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

  • Regional leaders pulled up for "non-response" to Operation Murambatsvina
    IRIN News
    April 19, 2007

    JOHANNESBURG - The United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Miloon Kothari, has described the "non-response" by the African Union (AU) and southern Africa to the "oppressive" Zimbabwean government as "shocking" and "unhelpful".

    He was critical of regional leaders' reaction to the Zimbabwean government's forced evictions during Operation Murambatsvina (Clean out Filth) in 2005, which left more than 700,000 people homeless or without livelihoods. "The recent clampdown on the opposition, the lack of transparency, has made it difficult for us to track down those affected by the operation," he added.

    The rapporteur said the government's promises to provide the deserving displaced with decent and affordable accommodation in subsequent campaign, Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle (Live Well), had been a "failure".

    Soon after the sudden eviction campaign in 2005, he and several other international and regional human rights experts had warned that Zimbabwe was "very, very close to a complete collapse of the society", but the region had chosen to ignore the "early warning".

    His efforts, as well as those of other agencies, to hold Zimbabwe's government accountable for the consequences of the campaign since 2005 had been caught up in a flurry of diplomatic manoeuvrings, led by the AU and South Africa, who insisted on pursuing "quiet diplomacy".

    There were other countries in the region, and elsewhere in the world, with the same tendencies as Zimbabwe, which were "cutting across a human rights approach and not to give preference to the needs of the most vulnerable; reluctant to pursue housing policies which were inclusive and underlined the need for mixed neighbourhoods".

    Kothari is in South Africa to look at access to and affordability of adequate housing, land and civic services, homelessness, evictions, security of tenure, women and housing, non-discrimination, and the rights of indigenous people.

    He said even "progressive" countries like South Africa were evicting the poor from the inner cities in their attempt to "create world-class cities". According to the Centre for Housing Rights and Evictions, a Geneva-based nongovernmental organisation, up to 26,000 squatters living in inner Johannesburg, South Africa, were suffering widespread human rights violations as a result of the city's redevelopment plan.

    "Countries are adopting a neoliberal approach, be it privatisation of essential services, such as water, with the installation of prepaid water meters, which creates other problems. Even in countries with strong human rights commitment, such as South Africa, there is a big gap between the recognition and the detailing of the recognition," Kothari commented.

    "There is often contradiction between economic policies which necessitate eviction, which leads to further segregation along economic lines, as happened under Operation Murambatsvina, and even the recent evictions in Luanda (Angola's capital)," he added.

    According to the rapporteur, thousands of poor people in Luanda have been forcibly removed to make way for new developments. Last year 600 people were removed from poor areas on the outskirts of Luanda, near the official residence of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, to make room for the expansion of a government-sponsored housing project, ironically called 'Nova Vida' or New Life.

    "Providing adequate housing is a huge challenge, and Luanda is an extreme example. It was originally built to accommodate 400 or 500 people but it is home to four to five million people, and 90 percent of them live in slums," he added.

    Countries often cited the market as a stumbling block to providing affordable adequate housing to the poor, said Kothari, because governments were reluctant to intervene for fear of destabilising the economy. The existing housing finance system in most countries did not meet the needs of the bottom 20 percent of the global population, and was geared to the lower-middle and middle classes. 

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