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Evictions continue despite international condemnation
HARARE - Ignoring
a call by the United Nations to halt evictions of people living
in unauthorised housing, Zimbabwean police on Friday ordered residents
out of Porta Farm, one of Harare's oldest informal settlements,
about 35 km west of the capital.
Since the launch of Operation Murambatsvina ('Clean Out Garbage')
in mid-May, the UN estimates that 700,000 people have been made
homeless or lost livelihoods as a result of the blitz on the informal
homes and unlicensed vending of the largely urban poor.
A report by UN-HABITAT Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka after a
two-week fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe recommended that the evictions,
"carried out in an indiscriminate and unjustified manner, with indifference
to human suffering", be stopped.
"The government of Zimbabwe should immediately halt any further
demolitions of homes and informal businesses and create conditions
for sustainable relief and reconstruction for those affected," read
the report, presented last week to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The latest police operation at Porta Farm was the second time in
a month they had tried to clear the 7,500 settlers from the area.
At the first attempt in June, homes and markets were demolished
to force people to return to their rural areas, or to a holding
camp at Caledonia Farm, 15 km north of Harare, but many of the residents
refused to move.
Aid workers said on Monday that the police were determined to clear
the remaining people. Residents were being grouped according to
place of origin in preparation for their transport out.
The evictions, part of a drive to "clean up" the cities, have been
carried out despite the Porta Farm community having won a high court
order last year allowing them to stay.
When IRIN visited the settlement on Sunday, around 70 policemen
were monitoring the removal of the residents, who are among the
poorest and most disadvantaged in Harare.
"We have been camping here since Friday, and we will only go when
all the people have been removed. This time our bosses have instructed
us not to use force on the settlers," said a police officer - a
reference to the death of 11 people when police used teargas in
a bid to evict residents in September last year.
In one corner of the camp, reduced to rubble and heaps of household
goods, five young men defiantly beat a drum and danced to an improvised
song vowing not to move. Elsewhere, people were packing their belongings
into trucks provided by the army and Harare municipality.
"I returned from Caledonia Farm two weeks ago because that place
was like a prison for me and my three children," said Tabita Mugomba,
a 38-year-old widow.
When the home she had lived in for 10 years was demolished in June,
she went to Caledonia but left most of her belongings at Porta.
"Besides, I had to fend for my children, who have since stopped
going to school. Here at Porta Farm I had been surviving by selling
fish to motorists," said Mugomba, holding the hand of her thin seven-year-old
Mugomba said she would try and move in with her brother and his
family in Harare's working-class suburb of Mbare but was unsure
about how well she would be received, as she had been out of touch
with him for some time.
Porta Farm dates back to 1991, when the government moved thousands
of people from unauthorised settlements in Harare; because it was
supposed to be temporary, basic amenities like water, schools and
health services were never provided.
Tibaijuka's report said Operation Murambatsvina has indirectly affected
2.4 million people, and the humanitarian consequences "are enormous".
"It will take several years before the people and society as a whole
can recover. There is an immediate need for the government of Zimbabwe
to recognise the virtual state of emergency that has resulted, and
to allow unhindered access by the international and humanitarian
community to assist those that have been affected," the report noted.
The government has dismissed the UN's findings as biased. Local
Government Minister Ignatius Chombo told IRIN that the people had
been evicted from illegal settlements, "and I don't think the UN
can sanction illegality".
He stressed that the government's new corrective programme, Operation
Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle ('Stay well'), would develop housing at an
estimated cost of US $300 million. "Our people are much happier
because the government is giving them land, they are getting stands,
and are getting government assistance," Chombo insisted.
On Monday only five families out of the original 4,500 people remained
in Caledonia Farm after the authorities moved to close the transit
camp at the end of last week. The government said that those without
accommodation in urban areas and who were unemployed would be relocated
to their rural homes where chiefs were asked to give them land and
Critics have questioned the ability of the cash-strapped government
to afford the housing programme's price tag, and pointed to the
immediate needs of the people - especially the young, sick and elderly
- displaced by Operation Murambatsvina.
"The government is acting irrationally and hypocritically, because
it is causing further suffering to the very people it says it is
providing accommodation to," said Welshman Ncube, secretary-general
of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
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