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

  • We won't forget Murambatsvina
    Oskar Wermter, SJ
    September 02, 2005

    Mbare - People from outside Mbare ask: Is Murambatsvina over now? Well, they no longer demolish houses and market stalls – all that could be destroyed has been destroyed. But the rules forbidding people to earn a living so as to give their children food to eat and send them to school are still in force. Some people are still homeless and sleeping in the open.

    Home owners are still living in fear of eviction because they cannot pay the huge amounts they have been charged for rates and "penalties" which they cannot pay since they no longer have an income. The authorities have not repented of their evil course of action. I still do not know what to do with a sickly (HIV positive) young woman and her two tiny children. Relatives in the neighbourhood won’t have them, they don’t seem to have a rural home or rural relatives to give them shelter and the mother certainly does not have the money to rent a room. All I know is that they must not go back to living – if you can call that ‘living’ – in a makeshift shelter without a roof on the open ground near the bus terminus.

    A woman was lying face down right in the middle of the road, next to the beerhall. Nobody seemed to pay any attention. Was she dead or still alive? I stopped my car and went to investigate. She was alive alright. Drunk, sick, run over by someone? She did not look hurt. Some bystanders helped to carry her to the sidewalk. How did she ever get there? Her left leg was amputated below the knee. There was no wheelchair, no crutches. For how long had she been lying there? You can be extremely lonely in the crowds of Mbare. Some time later I alerted a policeman who promised to take action.

    There was a time when low-income people were treated for free in clinics and hospitals. There was a time when I used to write a note saying, "So-and so is ill. But she can’t pay, she is a destitute widow without any income. Can you help?" Most clinic matrons would respond with great kindness and treat that person for free. Not any more. I wrote a letter like that a few days ago. It came back: nothing doing, she has to pay. "There was a time…" Memories can be dangerous. They make you compare and reflect critically. That is why politicians have no memories and want everybody else to forget what they did and said yesterday. Operation Garikayi is to make us forget Murambatsvina – Murambavanhu.

    TV images of houses being built are to make us forget the ruins and the rubble in front of our noses. That won’t work. We do remember. It was and is too painful, that memory. We won’t forget.

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