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Zimbabwe demolitions: Your accounts
The crackdown known as "Operation Murambatsvina [Drive out rubbish]", which the United Nations says has left some 200,000 people homeless, has been condemned by Zimbabwe's churches, teachers and doctors.
Police have met some resistance from township residents in Bulawayo while demolishing what the government calls "illegal structures".
President Robert Mugabe said it is needed to "restore sanity" to Zimbabwe's towns and cities.
Have you witnessed the demolitions taking place in Zimbabwe? What do you think about these actions? Send us your views and experiences.
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The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
I am a policeman in Bulawayo, and I tell you that these slums are filled with
criminals and opponents of the elected government. Once again the western media
makes up lies about the Mugabe government when it is a clean-up mission to make
the city beautiful and prosperous for the law-abiding. Out of our business
I agree with Zimbabwe government for the demolitions but let there be land
for the victim.
At midday three pickup trucks arrived at the intersection of Corn Street and Owunje Road. About thirty men got out and divided into three or four teams. They worked down Corn Street, summoning residents from their homes. Once a group of three or four houses were emptied, the team leader would throw in a bottle of gasoline and a piece of burning cloth.
The teams then moved on to the next group of houses. Because they were concentrated over such a small area, there was no resistance. Those ahead of them desperately trying to empty their homes, those behind hopelessly trying to extinguish the flames. Corn Street has no public water supply.
After an hour, the men returned to their vehicles and rested, drinking beer.
By mid afternoon they had lost interest, and drove away. About forty homes on
Corn St were gutted, leaving at least 150 men, women and children without
shelter. To my knowledge there was only one injury, a woman who tried to enter
her burning home, and sustained severe burns on her legs. Neighbours took her to
a local clinic.
On 14 June the police made their way to Mabvuku, one of Zimbabwe's townships, they totally destroyed the small cottages that were housing a better half of that community's population. Many people were seen walking up and down the street in the middle of night.
No-one was spared, not even 80-year-old grannies. The government has gone
mad, people say. If they won an overwhelming majority then why terrorise all
these people? People are sleeping out in the open and worsening the food
University students at Midlands state university are now stranded because the
cottages that they were staying in have been destroyed.
The international community and the UN in particular have failed to take
action against human rights violations in Zimbabwe. Mugabe has clearly proved to
be an enemy of the people. How can he evict people he yesterday encouraged to
repossess their land? What is legal in Zimbabwe?
Thanks for the news. We really need it as our state controlled media does not
cover some of these issues. People are really suffering in Zimbabwe's cities and
towns and we really need Mugabe and his government to do something positive
about it, even to resign before the situation is too horrible.
Total carnage is the only feasible description of what I have witnessed over
the past three to four weeks. Intimidation by and presence of military personnel
are the only prevention of a mass demonstration in my opinion.
The regime is merciless. Our brothers and sisters are suffering. I am also
one of the victims. My landlord was ordered by the council to demolish the
cottage that I have been staying in. I am now living with a cousin. The
Zimbabweans have been made to suffer by this power-hungry man.
It is numbing the way these clean ups are taking place. Lifetime investments
and the very livelihoods destroyed in the wink of an eye. There is no better way
to describe it except blatant Satanism I think. There is a chill that goes down
your spine the moment the trucks full of police and the bulldozers arrive.
Machiavelli at his best... use maximum force to shock into despair!
We are calling the operation our tsunami because it is sudden and its
after-effects devastating. The operation does not care whether you are for the
ruling party or not. The war veterans are the hardest hit, as they were building
illegal structures on unallocated land. The police came, saluted the Zimbabwean
flag at one war veteran's home, then removed the flag and proceeded to demolish.
It is a humanitarian crisis. On a positive note, the cities are now
I am the Director and founder of Amakhosi Theatre in Makhokhoba, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. For the past four days the theatre centre has been covered by black clouds of smoke as riot police order residents to burn down their survival stands, while ordering others to destroy their homes. Hundreds of artists are homeless as I write and their families have been affected by the operation.
