|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
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Dumped in Zimbabwe's poor villages
In the second of his series following an undercover trip to Zimbabwe, Justin Pearce reports that the government's policy of moving city dwellers to rural areas is worsening the effects of food shortages.
For Thomas and his wife, Charity, it was not a happy homecoming.
In fact, it was not really a homecoming at all. The Zimbabwean government had decided that the young couple belonged in a village deep in the dry bush of Matabeleland North province, in western Zimbabwe.
Thomas was born there, but had not lived there since childhood. His ageing grandmother is his only relative still living in the village.
"They were not pleased to receive us since we came empty-handed," Thomas said. "They are in a difficult situation with drought. It was a difficult moment for them."
The United Nations estimates that up to four million Zimbabweans will need food aid over the coming year - mostly in rural areas.
Thomas, 23, and Charity, 21, had made a living as informal traders in a squatter camp in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city, some 200 km away.
That came to an end in July, when the government's Operation Murambatsvina [Drive Out Rubbish] reached the place where they were living.
The story he tells is typical of the unknown numbers of Zimbabwean city dwellers who have been dumped in country districts where they have few useful survival skills.
Zimbabwean humanitarian staff say that after destroying homes in the cities and moving people into transit camps, the government assigned people to rural areas on the basis of their identity numbers.
On the identity cards carried by all Zimbabwean citizens, the first few digits form a code for the bearer's home area. This, however, reflects one's ancestral home rather than one's own birthplace.
"Some may be the second or third generation to be born in the cities. There are some Zimbabweans who don't have a rural area."
The government's critics believe that the relocations are part of a strategy to reassert control over urban people who have voted overwhelmingly for the opposition in recent elections.
"They want total political control - they want to peasantify people like [former Cambodian leader] Pol Pot - force them into they country so they can control them," says the Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube.
Thomas and Charity were forced onto a truck which took them out of Bulawayo, then a local bus, and ended up walking for several hours through the bush. They say they received no food during the journey.
Charity says she did not even have a chance to say goodbye to her own family: "Since I came here they don't know I'm here. I want to go and tell them where I am."
Nowhere to go
The relocations from cities to villages have affected thousands throughout Zimbabwe.
At just one church in Harare, charity workers have compiled a list of 700 people who have lost their homes and are looking for food and blankets.
"We are going because we have nowhere to live, no way to survive here," she says.
Asked whether her husband has land to farm there, she shakes her head.
"Sometimes we were helping my husband's family by sending money," Madeleine says.
"My in-laws are having a problem with drought - there's been no rain this year."
With their livelihood as informal traders destroyed, Madeleine, her husband and their three young children will now be a burden on the rural community to which they used to provide financial support.
All names in this piece were changed to protect interviewees.
Zimbabwe Vigil – 20th August 2005
It was wonderful to have such good support on a day when the Vigil clashed with Zimfest, a big charitable event held in London every year. Several of our stalwarts went there to man a Vigil stall and help with the event. They report that many people showed interest in the Vigil. Although we have been going three years we are always coming across people who have never heard of us. Yet we get people like Claudius Mtasa who made a point of coming to see us. He is in London with his family all the way from Vienna
It was good to have our long-standing supporter, Trywell, at the Vigil. He was almost deported last week and was only freed at the airport after legal intervention. It is all very disturbing. Trywell, like many others, came here on a false passport but the authorities in the UK have accepted him as a Zimbabwean citizen so he would seem to fall under the current legal injunction against sending home failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers.
Wonderful dancing from Jenatry fresh from Zimbabwe who taught us all the latest moves. They seem to consist of large jumps away from Mugabe. Anyway they didn’t defeat Patson and, with the singing, the whole day was a great concert. At one stage in the afternoon there was a change in the rhythm of the drumming – a group of young children demanded a turn on the drums. Our reskinned drums are now so powerful that people must hear them in Harare. Among supporters today were people from Birmingham. Leicester and Southampton.
FOR THE RECORD: about 30 supporters came today.
The Vigil, outside the Zimbabwe Embassy, 429 Strand, London, takes place every Saturday from 14.00 to 18.00 to protest against gross violations of human rights by the current regime in Zimbabwe. The Vigil which started in October 2002 will continue until internationally-monitored, free and fair elections are held in Zimbabwe. http://www.zimvigil.co.uk