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"This time a thrashing; next time the dogs": persistent harassment of Zimbabwe's poor
October 24, 2005

As the Solidarity Peace Trust report "Crime of Poverty" (released on 19 October) makes abundantly clear the intense misery caused to so many in Operation Murambatsvina, continues unabated. The Mugabe regime which visited this terror upon hundreds of thousands of the poorest of the poor, has done nothing to help rebuild their shattered lives. The so-called rebuilding operation, "Operation Garikai" (or "Hlalani Kuhle") is a cruel deception, no more than window dressing, which to date has not provided one single dwelling to any of those whose homes and businesses were destroyed in the first brutal, unlawful, assault. What is more, despite official denials and every effort made to cover their tracks by this callous and calculating regime, the fact is that Operation Murambatsvina is continuing with repeat demolitions wherever the internally displaced persons (IDPs), out of sheer desperation, dare to return to the sites of their original homes. Our reporter saw some of the continuing, and ever-deepening, misery of those affected when he visited the Killarney settlement outside Bulawayo again this week.

Most, if not all, the former inhabitants of the three informal settlements at Killarney whose homes were destroyed in the first raids carried out in June have moved, and been moved on, several times now. It is not unusual to find IDPs who have moved six and more times since June - from Killarney, to one of the Bulawayo churches, to the transit camp at Helensvale, to some remote rural location, back to Bulawayo on foot, and on (with the assistance of the Combined Bulawayo Churches) to first one and then another location in a desperate bid to find a place to stay for a while without fear of further forced removal. As might be expected, the health and general well-being of these destitute people have suffered through the trauma of these repeated removals. Some have died as a result, and that includes not only the most obviously vulnerable like little babies and the elderly frail, but some in mid-life. Rejected by the State as so much "filth" to be swept aside, deprived successively of work, food, shelter and the last scrap of human dignity, some simply succumbed to total despair. Like Patrick Ncube, the 39 year old man, married and with two children, sheltering temporarily on Spring Farm after being evicted from Killarney, and Mike Mkwakwa, another man in mid-life whose tragic story was told briefly in the Solidarity Peace Trust report, both of whom were buried last week; Like the mother of the three-week-old twins in Mpilo Hospital, who died shortly after giving birth, despite having no history of any prior medical problems - and like so many others whose deaths will not even be recorded.

Consider the history of another - let's call him Thabo because he has not succumbed to death yet and therefore his identity must be protected in the police state that Zimbabwe has now become. Thabo is in his 60s. Our reporter saw him collecting a few plastic containers of water from a water pipe not far from where he had made a temporary (and well-concealed) shelter for himself in the bush. His parents came to what was then Rhodesia from Malawi half a century ago. When they died Thabo found employment as a security guard at Victoria Falls. There he met his bride-to-be whose home was at Nyathi. The couple married and went to live at Nyathi. However as the liberation war intensified Nyathi became an uncomfortable place to live with all the military activity in the area. Thabo and his wife therefore moved to Matobo on the other side of Bulawayo with their four children. They were happy enough living there, but after independence they found the area was being targeted by the notorious 5th Brigade. Mugabe's maniacal genocide programme, Gukurahundi, was just getting under way. The family moved back closer to Bulawayo and found shelter where they could, at Killarney. Thabo's wife has since died and his children left home, leaving this elderly widower to fend for himself as best he can. Then in June 2005 Mugabe's second military-style operation to remove the human "debris", code-named Operation Murambatsvina, swept through Killarney. As he watched his home of 20 years being razed to the ground by Mugabe's black-booted agents of terror, Thabo took to the bush where he remained in hiding for a number of weeks. While in hiding he did not even dare to light a fire to cook a meal for fear of alerting the riot police. During this time he lived off scraps of food, including a few stale buns, which he managed to scavenge off others almost as desperate as himself. Finally, having nowhere else and no one else, to turn to, Thabo returned to Killarney, rebuilding the shack which had once been home. It was a vain gesture of hope (or was it defiance?) for a few weeks later the Mugabe storm troops swept through the area again, destroying his and the few other shacks which had been re-occupied. Leaving Thabo with only the bush to call home.

When our reporter visited the site on Saturday he was able to see the result of yet another military sweep through Killarney village 2. He spoke to a small group of numbed and shocked residents, of whom Thabo was one, who had fallen victim to a cruel ploy of the security forces the previous day. So as to surprise those who had been eking out a precarious existence at Killarney at the same time as they evaded the riot police, a group of plain-clothed CIO operatives visited the area on foot, leaving their police vehicle some distance away. In this way they took a group of eleven IDPs totally by surprise. As soon as they had them surrounded, they demanded to know why these people were still living at Killarney. They shouted abuse at the bemused group which included at least one elderly woman over 70 years of age. "Why are you still here?" they screamed. When one of the beleaguered group of mostly foreign nationals dared to ask where they should move to, they were told not to answer back. Finding these poor, unfortunate victims a place to call home was not in the slightest the concern of the CIO.

Worse was to follow. The CIO operatives said there had been some thefts from homes in the adjoining suburbs. They accused this pathetic group of being responsible, and since the rule of law has long since been overthrown in this country, they set to work to extract a few confessions there and then. They singled out three of the eleven for special attention. Each was handcuffed and tied to a tree before being given a severe thrashing. The "interrogation" included the use of fists in blows directed to the unprotected heads and upper torsos of each. A brazen flouting, not only of the law these officers were commissioned to uphold, but of every norm of international law upon which the rule of law itself is predicated.

When eventually they failed to extract the confessions they were seeking, the CIO left off. A further speech to harangue their unfortunate victims and they made off to recover their vehicle, but not without a final warning that they would be back in three days time. "Woe betide anyone we find here then," they said, "because next time we will bring dogs with us!"

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