of the iceberg. The Zimbabwe government
itself has given out figures of 30 000 arrested and 130 000 evicted.
Zimbabwean organisations, not unnamed United Nations agencies, have
estimated the figures to be much higher.
It is true that
millions of poor are evicted all over the world and forced removals
should be condemned wherever they take place. However, there are
several aspects to the current removals that are unique. Firstly,
forced removals almost invariably have an economic imperative. As
Vidal points out, people are removed to make way for infrastructure
projects, the gentrification of cities, national parks and urban
redevelopments. It is rare for a government to destroy a substantial
section of the nation's housing stock purely as an act of political
current blitz in Zimbabwe is much more than a forced removal, it
is an attack on the livelihoods of the poor. Markets, restaurants,
hairdressing salons, carpentry workshops, sewing projects and myriad
other small businesses have been destroyed. People who have been
able to eke out a living in the informal sector have been reduced
to absolute penury with no alternative but to wait to be fed by
the World Food Programme. The operation has also set a dangerous
precedent - if other African governments decide to destroy the informal
sector on the grounds that it is "illegal", the suffering
among the poor and marginalised will be immense.
What I find
most reprehensible about Vidal's commentary is the privileging of
Western voices over African ones. By reacting only to the West,
he deflects from the extent of the crisis and pretends that Africans
do not exist. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and Doctors for
Human Rights have commented extensively and with great detail and
accuracy on the current blitz. African civil society organisations
in the region have sent petitions to the African Union.
Most of us in
this region have grown up in families that either rented out backrooms
or lived in backrooms themselves. The idea that a government can
deploy riot police and army units to destroy backrooms and cottages
in which many people have invested their life's savings is a horrifying
prospect for people throughout the region.
also begs the question of agency. Mugabe cannot and should not be
characterised as a victim who cannot be held responsible for his
actions. This kind of argument encourages impunity, the kind of
impunity that has resulted in millions of deaths of people on this
continent. Western silence on Operation Murambatsvina would certainly
help Mugabe. The question is: Would it help the displaced, homeless
and destitute in Zimbabwe?
is an author, political activist and analyst
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