Harare yesterday woke up to what has become an annual ritual of horror. Once again, the government brought heavy road construction equipment, including bulldozers and front-end loaders to tear down illegal structures, mostly wooden and metal market stalls in the capital’s oldest and most populous suburb of Mbare.
Needless to say, the exercise is violently merciless, targets some of the poorest citizens of the country and affects mostly women and children. This happens virtually every year and the timing is almost always during the rainy season, or in winter.
Every time this happens, questions are asked around the demolitions — the same questions every year. Why do authorities let people put up illegal structures, including houses and market stalls, and then raze them down when they are complete and occupied? Why do authorities always wait for the bad times to demolish the structures?
Right from the biggest urban tragedies in modern times, Murambatsvina of 2005 which happened at the height of winter, all demolitions seem to happen during the bad times of the year. This coincidence in timing patterns makes it difficult not to think that the human tragedy that follows these demolitions is well thought out and planned by certain people in certain offices.
Whatever the reasons behind this exercise; good or bad; the undeniable fact is that the human suffering that follows these demolitions is clearly pre-meditated and deliberate. The sight of women and children huddled around broken pieces of furniture and wet blankets — out in the open in the biting cold or lashing rains, is a deliberate plan by authorities.
The victims of these demolitions may be to blame for the action they take to build and occupy illegal structures, but authorities must take the responsibility to find a lasting solution to this perennial problem. As it is, both central and local government have failed to take charge of the growing problem in urban areas caused mainly by unemployment.
Promises to avail more market places have not been fulfilled and attempts such as one near Coca-Cola along Seke Road and refurbishment of Mupedzanhamo in Mbare appear to have been abandoned. The people that suffered the cruel demolitions yesterday and whose families are today without food and may have spent last night in the rains are victims of the government’s incompetence and premeditated cruelty.
The authorities have shown that they have no idea how to deal with the thousands of homeless citizens and growing multitudes of jobless youths and vendors. They seem only capable of crafting sadistic solutions such as the on-going demolitions — as if the Zanu PF government has a political axe to grind with city and town dwellers.
The constitution makes it mandatory for government to ensure that citizens enjoy basic dignity. This destruction of shelter and means of survival infringes on people’s basic human rights by their government.