I am producing a TV series Amakorokoza that runs on Zimbabwe TV1 every Tuesday and when we went to shoot at the homestead of the Nkala family were we have been shooting for the past two years all their four huts had been pulled down and thatching grass burnt. I counted a convoy of 12 heavily loaded police cars, armed for war, ordering every villager to knock down their huts.
Over 2,000 families have been staying here since 1984. We could not film but just stood there shocked by what was happening before our eyes. A crying Mrs Nkala pulled out documents to prove that Zanu-PF had been promising to resettle them for the past 12 yrs... and now this. Zanu-PF works in amazing ways!
When I came to the theatre this morning I met at the garden one of the actors whose house extension has been pulled down. I asked where he slept and he told me that he slept behind a sofa with his wife and 16 other relatives in one room. I asked him why he had come to the theatre today as the Zanu-PF government had just announced that they have made 250,000 stands [plots of land] available.
I asked him: "Why are you not somewhere registering to get a stand?" He said, "Ah I will not do that because they will come after us when we have put all our sweat in developing the stands and pull everything down accusing us for some wrong doing."
While the smoke fills the clouds everyone asks themselves what the objective
of Zanu-PF is by doing this to its citizens. Why are they doing this? I have
learnt one thing from this experience - great leaders can do great things.
It's pathetic, traumatising, terrible and health threatening. I finished my
degree last year. I was working in Harare, living in an illegal shack. I am now
heading for my rural home, Mhondoro. I have nowhere to stay, so I am forced to
resign. 13 years of education wasted. How do you expect the nation to develop
when the educated are driven out of the cities?
My two roomed home was destroyed yesterday. The police came while I was at work and instructed my wife to remove all belongings from the two cottages before razing them to the ground. When I and the two families lodging in the cottages came back from work at around 6pm, we found only the wreckage. This was despite a three months notice broadcast on ZTV by Minister Chombo, giving us three months to regularise these structures.
It is also puzzling me that even in police camps, there are many illegal structures such as tin houses, wooden cabins etc that are spared by the police. I really believe this operation is politically motivated as the police openly ask us to reconsider our positions. I am also wondering why they are not arresting all those who illegally sold council land to people first or made them refund the people they defrauded first before the destruction.
Is it to cover up? Or is it a ploy to send people in disarray so that they
will not come back to claim their monies? Imagine people who each paid Z$10
million for the stand and incurred a further Z$100 million to build, being given
30 minutes to destroy and leave and told "go back where you came
This is a terribly chaotic situation. Many people have been left homeless and
hopeless. The act was mistimed, in the middle of winter, and with no eviction
notices for people to prepare alternatives. However, I believe in a just God who
will act in His time against such a cruel regime. My message to Zimbabweans is
to look up to God, who knows all our needs and will support and strengthen us in
such trying times.
I witnessed the demolition of Tongogara camp, Mufakose and Mbare. The post demotion scene looks more like a war zone after air raids - there is rubble all over not to mention the many women and children left homeless. Some with nowhere to go. It's just pathetic that anyone with a God given conscience should protest.
If what is considered legal supersedes basic human rights to basic shelter in
winter then one is left wondering the moral basis of our constitution and
actions. Surely a more humane way of dealing with urban overpopulation could
have been found.
I am a Zimbabwean now trying to make a living in the UK. I returned to a few weeks ago to visit family. Unfortunately while I was there we drove through and witnessed the so-called clean up on Whitecliff Farm. Hundreds of riot and armed police, some just in civilian clothing, were burning, bulldozing and physically smashing anything and anyone that got in their way.
It is now winter in Zimbabwe and apparently a lot of these people have been rounded up and put into fenced areas, like concentration camps, with nothing but the clothes on their back. They have no shelter, nothing. They were starving already, and now are homeless and freezing.
Whatever they did own was loaded onto separate trucks and never seen again. I
just wonder and would love to know what it is going to take for this madness to
stop and for the people of Zimbabwe to just have a break.
