(Courtesy of JL)
From The Independent (UK), 12 June
Zimbabwe undercover: how Mugabe is burning opponents out of their homes
Our reporter watches covertly as the urban poor are driven into the countryside in a campaign reminiscent of Pol Pot
By our special correspondent in Killarney squatter camp, Bulawayo
From the road you could see the smoke climbing out of the bush like giant black trees. Driving along the burnt-red dirt track, the only sign of life was a bewildered woman carrying a baby. She waved in the direction of the charred mud huts, and kept repeating the word "police". She said that seven truckloads of police with assault rifles had come in the morning. They had forced people from their homes at gunpoint and set them alight. "They told us to get out. They told us they will come back with dogs tonight to make sure we are gone," she told The Independent on Sunday. Beauty and her two children are just the latest victims of a Pol Pot-style campaign waged by President Robert Mugabe to empty the cities and force the population into the countryside. It is a war that has been launched with a concerted attack on the country's poorest and weakest people. Hundreds of thousands living in squatter camps or working in street markets have had their homes demolished or their livelihoods. Mr Mugabe calls the campaign a "clean-up operation" to restore order and beauty to the cities. His critics accuse him of waging a vindictive war on those who didn't vote for his Zanu PF party in the March general election.
Nearly half a million people have been displaced in a drought-stricken country where conservative estimates say that four million are in immediate need of food aid. The United Nations and the World Food Programme are warning of a "humanitarian disaster". "This is like Pol Pot, corralling people into the countryside where they can be controlled and indoctrinated," said Shari Eppel, a Zimbabwe resident and human rights expert. "We're heading into the dark ages here. What we're going to see is selective starvation. He wants people hungry and compliant," said Ms Eppel. Mr Mugabe shows no sign of following Pol Pot's personal example and moving to a rural mud hut. He continues to live in majesty in an expensive district of Harare, where a strict 6pm-to-6am curfew ensures no one can so much as approach the perimeter wall. Until yesterday, Beauty and her family had lived in a one-room house with mud walls and a corrugated iron and thatched roof. They were one of up to 400 families living in the Killarney squatter camp on the outskirts of Bulawayo. Now, only the blackened shell remains and the thick smell of burning thatch fills the air.
As the word spread that we weren't police, people started to appear out of the bush. Many barefoot, they came crunching through the husks of their failed maize crop, carrying whatever they had left. Angry and confused, they wanted to know why the police would do this and where they were supposed to go? One woman, still breast-feeding her baby, said there was nothing they could do. "What can we do to stop them? They had guns. They came suddenly and then they were shouting, 'Get away!' Where are we supposed to go?" she asked. As she spoke, a few hundred metres away on the main road, police pickups with armed men patrolled the roads. Further away roadblocks were set up to stop anyone coming closer to find out what was going on. These scenes have been repeated throughout Zimbabwe. At the Victoria Falls, the crowning glory of a once flourishing tourism industry, an estimated 30,000 people were evicted from squatter camps in a two-day operation that continued yesterday. As their homes were torched and their possessions looted by the security forces, they were told to "go home". One resident said he heard a government minister on the radio, saying that "the black man comes from the countryside and should go back to the countryside". In the capital, Harare, entire squatter camps - home to the majority of the urban poor - have been emptied and burned. Trudy Stevenson, an MP with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, witnessed hundreds of people being loaded on to trucks and sent one way, while their possessions were taken elsewhere. The government insists that their campaign, dubbed "Murambatsvina", or "drive out trash", was a long-overdue purge of the informal economy.
