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Churces in Bulawayo statement on the displaced people
Churches in Bulawayo
July 20, 2005

The churches in Bulawayo have been working hard to alleviate the suffering of the displaced people. They consulted with the police commissioners and the Governor and Resident Minister for Bulawayo.

The churches in Bulawayo were allowed to shelter internally displaced people who were willing to be resettled in the rural areas. This was agreed at a stakeholders meeting held at the Social Welfare Provincial Officer’s office on the 12th of July 2005. This was the understanding between the police, social welfare, Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and the churches. The rest of the displaced people had to be moved to the transit camp. Churches as part of the key stakeholders were allowed to pitch a tent at the transit camp and had a representative there at all times.

On the 19th of July, the representative of the Churches in Bulawayo at the Transit Camp was asked to leave in the middle of a church service and threatened that he should not come back without written authority from the Governor. Efforts to get an explanation from the government officials were fruitless. On the 20th of July 2005 at about 9.30pm the police forced themselves into a number of churches where these people had been kept. The churches had made plans to move them to the rural areas. They had also prepared food packs, blankets and seed packs to be distributed. In spite of all the arrangements and agreements that had been made on behalf of these people the police went on to commandeer them into open trucks. We watched with horror as the operation unfolded.

Included in these people were the sick, some who were on Anti- Ritro Virus (ARVs) medication, the elderly, women and little children. One woman was even pulled into the truck because she was frail. Children who were already asleep were woken up by the riot police and frog marched into the open police trucks. People who had corrugated sheets, metal, timber and all that were left of their belongings were packed like junk. This was the story in all the churches where they picked up the people through out the city. This operation was undertaken under the cover of darkness between 9pm and 5am. The removal of the innocent, poor, weak, voiceless and vulnerable members of society by riot police was uncalled for and unnecessary. It is inhuman, brutal and insensitive and in total disregard of human rights and dignity. These people are not criminals but bona fide citizens of this nation. It seems the crime, they committed is that they are poor. It seems the government does not have plans for poor people. This is evidenced by the destruction of their simple structures and meager property they owned. Four people died some are traumatized, depressed while others are now insane because of the situation.

As the church and the clergy we would like to register our protest in the strongest sense of the word. The government misled us to believe that what they discussed with us was in good faith. There was no need to take the leadership of the churches in Bulawayo for questioning and later the detention of one of our pastors on spurious allegations. This was uncalled for, intimidation and harassment. They handcuffed him and threatened him in a manner that is unwarranted. There is no rule of law. There is impunity, which demonstrates a tyrannical rule in our beloved country. The country faces major challenges of collapsing economy, poverty and shortage of foreign currency which should be the concern of the government. The poor people are only symptomatic to the crisis.

We would like to restate our understanding of the agreed position. The churches in Bulawayo are part of the stakeholders and should be allowed to play their part. The churches advocate for a permanent place of resettlement and release of the people that intend to go back to their rural areas. School children have been displaced by this operation which has denied them the right to education. We call on the government and its officials to abide by the laws and not to be above it. The rule of law must be restored. The churches should be allowed to continue with their God given mandate and mission to be involved with the displaced people as agreed to by the government earlier.

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