24 June 2005


CNN story

Zimbabwe extends demolitions to rural areas


Sunday Herald

Mugabe takes revenge

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Tyrant’s destruction of urban slums is yet another atrocity Western leaders are likely to ignore, reports Fred Bridgland in Cape Town

IN raids reminiscent of Kristallnacht in Germany and of Pol Pot’s Return to Year Zero in Cambodia in the late 1970s, Robert Mugabe’s police and soldiers have in the past three weeks torched, bulldozed and sledgehammered the homes of two million of Zimbabwe’s poorest of the poor.

Officially heralded as a clean-up of Zimbabwe’s teeming urban slums, ordinary black Zimbabweans have been turned into roofless internal refugees in the middle of southern Africa’s short winter when night temperatures dip below zero.

Amid the smoke from smouldering homes, the poor are dying from exposure and starvation and there are reports of suicides among broken people driven beyond despair. Moving thousands from the cities to the countryside means only more poverty, hunger and unemployment.

President Mugabe says the blitz on the very people he says he fought to liberate is necessary “to restore sanity” to the cities, although many people are questioning the 81-year-old leader’s own mental health. Out of the earshot of agents of the much-feared Central Intelligence Organisation the name “Mad Bob” has been whispered. They say this is Mugabe’s revenge on urban dwellers for voting for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in parliamentary elections last March.

As well as the mass destruction of housing and the small roadside businesses of the poor, more than 30,000 have been arrested in Mugabe’s continuing Operation Murambatsvina, which translates as “operation drive out the rubbish”. Entire families are sleeping in the open. Others are battling to find scarce transport to take them to relatives’ rural homes. Many are burning furniture and their few surviving possessions before they depart.

“I believe only the survivors of South Africa’s apartheid-engineered forced Bantu removals would be able to appreciate the scale and ferocity of this operation,” said Vincent Kahiya, editor of the weekly Independent newspaper. “The police are going about the rapine with gusto, destroying everything deemed illegal, never mind that the officers carry no papers from any recognised court of law. There can be no worse lawlessness than this callous operation.”

Tendai, aged 10, and his four-year-old brother Chipo may be among the dead in Mugabe’s onslaught. They were among many Aids orphans being looked after by Zimbabwean and Irish Dominican nuns in the Harare suburb of Hatcliffe. For the past decade, the Catholic sisters had distributed anti-retroviral drugs there to HIV-positive women while running a crèche for 180 orphans in an entirely legal brick building.

Sister Patricia Walsh, one of the senior nuns, got word that police bulldozers had moved into the township and that police were destroying the homes of the poor, pouring petrol on the debris and setting it ablaze. She dashed to Hatcliffe and was initially lost for words when she saw that bulldozers had demolished the Dominican clinic.

Surveying the wrecked building, Walsh said: “I wept. Sister Carina was with me. She wept. The people tried to console us. They were all outside in the midst of their broken houses, furniture and goods all over the place, children screaming, sick people in agony.

“How does the government say that Tendai and Chipo are illegal? We provided them with a wooden hut when their mother was dying of Aids. She has since died and these two little people had their little home destroyed in the middle of the night. When we got there, they were sitting crying in the rubbish that was their home. What do we do with them?”

“How can the little ones of the world be brutalised in this way? Their only crime is that they are poor, they are helpless and they happen to live in the wrong part of town and in a country that does not have oil and is not very important to the West. We stand in shock and cry with the people, but we also have to try to keep them alive. When will sanity prevail? Where is the outside world?”

Yesterday, unconfirmed reports suggested that Tendai and Chipo had died in the assaults by Mugabe’s stormtroopers.

With Zimbabwe’s new Chinese warplanes and Alouette helicopters, newly provided with spares by South Africa, sweeping overhead, police demolition squads turned Mbare into a battleground, completely demolishing houses and shelters in street after street. Families with remaining possessions on their heads, wooden planks, tin sheets, pots wrapped in blankets and plastic – or in makeshift carts are on the march, like refugees in some terrible war, after the mass demolition of their homes.

It is a scene of desolation and despair, being repeated right across the country in the attempt to drive hundreds of thousands of people back to the rural areas. Miloon Kothari, the United Nations special representative on housing for the poor, told reporters in Geneva he feared Mugabe planned to drive between two and three million Zimbabweans in a population of 11.5m into the countryside in Operation Murambatsvina.

“We have a very grave crisis on our hands,” said Kothari. “This is a gross violation of human rights. People are desperate. They have nowhere to go.”

But Zimbabwe’s local government minister, Ignatius Chombo, said: “This is the dawn of a new era. To set up something nice you first have to remove the litter, and that is why the police are acting in this way.”

The weekly Standard newspaper responded editorially: “Chombo’s explanation is nonsensical and an insult to the intelligence of the people of this country. The government should not delight in the suffering of people when it does not have a ready-made alternative for them.”

Brian Raftopoulos, Professor of Development Studies at the University of Zimbabwe told the Sunday Herald: “It may well be that Mugabe is looking to remove ‘surplus’ elements of the urban population ahead of the next presidential election by drawing them into more controllable rural political relations.

“The long-term implications of this process do not bode well for democratic politics.”

Simon Phiri and his wife Tsitsi are victims in the chaos as well. They rescued the essentials from their Mbare township shack before a state bulldozer razed it. Simon, 39, and Tsitsi, 32, who have four children, saw their home of 12 years crushed to pieces. Close to tears, Simon, who until early this month sold second-hand clothes at Mbare’s colourful but now burnt out Mupedzanhamo market, looked at the wrecked remains of his shack and said: “This is the only home I know but government and the city council have just destroyed it.”

12 June 2005


Belfast Telegraph

Demolition of Zimbabwean homes kills two children

By Elizabeth Davies
24 June 2005

Two Zimbabwean children were crushed to death during the demolition of illegal houses this month in a government crackdown that has made tens of thousands of impoverished city dwellers homeless and prompted an unprecedented international outcry.

Zimbabwe's official Herald newspaper reported yesterday that a one-and-a-half year-old child died after being buried beneath the rubble of bulldozed buildings in Harare's Chitungwiza township on Sunday. Another baby died earlier this month in similar circumstances.

"If the reports are simply half true... this is a situation of serious international concern, and no government that subscribes to human rights and democracy should allow this kind of thing to go on effectively under their noses," the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told journalists.

The news of the deaths emerged as the United Nations and the African Union came under mounting pressure to take urgent action against the Zimbabwe government's Operation Murambatsvina, or "Restore Order".

An unprecedented coalition of more than 200 African and international NGOs urged the organisations to intervene to save thousands more from destitution. They called President Mugabe's mass evictions "a grave violation of international human rights law and a disturbing affront to human dignity".

The groups, including Amnesty International and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, released smuggled video footage showing hundreds of thousands of people on the move from shanty towns after police torched and bulldozed their homes. Condemning the evictions, in which more than 300,000 people have lost their homes, the NGOs urged Nigerian President Obasanjo, as chair of the AU, to put the crisis on the agenda of the AU Assembly in July.

"The AU and UN simply cannot ignore such an unprecedented, wide-ranging appeal on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe, particularly from African civil society," the coalition said in a joint statement. "African solidarity should be with the people of Africa ­ not their repressive leaders."

The appointment of a UN special envoy to investigate the destruction was welcomed by the groups. But they called for the UN to publicly condemn the evictions and to take immediate action to prevent them.

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