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

  • ZIMBABWE: Still waiting for a place to call home
    IRIN News
    August 25, 2005

    HARARE - Grubby-faced children play on a patch of ground beside a towering plastic water container marked "UNICEF", one of the few humanitarian organisations helping hundreds of displaced families at Hopely Farm as they wait for the government to deliver on promised plots of land.

    Each gust of wind whisks up the fine dust, which gets into mouths and eyes. The 967 families here have lived in the open for more than a month, with little to protect themselves against the elements. Some have built knee-high shelters, others have tried to lash plastic sheeting together to build flimsy shacks.

    "Government appears to have forgotten us. Without UNICEF [UN Children's Fund] assistance we don't know how we could have coped," said Moses Misheck, who tries to make a little money by mending shoes.

    The displaced at Hopely are among the poorest of Zimbabweans. They had occupied illegal shanties around the capital, Harare, which were torn down by the authorities in a campaign of urban renewal, begun on 19 May, that left more than 700,000 people homeless.

    Most of those at Hopely came from the settlement of Porta Farm or the transit centre at Caledonia Farm, created to cope with displaced people who failed to move back to their rural areas when the government launched its much-criticised cleanup campaign, known as Operation Murambatsvina ('Drive out Dirt').

    They arrived in Hopely with next to nothing: UNICEF provides water and sanitation and the International Office for Migration distributes rations from the World Food Programme.

    On the other side of the farm, earth-moving equipment lies idle after carving out service roads for the proposed housing scheme, of which 600 plots are ready for allocation. It is not clear how the recipients will be selected, whether the plots will be distributed under a rent-to-buy arrangement or not, and how much the plots will cost the unemployed families.

    Despite toilets and water provided by UNICEF, conditions at Hopely are primitive.

    "We fear for the spread of disease at this place," said Virginia Tsauro, a 39-year-old pregnant woman with four other children. "What crime have we committed that we are treated like this? We were assured of being allocated proper housing when government evicted us from Porta Farm."

    Her children last went to school while at Porta Farm; there are no education facilities at Hopely.

    Luke Anderson says he hopes the government will keep its housing promise, but is concerned. "We hear those who are not formally employed will have to make way for soldiers and policemen, but that has not been officially communicated to us."

    He was worried that other evictees, who have yet to be allocated stands, might spoil things for the rest.

    "There are people here clamouring for stands - but what they are doing is inviting their relatives, who had relocated to their rural homes, and accommodating them here so that they are allocated stands," he said.

    Winfrida Svosve insisted that households not yet allocated plots have vowed to stay put. "If they say we should go back where we came from, then we will have to go back to Porta Farm where life was more bearable."

    She said the government had warned residents not on an official list to vacate the camp before the end of the week. "Government officials notified us that police and soldiers will beat us up if we do not move. We do not fear anything, we even want them to kill us."

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