AG Ndlovu, the deputy mayor of Bulawayo, says this is a fiction. "The government came to us and told us to destroy the markets and we said 'no. This is illegal'. They were legally there, we had given them standards, told them where to put their things. They had applied and been given licences." In the past, repression has tended to focus on the opposition stronghold of Matabeleland, with Bulawayo as its capital, and home to the Ndebele people who make up 20 per cent of the population. But the latest campaign has hit just as hard in Harare, where the majority are, like Mr Mugabe himself, part of the Shona tribe. The results of the 31 March elections - condemned by all but Mr Mugabe's allies in neighbouring countries as illegitimate - showed that Zanu PF has lost the cities to the opposition MDC. With the economy in freefall after a five-year period in which Zimbabwe has moved from being the breadbasket of Africa to famine, even an allegedly rigged election cannot hide the scale of the crisis. Agricultural output has been devastated by the farm invasions that masqueraded as much-needed land reform. Little is moving on the streets as foreign currency reserves hit rock bottom and fuel imports have dried up. Fuel queues are so much part of daily life that newspapers advise readers on which is the most sociable queue to wait the four to five days it takes to get petrol. An attempted two-day national strike, organised by opposition groups, human rights activists, churches and unions was thwarted by a campaign of state intimidation. Graffiti on the city walls call for an uprising. But those who still have homes stay put out of fear. "The severity of the onslaught shows how desperate the state is," said Graham Shaw, a former Methodist pastor turned rights campaigner. "If they're raiding street vendors for foreign currency then they're close to the end. Lots of people are saying it's time to take to the streets, but nobody wants to lead them."
From The Sunday Times (UK), 12 June
Mugabe policy branded "new apartheid."
by Christina Lamb
Thousands of Zimbabweans made homeless in the government's ruthless clean-up campaign are being herded into re-education camps and told they can have a housing plot only if they swear allegiance to the party of President Robert Mugabe. Those who refuse are loaded into trucks and dumped in remote rural areas, far from their own homes, where food is scarce. Human rights workers say they are being left to die in what they believe is a deliberate strategy by the Mugabe regime to exterminate opponents. "This is social cleansing to try to eradicate the opposition," said Trudy Stevenson, an opposition MP whose Harare North constituency includes Hatcliffe, where 30,000 people had their homes demolished along with an orphanage for children whose parents had died of Aids. "It's horrific. They are dumping people in rural areas to get rid of troublesome elements to make sure they cant challenge the regime," she added. The government's three-week Operation Murambatsvina - Shona for "clean up the filth" - has left hundreds of thousands of men, women and children without homes. Many are sleeping in streets in winter temperatures with no water. Church groups are warning that thousands could die of disease. There have been outbreaks of diarrhoea and reports of babies freezing to death.
The United Nations estimates that 200,000 are homeless while the opposition claims it is more than 1m. Yesterday police rampaged through Harare, setting fire to the few remaining belongings that many homeless people had salvaged, and warning them against taking refuge in churches. So brutalised is the population that some torched their own possessions on police instructions. A Harare police commander was reported to have authorised the use of live ammunition against people resisting eviction. "I need reports on my desk saying we have shot people," he was said to told his officers. "The president has given his full support for this operation so there is nothing to fear. You should treat (it) as a war." The barbarous campaign has left observers to reflect on the chilling words of one of Mugabe's closest lieutenants, Didymus Mutasa, about weeding opponents out of the population. "We would be better off with only 6m, with our own people who support the liberation struggle," he said three years ago. "We dont want all these extra people." Since then the population has indeed dropped, with an estimated 3.4m Zimbabweans now living outside the country. Almost half the remaining 11m are on the verge of starvation. A UN assessment last week estimated the maize harvest at only 300,000 tonnes, half as much as expected and one-sixth of Zimbabwe's minimum needs.
Mutasa was made minister for national security in April, putting him in charge of the Central Intelligence Organisation, Mugabe's secret police. Many believe he is carrying out his threat to rid the population of Mugabe's opponents, targeting the cities that voted overwhelmingly for the opposition in elections last March. Youth militias dressed as riot police laughed last week as they smashed peoples homes and livelihoods with bulldozers and sledgehammers. Many were concrete houses where people had lived for years. Markets that have stood since 1945 were razed. The owners watched as everything they had worked for was destroyed in the space of an hour. "A grave crime has been committed against poor and helpless people," read a statement by some of Zimbabwes Roman Catholic bishops. "We warn the perpetrators, history will hold you accountable." Some of the homeless have been taken to holding camps outside the city, such as Caledonia Farm. Police guard the barbed wire compounds. Church workers have revealed that those inside are being subjected to political re-education, forced to shout party slogans and warned that they will not be given new plots for homes or licences for market stalls unless they join Mugabe's Zanu PF party.
