|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
Not even an orphanage was safe from Robert
Mugabe's purge of the slums
By Neil Connery in Harare
It is a wasteland. Street after street razed in a scene that looks like a natural disaster. The hundreds of thousands who have been left homeless are calling it Zimbabwe's tsunami. But man, not nature, is to blame for the destruction enveloping this country.
The full force of Robert Mugabe's state is destroying homes and lives in what it calls Operation Restore Order. But all that can be seen is chaos and trauma. There is no compassion, only carefully executed brutality.
At Hatcliffe orphanage, run by Dominican sisters, the nuns, workers and 180 orphans were given a day to get out before the bulldozers arrived. Many of the children had lost their parents to Aids. Now, thanks to what the regime justifies as a crackdown on illegal settlements and traders, they have lost the roof over their heads and have nowhere to go.
Harrowing details of shattered lives tumbled from the lips of Sister Patricia Walsh. "There were people all over the place. There was smoke coming up from where some things had been burned. It was one of the most painful experiences I've ever known.
"I was here during the liberation struggle [before independence in 1980] and I never thought I would see the day that this was happening to Zimbabweans.
"When I arrived on Monday they were all outside. There was furniture and goods all over the place, children screaming, sick people in agony.
"How does one say that Peter, who's 10, and his little brother, who's four, are 'illegal'? We had provided them with a wooden hut when their mother was dying. She has died in the meantime, and now these two little people had their home destroyed in the middle of the night, we get there, they are sitting crying in the rubbish. What do we do with them?"
She gave other examples of sick and vulnerable people - adults and children - whose lives were being destroyed. "Veronica is an elderly widow who is chronically ill herself, she has three young grandchildren from her dead daughter. Her home is destroyed. She is wearing rosary beads around her neck, an apron with the picture of the Sacred Heart and a T-shirt with President Mugabe's photo. She has tried all means to survive.
"Some people came and said, 'Sister, there are two people who are dying please come'. One of them, Mary, who is out in the open all night lying on an old damp mattress can't move with pain, she has shingles, which is open and bleeding. What is worse - her tears or her bleeding wounds?
"I felt paralysed. Anne delivered a baby a week ago, she is critically ill and is on the verge of death. What do we do with her? We give her painkillers, we give her blankets, we give her food, which she in unable to eat. What is going to happen to her baby?"
In the ruins of his former home in the Harare suburb of Mbare, a man called Isaac prepared for another night in the freezing mid-winter cold. His wife and four children were huddled around a small fire.
Three pieces of corrugated iron that they managed to salvage from the mess left behind by the bulldozers are the walls of their new home.
"This is our tsunami," he said. "We are cold and alone and who cares? What are we meant to do? We have no money, there is nowhere for us to go. What have done wrong?" Tendai Biti, an MP for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, says that Operation Restore Order is really all about revenge. He added: "I think the major reason is Mugabe is very vindictive. They stole the March election and they know the extent to which they stole the election. So they are literally saying in their mind, 'You people you don't love us, you don't care about us, we don't care about you so to hell with you' "
Fr William Guri, a Catholic priest who has been trying to help those affected, has had meetings with government ministers to beg them to change their policies. He said: "I have come to a point where I feel that as a nation we are alone.
"As a priest I am trained to preach and give hope to the people and here is a situation where you can not hope against hope.
"How can the people say God is with us?
"Here is a government that has become morally bankrupt and that has run out of ideas.
"The most appropriate term is to call this a tsunami because the devastation has been so wide-ranging. The worst thing is that it is a man-made tsunami."
• Neil Connery is the Africa Correspondent for ITV News