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Operation Murambatsvina - Countrywide evictions of urban poor - Index of articles
destruction besets Zimbabwe
Big Issue, Namibia
By Chipo Chogwadi
Just before the turnoff
to Caledonia Farm we pass an open area fringed with long grass and piles
of garbage strewn close to the roadside. We veer off the narrow tar road
onto a gravel road. It is dusty and very bumpy. Further along the road
we pass makeshift houses put together with strips of corrugated iron,
bricks and plastic. Some of the houses are made of cement blocks. At first,
we mistake the haphazard collection of housing for Caledonia Farm, but
we soon realise our mistake. A short distance away there are a few more
houses made of cement blocks still under construction. According to a
painted sign they are part of the Mabvuka-Tafara Housing Cooperative.
We continue along
the winding dusty road and finally catch sight of row upon row of tents
and makeshift shelters in the distance. There is an elderly policewoman
sitting on a chair meters away from the campsite. She stands to attention
as our car approaches and so we slow down and stop beside her. She asks
who we are and what we are doing there. We explain that we are part of
the delegation that arrived ahead of us and we are here to donate packages
to the residents of the camp. She takes down the number plate of the car
and then our names and passport numbers and allows us to proceed.
Standing tall and
isolated in the dusty ground on the left are huge green cylindrical plastic
containers with UNICEF printed along the side. Over 15 feet in height
they are containers of safe drinking water for residents of Caledonia
Farm. Ten thousand litres of water a day are provided for residents at
this holding camp.
Caledonia Farm described
as a temporary transit holding camp was hastily set up to provide space
for some of the men, women and children displaced by Operation Murambatsvina,
or Operation Restore Order, as the government has named it. Literally
translated murambatsvina means ‘drive out trash’, an expression
that is clearly meant to signify that the ‘rubbish’ is unwanted and needs
to be purged. The Zimbabwe public have dubbed it Tsunami – completely
destructive and leaving chaos behind.
In a clearing empty
of trees, shrubs or grass there are a couple of rows of olive green tents.
The orderly rows join up with more shelters, which are more unkempt. Plastic
sheets, pieces of wood, corrugated iron sheets, and pieces of cloth are
pieced together to form small square structures. Broken chairs, baskets,
bits of fencing and wire are scattered about. Two very young children
play in the sand and their clothes smudged with dirt. There is a woman
beside them braiding her hair. Close by two women sit in a cramped space
behind a barricade of sheets and cook a pot of watery sadza (porridge)
on an open fire. Their other pots and pans are lying on the ground.
Behind the row upon
row of crudely constructed tents the ground slopes down and there is the
sight of boxes the size of telephone booths that serve as toilets for
approximately 4500 men, women and children camped at Caledonia Farm.
According to a news
report, a member of the group of South African church leaders who visited
Caledonia Farm strongly voiced their disgust. "People are living
in the most appalling and shocking conditions. We saw people living in
small plastic shacks… it is one of the worst and most inhuman conditions
that people can be subjected to."
Inhabitants of Caledonia
Farm are joined by hundreds of displaced Zimbabweans around the country
who are now reduced to living out in the open. As the sun sets and dusk
creeps there are fires along the grassy edges of road leading to different
areas or just out in the open vleis. People on the farm gather around
the fires to keep themselves warm. They are surrounded by their beds,
wardrobes, chairs pots and pans.
These people are the
casualties of Operation Murambatsvina, which started on 18 May this year.
Throughout Zimbabwe and without warning, police descended on vendors,
traders and tuckshop owners destroying their property, grabbing their
wares and arresting some of the traders. Initially many of the people
resisted but the brutality and violence of the police resulted in the
clashes quietening down.
Siyaso Market in Mbare,
Harare, where one could purchase a nail, a window frame, car tyres and
even a VCR, was once a chaotic, teeming trading area with an assorted
collection of craftsmen. Carpenters, builders, mechanics and daring thieves
all plied their professions and their wares in this familiar and sometimes
unsafe area. Operation Murambatsvina left it a barren wasteland with just
mountains of rubbish positioned around in piles.
Addressing a ZANU-PF
Central Committee session a week after Operation Restore Order, President
Robert Mugabe said: "Our cities and towns have deteriorated to levels
that were a real cause of concern. Apart from the failing reticulation
systems and broken roads and streets, our cities and towns, including
Harare, the capital had become havens for illicit and criminal practices
and activities which just could not be allowed to go on."