Miloon Kothari, the UN special envoy on adequate housing, called the evictions "a new form of apartheid". On Friday the White House joined the UN and the European Union in condemning the campaign. Yet within Zimbabwe, reaction has been muted. This is a population that has been cowed by years of torture, rape and food deprivation, where up to 40% are infected with HIV. A two-day mass "stay-away" from work fizzled out last week, leaving Mugabe triumphant and the opposition MDC in disarray. The state control of media meant many workers were unaware of the stay-away. Police went to the homes of those working for utility companies and forced them to go to work. Many within the opposition believe that they are in danger of becoming irrelevant if they do not act soon to topple Mugabe. Leading members are demanding that the party takes a more confrontational stance. "Passive resistance has not worked," said Nelson Chamisa, chairman of the MDC Youth League. "It is time to engage in active struggle."
From IWPR, 6 June
Driving out the rubbish
Government sells its massive demolition programme as regeneration, but many believe it is designed to remove populations from "disloyal" urban constituencies.
By Dzikamai Chidyausiku in Harare
Simon Phiri and his wife Tsitsi desperately battle to salvage a few belongings from their shack before a bulldozer sent in by the Zimbabwean government razes it to the ground. With a bit of luck and the help of their four children, Simon, 39, and Tsitsi, 32, manage to save the family's most essential items - a bed, blankets and kitchen utensils - before the bulldozer crushes their home. The shack, made from corrugated iron, cardboard and plastic, was where the Phiri family have lived for the past 12 years. Simon built it in the densely populated township of Mbare, just outside Harare, in 1993 and all his four children have been raised there. With Zimbabwe's new Chinese-made warplanes occasionally sweeping overhead, President Robert Mugabe's police and demolition squads have turned Mbare into a battleground, leaving houses and makeshift shelters flattened in street after street. Families carrying their remaining possessions on their heads or in carts - wooden planks, sheets of tin, pots wrapped in blankets and plastic - are on the march like refugees in some terrible war, after the mass demolition of their homes in Mugabe's "Operation Murambatsvina", which translates as "Operation Drive Out the Rubbish".
It is a scene of desolation and despair, and one that is being repeated all across the country in an apparent bid to drive hundreds of thousands of people from the towns back to rural areas. This new Mugabe strategy is being compared by critics to that of Cambodia's Pol Pot, who in his "Return to Year Zero" forced the inhabitants of cities into the countryside in the late Seventies. Miloon Kothari, the United Nations special representative on housing for the poor, told reporters in Geneva that he feared Mugabe planned to drive between two and three million Zimbabweans into the countryside in Operation Murambatsvina, launched two weeks ago when police began sweeping street traders from the pavements in Harare and the northern resort town of Victoria Falls. The operation subsequently spread throughout the country. "We have a very grave crisis on our hands," said Kothari. An added concern is that the land is no longer able to feed the people who live on it - let alone extra hungry mouths. A recent report by the Famine Early Warning System Network, a UN agency, said most rural homes have run out of food. It warned that around five million people could starve if the government does not allow international donors to bring in aid.
President Mugabe, in a speech to the central committee of the ruling Zanu PF party, explained the demolitions as a necessary part of urban regeneration, "Our cities and towns had become havens for illicit and criminal practices and activities which just could not be allowed to go on. From the mess should emerge new businesses, new traders, new practices and a whole new and salubrious urban environment. That is our vision." Zimbabwean local government minister Ignatius Chombo used the same utopian language, saying, "This is the dawn of a new era. To set up something nice, you first have to remove the litter, and that is why the police are acting in this way." The independent Standard weekly newspaper hit back with an editorial saying, "Chombo's explanation is nonsensical and an insult to the intelligence of the people of this country. The government should not delight in the suffering of people when it does not have a ready-made alternative for them."