When hundreds of thousands of people are made homeless by war the UN quickly steps in and it is made an issue for the Security Council. Yet here we have those same thousands being thrown out onto the streets in winter, being made needlessly homeless, children have been pulled out of school and some of the adult population have had to quit their jobs and not a word from the UN. A correspondent somewhere likened this to the madness of Pol Pot and yet the world stands by. What has the world learned then?
What use is it for us to tell you of eyewitness accounts, so that the world might be entertained, pass the day by with idle ruminations on our plight because we have seen that the world can't be moved? But the stories are moving. People traumatised beyond action who live out on the streets simply because they don't have the energy nor the will to pack up their belongings and go elsewhere out of the biting cold.
I saw a man who tried in vain to sell his wardrobe at a giveaway price so
that he could buy firewood to keep his family warm and fed during the night. In
the end he broke it up and used it as firewood. These are the stories but there
is so much more to tell because you can't really tell it until you've spent the
night out, homeless, without hope of finding another and felt the cold,
desolation and despair. I am waiting for the room I am staying in to go down,
maybe tomorrow or the day after. Then I'll write an eyewitness account. I hope
it will do someone some good, pass the day off a touch easier.
Britain protests Zimbabwe evictions
Over 30,000 have been arrested, with over 40,000 households (approximately 200,000 people) affected with their homes and businesses callously destroyed. People suffering from AIDS are amongst the worst affected. Many chronically ill people have been driven from their homes. HIV prevention and home-based care programmes have been severely disrupted. We are also very concerned about the welfare of children. Infants have been forced to sleep outside in the middle of winter. There are also reports of children being detained in prison and separated from their parents. The crackdown continues to spread across the country to many urban and some rural areas. Armed police have swiftly crushed any resistance with teargas. This action has received widespread international condemnation. The UN's Special Representative on the Right to Adequate Housing called this "a new form of apartheid.
In response, we have joined our EU partners in demanding that the Government of Zimbabwe end this crackdown, in a statement on 7 June. Our Ambassador in Harare has raised our strong concerns, directly to the Government of Zimbabwe, in meetings with the Vice President and the Minister of State for National Security.
My Honourable Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Lord Triesman) summoned the Zimbabwean Charge d'Affaires on 13 June to protest at the continuing human rights abuses under the ongoing crackdown.
We remain in close contact with our EU partners, with whom I raised Zimbabwe at the 13 June General Affairs and External Relations Council. We also continue to work with other international partners to maximise the pressure on Zimbabwe to end this brutality and are discussing these and other human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, with neighbouring African states and regional African bodies.
DFID are already responding to this man-made disaster, providing US$ 400,000 so far towards humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable mainly through the UN and International Organisation for Migration. A further contribution is imminent. To date, over 5,000 families have been reached with food, blankets, soap and other forms of assistance. Where appropriate transport and emergency water and sanitation has been provided.
Since 2002 the European Union has imposed targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe; an arms embargo on the country and a travel ban and asset freeze on President Mugabe and leading regime figures. The EU's Common Position is kept under regular review. Together with our EU partners we have recently reassessed the situation in Zimbabwe following the March parliamentary elections. We agreed yesterday in the light of that assessment to extend the list of those regime figures caught by the travel ban and asset freeze, from 95 to 120 names. The new list includes all the senior members of the new government and politburo, and senior figures involved in manipulating the election.
This decision emphasises the EU's continued concerns about the lack of democracy and respect for human rights and the rule of law that exists in Zimbabwe, and the failure of Mugabe and his regime to respond to international calls for reform.
Her Majesty's Government will continue to work with
the European Union and our other international partners to restore democratic
governance, human rights and the rule of law to Zimbabwe."