The so-called clean
up campaign only took a sinister overtone when bulldozers moved into suburbs
to raze brick and mortar constructions and wooden prefabricated sheds
where people were living. The devastation left people bewildered, shocked
Hundreds of people
converged on bus terminals with their few possessions. What they could
not carry they sold for a pitiful amount. On reaching the growth points
they found themselves stranded, as there was no fuel to transport them
and their goods to their rural homes. Those who could not afford transport
and find fuel, hired lorries. Sights of trucks overloaded with furniture
and people travelling to rural areas became a feature of the Zimbabwean
The Zimbabwe Bishop
Catholics Conference was swift in its condemnation of Operation Restore
Order: "Any claim to justify this operation in view of a desired
orderly end becomes totally groundless in view of the cruel and inhumane
means that have been used. People have a right to shelter and that has
been deliberately destroyed in this operation without much warning. While
we all desire orderliness, alternative accommodation and sources of income
should have been identified and provided before the demolitions and stoppage
of informal trading."
The Combined Harare
Residents Organisation (CHRA) similarly disagreed with the reasons cited
by the government: "The idea that Zimbabweans are better off living
in the open, alongside roads, in holding camps or in pole-and-dagga huts
in the rural areas is laughable. Not even this regime would pretend that.
If then, as it claims, the regime was motivated by a desire to improve
the circumstances of the urban poor, it would have embarked upon a house
building programme that put new housing in place before the demolitions
occurred. If, as they now claim, the regime will build adequate numbers
of housing in the next two months, why did they not embark on such a massive
programme prior to the destruction," the group questioned.
The ensuing outcry
of local, regional and international civic organisations and pressure
from groups such as the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights culminated in
a visit by a UN special envoy, Anna Tibaijuka, executive director of Habitat.
UN-HABITAT is the agency within the UN that has been charged with the
responsibility for managing human settlements development.
Days before her planned
visit the government launched Operation Garikai and pledged Z$3 billion
towards a reconstruction programme. Critics such as CHRA question that
and point out the discrepancies.
"The regime claims
it will spend Z$3 billion on the re-building exercise. The money has not
been budgeted. Current domestic debt is Z$10 trillion. The 2005 budget
is Z$27.5 trillion against revenues of Z$23 trillion – the budget deficit
is anticipated to be as much as 15% of GDP. Government has already provided
Z$2.8 trillion in its Productive Sector Facility. It has also borrowed
Z$200 billion for its Parastatal and Local Authorities Reorientation Programme.
It needs as much as Z$5 trillion for food imports this year. It will result
in an accelerated inflation rate."
The group explained
that the cost of building a two-room core house, excluding services, would
be more than Z$100 million, thus Z$3000 trillion would cater for 30 000
"Given that hundreds
and thousands of citizens have been made homeless, 30 000 houses do not
begin to address the demand. At any rate, it is patently obvious that
the regime does not have the capacity to build anywhere near this number
of houses. At the peak of investment in public sector housing (1981) government
spent some Z$300 billion (in 2004 estimates); in 2003, it had dropped
to Z$1,6 billion."
in affected areas ahs gone down from class sizes of 40 to 50, to 20 to
30. In other areas such as Dzivaraseka Extension and Hatcliffe, enrolment
in primary school has gone up due to influx of evictees from in and around
Harare. In Kambuzuma, Highfield and Rugare, children are reported to go
to school from the streets on empty stomachs. Some teachers have been
evictees, which impacts on the quality of services offered to affected
schools. There are no educational facilities in transit camps.
There are increasing
numbers of reports of rejection of displaced families as they return to
the rural areas for ‘resettlement’. There have been reports of resettled
families or individuals being rejected by chiefs under the pretext that,
given their exposure to the ‘fast life’/immorality in the urban areas,
they will bring AIDS out into the rural communities. Furthermore, the
current high levels of stress and trauma, there is a risk that adults
prioritise their own survival as opposed to the well being of their children.
The destruction exercise
is still continuing as businesses and residents of middle- and higher
income areas are being targeted. The physical, financial and emotional
costs can only be accurately assessed when the ‘clean up’ stops, and as
yet the authorities have not indicated when or where they will stop.
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