As well as his home, Simon Phiri also lost the trading stall where he sold secondhand clothes at Mbare's colourful Mupedzanhamo market, the biggest in the country and recommended in the tourist guidebooks. As clouds of tear gas mixed with smoke from burning shacks wafted about him, he said, "They have destroyed my house and my small shop at the market. I have nowhere to go. I was born and grew up in Mbare. This is the only home I know." Phiri is only one of the countless thousands of Harare residents who have been rendered unemployed and homeless after police and other state agencies destroyed their homes and stalls as part of what President Mugabe describes as a "clean up" campaign. In Harare alone, some 30,000 informal traders like Simon have been driven out of business. The police say the aim is to rid the capital of "criminals". Victoria Muchenje, another Mbare resident whose shack was destroyed, said, "We are suffering, we have nowhere to go. Our children are not going to school, we are sleeping outside everywhere. If you walk, everywhere you see people sleeping in the road." Wellington Murerwa, was also in tears, as he watched his home burn. "I have lost the only source of income that I had after my vegetable stall was destroyed," he said. "Since 1981 the only place I have known as a home with my family was a backyard shack, and I cannot start all over again." Shacks and other "illegal" structures in other Harare townships such as Highfield and Glenview have been destroyed, ostensibly to "decongest the city".
As police in full riot gear moved in to torch shacks using petrol, many residents tore down their own homes to salvage some of the building materials. Many burned furniture they could not take with them. As well as the mass destruction of housing, more than 23,000 people have been arrested in the continuing campaign. The assaults have left huge numbers homeless and without a source of income. Whole families are now sleeping in the open as Zimbabwe's mid-winter night temperatures dip to freezing point. Others are battling to find scarce transport to take them to relatives' rural homes. About half of the poor in cities like Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare and Gweru live in shacks. Most of them came to the cities because of the failure of education, health services and agriculture in the rural areas, where AIDS deaths are also wrecking traditional social support mechanisms. In all, it is estimated that some 2.5 million people live - or did so until late May - in makeshift urban accommodation without adequate sanitation or clean water, the only kind of housing they could afford. With no access to mainstream jobs, given the imploding economy and unemployment at 80 per cent, such people have taken to the pavements and alleys - cutting hair, mending shoes, weaving baskets and chairs and selling fruit, vegetables and flowers in an attempt to earn a living. The assault has been seemingly indiscriminate. In Victoria Falls, for example, police burnt a six-mile long line of curio stalls that have catering to tourists for as long as anyone can remember. Even squatter camps set up by veterans of the war of liberation against the former white government were destroyed in the police rampage, including two named after war heroes Joshua Nkomo and Josiah Tongogara.
to be continued...
From News24 (SA), 10 June
Zim military awarded medals
Harare - Russia has given medals to Zimbabwe's defence minister and other senior military officials to mark "strong military ties" between the two countries, the state-controlled Herald newspaper reported on Friday. Russia's ambassador to Zimbabwe, Oleg Scherbak, awarded the commemorative medals at a ceremony held on Wednesday to mark the 60th anniversary of Russia's defeat of the German army during World War 2. The paper reported defence minister Sydney Sekeremayi as saying Zimbabwe "would continue to source military equipment from Russia and to learn new military tactics in order to defend its territorial integrity". Zimbabwean fighters received equipment and training from Russia during the southern African country's 1970s war of independence from minority rule. Other Zimbabwean military officials who received medals from Russia on Wednesday included the country's defence forces commander, Constantine Chiwenga as well as the commanders of the air force and the army. In his speech Sekeremayi recalled Russia's assistance to Zimbabwe in the past. "Some of our officers are what they are today because of the doctrine they received while being trained in Russia," the minister said. "Some of the guerrilla tactics you used during (World War II) were also in a way modified by us in the fight against (white) settlers," he said.