"Clearing away the
Trash" - Victoria Falls
Sokwanele Special Report : 15 June 2005
"Operation Murambatsvina" ("Clearing away the trash") reached Victoria Falls on May 30. There were three phases to the operation. The first was carried out by the C.I.O. or secret police operatives, who moved quickly through the informal traders in the market and elsewhere and then through those living in the wooden dwellings (called "Baghdads"), warning them to move their belongings immediately or they would be destroyed. Close on their heels there followed the riot police, dubbed "a pack of vicious dogs" by Victoria Falls residents, executing phases 2 and 3, which essentially saw the total destruction of all these structures. Many of the informal traders it should be noted selling vegetables, shoes and clothes, were operating with legal permits and in places allocated to them by the local Council. In the same way most of the residents of the "Baghdad" dwellings were lawful tenants of the Council, holding legal documents to confirm their title and having paid rent to the Council for many years. The reason given by Mugabe's uniformed thugs for their barbaric actions, namely that they were removing illegal structures was a blatant lie. Moreover so far as any of the structures did not comply with building or planning regulations it was of course the local authority, the Council, which was empowered under section 199 of the Urban Councils Act to take corrective action (after due legal process). The police had no legal right whatsoever to take the action they did. Their conduct was not only inhumane and barbaric, it was also plainly illegal.
After sweeping through the high density suburb of Chinotimba the police moved into the low density township, where they continued their wanton destruction of Baghdads - again notwithstanding that most of the structures were in good repair and had provided essential accommodation to workers and their families. They seem to relish the task, though when they got tired of demolishing the structures they handed the sledgehammers to the owners and ordered them to destroy their own houses. Once the wooden houses had been knocked down the so-called agents of law and order had them torched, and when the flames subsided they ordered the residents to sweep up the mess. Intercepting one old man, who had piled a few timbers salvaged from his house into a trolley and was desperately trying to escape attention, the police upturned the trolley and set the contents ablaze. There are unconfirmed reports that one re sident who resisted the destruction of his house was beaten to death.
A resident of Victoria Falls who lives some 3 kilometres from Chinotimba described how, for two days after attack, the evening sky over the high density area was a lit up with bright red glow from the burning of the houses and there was a pungent smell of burning in the air.
It is understood that between 3 and 4 thousand dwellings were thus destroyed in one clean sweep through the town and up to 60,000 people rendered homeless. One local employer alone who had provided his workforce of 140 with adequate housing, approved with a valid permit from the Council, saw the whole lot razed to the ground. So great was the anger felt by the residents at this gross violation of their human rights, that one middle-aged woman to whom our reporter spoke described the atmosphere as "electric". Armed police patrolled through the almost deserted streets of the town.
Having thus destroyed a swathe of housing, Mugabe's uniformed thugs then turned their unwelcome attention to the business community in the town. Dressed in full combat gear and brandishing their rifles, they walked into business premises at will and insisted on carrying out immediate searches. Needless to say they had obtained no search warrants or court orders. The pretext given for their illegal entry and search operation was that they were looking for forex. Where safari operators were concerned they took it upon themselves to down-load information from the computers, as they said, "to investigate any illegal currency dealing or use of FCA accounts." It appears that none dared to challenge this outrageous behaviour. As one rather shocked businessman observed dryly later, "What do you say to a thug holding a gun to your head? You say, 'yes sir'".
Nor was the low density housing area spared either. Apart from instantly destroying any structures that they considered illegal, the police carried out random searches of houses. Where they found more than one television set or deep freeze in a house for example, they would demand to see an invoice or receipt for the additional items, and if the householder was unable to produce the documentation requested on the spot, they would confiscate the items concerned. Nothing further has been heard of the confiscated goods. Political commentators have speculated that the property looted by the police in this and other centres across the country is intended to reward them for their part in Operation Murambatsvina - in other words, an extension of Robert Mugabe's corrupt system of patronage.
A week after the initial sweep through Chinotimba the police returned, effectively to terrorize those residents who still remained there, now sleeping in the open. Several hundred former residents had sold their few possessions to raise enough money for the bus fares back to the rural areas, but many more remained, hoping desperately to find some alternative accommodation and in the meantime sleeping under the stars where their homes had once been. Nor were their prospects of obtaining other accommodation good. Using the law of supply and demand to their own benefit some residents fortunate enough to still have their own houses intact, were charging as much as $ 700,000 monthly rent for a single room.
So closes another chapter in the saga of misery that the dictator and those loyal to him, are inflicting upon the suffering nation. And when, we ask, will the too-long suffering people of Zimbabwe say "Enough is Enough"?
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