REPORT ON SOUTH AFRICAN SOCIAL MOVEMENTS VISIT TO ZIMBABWE
Monday 9 October 2006 by Dale
REPORT ON SOUTH AFRICAN SOCIAL MOVEMENTS VISIT TO ZIMBABWE
Background A delegation of four ; Philani Zungu, Nopasika Mboto, Ellen Chauke and Siphiwe Segodi from different social movements in South Africa visited Zimbabwe between the 3rd and 12th of July 2006. They comprised of one comrade from the Anti-Eviction Campaign which was formed as a response against eviction and other related social injustices. Two comrades were from the Anti-Privatisation Forum which brings a number of organisations together in struggle, including communities threatened by evictions/forced removals. One comrade was from Abahlali Base Mjondolo fighting and defending the rights of the poor to demand basic needs. The visit was organised by Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, South Africa office.
This report covers the general circumstances that the citizens of Zimbabwe find themselves in, one year after Operation Murambatsvina.
Objectives of Visit To witness the effect of Operation Murambatsvina in general To exchange views, learn and share experience with the victims of Operation Murambatsvina. To forge links for building solidarity and network.
The Visit The delegation was warmly welcomed by the Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) on the 3rd of July 2006. CHRA facilitated all the tours during the entire visit with assistance from Bulawayo Agenda and Christian Alliance. The delegation was accommodated in various households and hosting was rotated amongst the four delegates. Such accommodation provided the delegation with an opportunity to meet and discuss with various people in different communities to get different accounts on the livelihood of Zimbabweans. The mornings and the afternoons kept the delegation busy as they visited various sites of Operation Murambatsvina and held interviews with the Zimbabwean citizens.
The areas visited in Harare included Tafara, Glenora, Hatfield, Glenview, Dzivarasekwa, Tynwald, Sunningdale, Kuwadzana, Kambuzuma, Mbare, Calidonia, Porta Farm, Hatcliffe, Tongogara, Highfield, Borrowdale, Warrenpark, Greendale and Ushewokunze.
In Masvingo the group visited Great Zimbabwe and had a briefing meeting with members of the municipality. In Gweru the group visited some home industries including Kotamayi Botique. In Bulawayo the group met with some pastors, Bulawayo Agenda Director and victims of Operation Murambatsvina. The group also had a chance to visit former Killarney squatter camp where shacks were demolished by the government in the name of cleaning up the city.
The group was briefed on Murambatsvina as a government program which began in May 2005 where the state demolished people’s shelters and removed vendors from the streets in the name of cleaning up the city and the townships. The delegation gathered from the community that this Operation was nick-named Tsunami as it left a trail of destruction.
Operation Murambatsvina - One Year After
The delegation clearly noticed the damage caused by this ‘Clean - Up’ campaign. There was still evidence of the concrete rubble where once stood housing for Zimbabweans. Open fields which previously were sites for thriving home industries were a further testimony of this monstrous operation. Such home industries used to be means of survival for thousands of families and served as an alternative of the unemployed. The current unemployment rate in Zimbabwe is standing at 80%. The streets were wiped clean of all forms of vendors further eliminating a source of livelihood to hundreds of families.
According to the statistics made available to the group, 99.9% of Harare’s high density residents were the most affected directly or indirectly. People were left homeless, sleeping in the open. Some family members were sleeping in abandoned scrap cars since backyard rooms which were built to provide sufficient accommodation were demolished. Pieces of furniture were seen still lying around as there is no shelter to store it. Most backyard rooms which were being rented out were also demolished with or without any rent paid.
The government insisted that there was no resistance during the operation, but the delegation learnt otherwise. People are using makeshift shelters made of plastics, cardboard and many have returned to the same sites where the demolishing of their houses took place. The delegation met with one individual who was arrested as a result of this resistance. The delegation gathered that the police still visit the sites of destruction and order everyone in a makeshift shelters to vacate the “cleaned -up” sites. Most of the residents complain that the government has never built houses for them but instead it continues to destroy the little that people have built for themselves.
The delegation noted that most victims of Murambatsvina had no alternative accommodation in the rural areas where they were told to go, so most returned to the cities after being dumped in the rural areas where most did not know anyone . Most argued that they could barely survive in the rural areas. The government destroyed dwellings made of brick and mortar claiming it was cleaning the country of any squatter camps.
The delegation heard evidence of an HIV/AIDS support group that was severely affected since it was not getting any form of support from the state and the building which the organisation used was demolished and as a result, the project was brought to a halt. The support group now has difficulties in tracking its members and they have to start all over again for their projects and shelter to continue. An orphanage was destroyed during the operation and the poor orphans had to seek shelter at a church.
Students suffered as they had to dropout after their homes were destroyed and the parents/guardians were sent to the rural areas. A women’s group focussing on women empowerment was severely affected as the members were selling their goods in the informal market that was destroyed during the operation. The women are currently facing continuous harassment by the police ordering them to stop selling their wares.
The delegation also visited the Ushewokunze settlement which had previously been occupied by civil servants and war veterans. The dwellings were completely destroyed although some reconstruction has since started. This surprised the delegation since they had thought that only those people who were perceived to be anti-government were targeted, and yet civil servants work for the government and war veterans are by and large part of the ZANU-PF machinery.
Masvingo and Gweru were less affected compared to Harare. The group did not spend a lot of time in these areas. However, they met with 2 councillors from Masvingo City Council where the role of councils in Murambatsvina was discussed. The councillors briefly told the group that they were never consulted on the operation by central government or anyone else.
In Gweru, the delegation managed to gain access to the Operation Garikayi (the so-called ‘rebuilding’ programme of the government) houses as compared to Harare where there was tight security in the new Garikayi houses. The residents of both Harare and Gweru claimed only individuals who lost their own homes had the possibility of getting houses under Operation Garikayi. Tenants have been excluded. Most people claimed the Garikayi Operation was an attempt by the government to cover up the embarrassment of Operation Murambatsvina. Further claims were that Operation Garikayi benefited those who were politically connected to the government and those who could afford a certain amount. Individuals who were meant to benefit from Garikayi have been long forgotten. The current number of units build under Operation Garikayi constitutes about 5% of the dwellings destroyed in Operation Murambatsvina. Further claims are that the Operation Garikayi has all but come to a halt due to lack of funds for construction.
The situation in Bulawayo was similar to that in Harare. A coalition of churches made positive intervention around the victims of Operation Murambatsvina by providing food, clothing, burying the dead and paying school fees to date. The church leaders were harassed by police for helping the victims of Operation Murambatsvina. Data was collected of people put in transit camps during the Operation by the churches and was provided as part of the church’s submissions to the UN envoy.
The delegation was debriefed by Bulawayo Agenda on how the organisation facilitated a platform for residents to discuss Murambatsvina. They were faced by police harassment as well, but are striving to bring the Bulawayo residents associations together.
The Zimbabwean community face formidable challenges caused by political divisions. Many still have to accept that Operation Murambatsvina affected everyone despite their political affiliation. There is a need to eliminate individualism and replace it with collective effort. Unity amongst the communities could strengthen social movements in the country. There is a growing need for communities to overcome their accumulated fear of the government if a way forward, one year after Murambatsvina, is to be found. Those outside Zimbabwe, in particular the poor majority who themselves are suffering from evictions, lack of adequate housing and other basic services, need to build solidarity with ordinary Zimbabweans and embark on campaigns that will bring meaningful and lasting political and socio-economic change to Zimbabwe. The poor communities in South Africa can, and should, project the voice of the suffering Zimbabweans.