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

  • Squatter camps blossom
    Ray Matikinye, The Zimbabwe Independent
    February 23, 2007

    A GOVERNMENT blitz on illegal settlements in Harare and other urban centres in May 2005 under the much-criticised Operation Murambatsvina appears to have achieved ephemeral success judging by the sprouting of similar settlements in the capital.

    The squatter camps have left government and Harare city authorities wringing their hands in frustration at their failure to find a lasting solution. One such squatter camp has sprouted on a vacant sub-division of Stand No 259 in Harare’s upmarket Glen Lorne suburb owned by an absentee landlord.

    The landlord, Mandy Bizure, works in Namibia as a state lawyer.

    Hapless residents say the settlement has degenerated into a haven for criminals and immoral behaviour in the tranquil environment.

    They have watched helplessly as authorities drag their feet in doing something about the eyesore.

    Hidden from public view along the luxuriant Folyjon Crescent, the settlement, comprising motley pole and reed structures, thatch or scrap metal tin shacks, squats incongruously in the middle of affluence underneath gnarled pine trees.

    Bizure left with her husband when Namibia gained independence after the couple had constructed a two-roomed storeroom.

    She left a brother as custodian of the vacant stand until he died five years ago, leaving it under her mother’s guardianship.

    A communal bathroom separates the contraption of asbestos sheeting, hemmed in between decrepit shacks, that was initially meant to be a storeroom for building materials during construction.

    Further up the vacant stand behind tall grass lies the squatter camp.

    According to neighbours, who preferred not to be named saying the Namibia-based lawyer was "well-connected in government circles", the place had turned into a popular brothel before police raided it.

    "It has been raided more than twice - three times to be precise," one resident said showing remnants of demolished shacks that run parallel to a stone and mortar wall.

    "Bizure occasionally comes here to see her mother, and probably to warm relations with her connections in government."

    One of the tenants, 19-year old Zvanyadza Chingoma, said she supplemented her live-in partner’s income selling opaque beer outside a nearby supermarket. She and her 18-month old toddler started living in the camp a month ago.

    She shares one of the shacks made of metal scraps, plastic sheets and bamboo poles that is crammed in a corner of the vacant stand with two other tenants.

    Along with it, the squatter camp has brought serious security problems for the residents of Glen Lorne.

    Families living in the area complain of a spate of thefts over the past few months. More than three families living along Folyjon Crescent lost millions of dollars worth of household goods in the past week, among them electrical gadgets and equipment.

    Zvanyadza said some of the tenants spend most of their time in Mbare and only come to stay at the squatter camp for brief periods.

    "We had a tenant evicted (name supplied) for selling mbanje and kachasu (illicit brew). She now lives in Mabvuku," Zvanyadza said.

    Residents suspect the camp could be a safe haven for criminals who commit serious crimes elsewhere and then lie low for some time until the heat is off.

    "No one would think of coming to such a place to look for criminals," suggested another resident.

    Highlands police arrested more than 15 suspects, among them two who live in the Folyjon squatter camp, after last week’s spate of thefts in the suburbs.

    The May 2005 clean-up operation that affected mostly the urban poor and left more than 700 000 people without a roof over their heads in the working-class suburbs, was hastily halted before demolition teams could spread to low density suburbs.

    The homeless could have been persuaded to believe that whatever future demolition blitz the government carries out would not affect the affluent suburbs.

    Property owners have watched, awestruck by the fact that the mushrooming of squatter camps in the midst of leafy suburbs could devalue their properties. The Glen Lorne camp is not the only one in Harare’s upmarket suburbs. Squatters have also established rickety structures in Gunhill, close to the Borrowdale racecourse. There are also illegal structures in parts of Highlands, Eastlea and Borrowdale.

    However, council officials have prevaricated in following up the clean up operation to its conclusion, which has encouraged replication of the monstrosities elsewhere in the city.

    Government has failed to repair the damage it inflicted on the poor in its urban clean-up operation that, in some instances, helped deplete the national housing stock.

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