1 million face eviction in Zimbabwe


Harare – More than a million urban poor face eviction into the midwinter cold as the government vows to clean up Harare by demolishing squatter shacks. The announcement of “Operation Marambatsvina,” which means “drive out rubbish,” follows a four-day blitz in which police arrested about 10,000 vendors and flea market traders in the capital, a stronghold of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party. Paul Themba-Nyathi, spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, accused the governing Zanu PF party of trying to provoke confrontations so it could declare a state of emergency before the current economic collapse led to riots. The campaign against vendors has sparked clashes between traders and police and unrest has been reported elsewhere. “They are now going for broke,” Themba-Nyathi said. “It is obvious these are all punitive measures aimed at urban people who voted against Zanu PF.” In the Harare cleanup campaign, the government set a June 20 deadline for demolishing unauthorized buildings unless the residents appeal and receive a grace period.

“The attitude of the members of the public as well as some city officials has led to the point whereby Harare has lost its glow. We are determined to get it back,” said government-appointed Mayor Sekesai Makwavara in a statement announcing the deadline. She said “Operation Marambatsvina” would see the demolition of all “illegal structures.” Lovemore Madhuku, a university teacher who leads an umbrella group of bodies seeking radical reform, the National Constitutional Assembly, warned the demolitions might ignite public anger on a scale unseen since 1980 independence, when President Robert Mugabe, now 81, gained power. “I think now people are really going to react,” he said. The ultimatum revives memories of the 1985 elections when Zanu PF mobs, reacting to comments by Mugabe, expelled thousands of families suspected of supporting the opposition out of their township homes until they bought ruling party cards. An unknown number of people were killed while police refused to intervene. Township resident Petros Nyoni said the mood in Harare’s sprawling “high density suburbs” was tense Tuesday, with workers angry at a police crackdown on the commuter minibuses that are the mainstay of the transport system. Hundreds of the taxis have been grounded by lack of fuel at filling stations while many more have been impounded at roadblocks for alleged unservicability. “There is a very big crisis. People are so desperate they are jumping through (minibus) windows or onto the roof carriers,” he said.

After seven years of unprecedented economic decline, 80 percent of the work force is unemployed and 4 million of Zimbabwe’s 16 million people have emigrated. Agriculture, once the mainstay, has been hard hit by Mugabe’s seizure of 5,000 white-owned farms for redistribution to blacks. The government last week announced a 45 percent devaluation of the Zimbabwean currency against the U.S. dollar, a ban on luxury imports and heavy subsidies for agriculture and exporters. Michael Davies, chairman of the Combined Harare Residents Association, said more than half of the capital’s population of 2 million to 3 million people live in housing marked for demolition. He said in some cases rents from the buildings were the only means of survival for elderly owners. Many of the houses marked for demolition date from the 1970s when the white Rhodesian authorities stopped enforcing hated “influx control” laws to allow fugitives from rural fighting into towns. “They (Zanu PF) are trying to remake the city in their image by trying to drive people out, depriving them of their livelihoods and homes, back to the communal areas where Zanu PF is better able to control social unrest, Davies said. “There is very little we can do. The country is in the grip of a dictatorship. A clique has seized the state through lawlessness, and this rogue regime doesn’t give a damn for legal niceties,” Davies said.

Extracted from the online journal: ZIMDAY Wednesday 25 May 2005

There seems little doubt that these are politically motivated following the recent elections which were widely condemned by human rights groups. We are trying to get more information about what we can all do in response. We would appreciate hearing more from people who might be able to assist.

Barry Pinsky, Executive Director
Rooftops Canada/Abri International
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