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Living in fear after Harare evictions
In the first of his series following an undercover trip to Zimbabwe, Justin Pearce reports that the evictions of slum-dwellers in the capital, Harare, are continuing, despite an international outcry.
The skin on the young child's face is cracked and blistered from exposure to the wind and the cold nights.
"We stayed outside without shelter, until we started to build shelters," his mother, Beatrice explains.
They were evicted on 28 July from the Porta Farm settlement on the edge of Harare and transported to Hopley Farm on the opposite side of the capital.
Beatrice, her husband and their three children were among the estimated 10,000 people who were dumped without food, shelter or water in Hopley Farm, which was set up in the latest phase of the government's crackdown on dwellings that the authorities say are illegal.
The government says it intends to turn Hopley Farm into a permanent settlement, and has promised basic building materials.
The dwellers were moved to Hopley Farm shortly after the visit to Harare by UN envoy Anna Tibaijuka, who issued a report sharply critical of the government's Operation Murambatsvina [Drive Out Rubbish].
The government has said that evictions have been suspended but in Harare, there are signs that the authorities have no intention of stopping, despite the international outcry.
In the Epworth suburb, black crosses painted on the walls of houses mark the houses that are still awaiting demolition.
While the earlier demolitions were carried out with little or no prior notice, the painting of black crosses indicates that some of the houses have been given a temporary reprieve thanks to a court ruling that the demolitions did not follow the proper procedures.
In one neighbourhood alone, 2,000 houses are said to have been condemned.
Nevertheless, demolitions continued well into the month of August, with the residents getting little or no notice.
"Houses were demolished last week. It continued after the envoy [Dr Tibaijuka] left," the aid worker added.
"All this happened the week before last," said one elderly landlady, indicating the pile of rubble in her back yard where she had previously rented rooms out to lodgers.
The eviction from Porta Farm has left Beatrice and her neighbours bewildered, since they had been instructed to settle there following an earlier round of evictions in the early 1990s when the government decided to clean up Harare's townships ahead of a Commonwealth conference and a visit by Queen Elizabeth II.
"They said: 'You have been building where you are not allowed', but they were the ones who took us to Porta Farm in the first place," Beatrice said.
While at Porta Farm, Beatrice had a job at a paper-making project that had been set up by foreign donors. All that came to nothing when the bulldozers moved in.
"The project, the building and our equipment were destroyed," she said. Beatrice no longer has an income, and her husband is also unemployed.
"My oldest daughter was at school, but she has been out of school since the clean-up operation started."
International humanitarian staff say the government barred them access to Hopley Farm for 10 days after the settlement was established.
This meant that humanitarian assistance was late in coming, a delay that proved fatal in at least one case.
"We got tanks of water from Unicef [on 12 August]," says Joan, 48.
"Previously we had been taking stagnant water from the river. Some people have been complaining of stomach problems, and there is no clinic.
"Someone died - a young woman with two children. The children are now with their grandparents, who don't have the means to look after them," Joan says.
Clean water, blankets and foodstuffs are now starting to arrive, but residents say the government is using the donor aid for its own ends.
"The government welfare department is interfering," says Miriam, 45.
"They say the food is from them but it's really from the donors."
The camp remains under constant surveillance. I was unable to gain access to the site, but interviewed residents in a safe location.
"Right now we are living in fear. We are living with guards and police in plain clothes, and all sorts of people we don't know," Joan says.
"Every time we go to get firewood we are rounded up. The place is almost a desert. We are cooking by burning maize stalks and leaves," Joan says.
"Right now they are putting fear in us," Miriam adds.
"They are beating people up at night. They are saying if you do anything mysterious we'll remove you or beat you up."
All names in this piece were changed to protect interviewees.
A slightly abridged version of this piece was published in today’s M&G.
OBJECTIVE REGIONAL CONSENSUS IS URGENTLY NEEDED ON THE ORIGINS OF
The dimensions and origins of
The deliberate destruction of the homes and livelihoods of over 700,000 impoverished people in the middle of winter confirmed that Mugabe, at the moment, is anything but the champion of the poor and the oppressed.
In order to find a peaceful and democratic solution to Zimbabwe’s problems the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) need to develop an informed, honest and objective consensus as to its origins and avoid public pronouncements that unwittingly distort the facts.
This particularly applies to
Moreover, Mugabe’s commitment to social justice was transient. The little public money that he invested in this programme essentially stopped in 1990. At this point Zimbabwe’s debt was US$3,24 billion, 25% of GDP, and therefore manageable. Contrary to the South African view, it was events after 1990 that account for today’s chronic debt crisis.
The adoption of the poorly thought-out Economic Structural Adjustment Program, the military adventure in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the massive, un-budgeted, hand outs to war veterans in 1997, and the endemic corruption that took root across all levels of government precipitated spiralling debts that by 1998 had reached US$4.716 billion and which today stand at an estimated US$7 billion.
The gaps in
Firstly, paying off
Thirdly, and most importantly, the crisis in
A further concern is that as the bulk of the money on offer appears to be directed towards paying off arrears it will have little impact on the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans suffering on the ground. Given the scale of our humanitarian crisis it would be a tragedy if the loan did not include a tranche for the purposes of immediate humanitarian relief.
Time is not on our side. Mugabe needs to be persuaded that his obstinacy towards a process of national dialogue is driving the country he fought so hard to create towards the brink of collapse and plunging the people he helped to liberate into a state of unprecedented suffering and destitution. SADC leaders need to be cognisant of this. If the region is to meet its development objectives it cannot afford to maintain the collective deafening silence that has accompanied the United Nations report.
MDC Secretary for Finance and Economics