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Mugabe's bulldozers push people back to
By David Blair in Johannesburg
President Robert Mugabe's onslaught against Zimbabwe's cities has escalated to claim new targets, with white-owned factories and family homes being demolished in a campaign that has left 200,000 people homeless.
Across the country, Mr Mugabe is destroying large areas of heaving townships and prosperous industrial areas alike.
The aim of this brutal campaign is, says the official media, to depopulate urban areas and force people back to the "rural home".
Chris Viljoen and his wife, Elsie, were still inside their five-bedroom house when a bulldozer began reducing it to rubble. The white couple live in the industrial zone of the capital, Harare.
Next door was a 70-acre site filled with 24 factories and workshops. Bulldozers spent last week razing this area, destroying all but nine businesses that employed about 1,000 people in a country suffering mass unemployment and economic crisis.
"My wife is still in a hell of a state," said Mr Viljoen, 55. "She's been having continuous nightmares."
Last Tuesday, police told Mr Viljoen, a mechanic, that his family's home would be demolished and gave him 24 hours to move out. They claimed that the property on Seke Road was "illegal".
In fact, the home is 30 years old and the owner, from whom Mr Viljoen rents the house, holds legal title deeds. None of this appeared to matter.
"The officer said 'Get yourself out of there'. I said 'You can't do that' and he said 'If you argue about it, we'll put you in jail'," said Mr Viljoen.
The couple sent their 10-year-old twins, Keith and Kevin, to stay with friends and began removing furniture.
They were still trying to dislodge fitted wardrobes and kitchen surfaces when police arrived and their bulldozer started work at 6.30am last Wednesday.
Mrs Viljoen, 38, was in the kitchen as the building began collapsing around her. She ran outside as her home was systematically demolished and then flattened.
The bulldozer also destroyed the family's business. It wrecked Mr Viljoen's car workshop next door to the house.
The Viljoens are now living in one room in a backpacker lodge.
"I've got nothing left in this country," said Mr Viljoen. "If I could, I would get up and leave tomorrow."
Earlier, bulldozers had begun wrecking the adjacent industrial area. Ian Lawson, the owner, was assured by a senior police officer that the site would be spared.
But at 6am last Tuesday, 10 lorries filled with police arrived and the destruction began.
"The police officer said to me 'Why are you running for help? No one can help you now. Not even God can help you. We are going to destroy this place'," said Mr Lawson, 60.
Fifteen factories and workshops were then reduced to heaps of rubble. Mr Lawson, whose family bought the site in 1952, fled to Britain after being threatened by police.
"All those factories were my pension. I said to my wife we can retire now and live on the rentals. Now everything has gone. I don't know what to do. Everything is wrecked," he said.
Across Zimbabwe, the United Nations estimates that 200,000 people have lost their homes, with the poorest townships bearing the brunt of Mr Mugabe's onslaught. "The vast majority are homeless in the streets," said Miloon Kothari, the UN's housing representative. He added that "mass evictions" were creating a "new kind of apartheid where the rich and the poor are being segregated".
Virtually all the areas singled out for demolition voted for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in the last elections. The MDC says that Mr Mugabe ordered the destruction as a deliberate reprisal. But the regime is also seeking to depopulate the cities, driving people into the countryside where the MDC is virtually non-existent and the ruling Zanu-PF Party dominates.
The Herald, the official daily newspaper, urged "urbanites" to go "back to the rural home, to reconnect with one's roots and earn an honest living from the soil our government repossessed under the land reform programme".