Tuesday, July 05, 2005

“We must clean the country of the crawling mass of maggots bent on destroying the economy."

That's Zimbabwe's National Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri justifying the continuing mass evictions in his country, from a fascinating, horrific take on the evictions courtesy of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

Many of the people who have been exproriated originally emigrated to Zimbabwe from nearby countries--most notably Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia--in the colonial era, seeking jobs in the mines of what was then called Rhodesia. For instance: 80-year-old Ganizani Banda came to Zimbabwe as a sixteen-year-old boy to work in the mines. “The government says we must go back to the rural area, but I don’t have one,” he told IWPR. “I left Malawi in 1941 and I have never gone back. I have not been in touch with my relatives there.” Banda said he used to work at a mine in Kadoma, 176 km southwest of Harare, before being laid off in 1985. Banda subsequently worked on a white-owned commercial farm at Chegutu, near Kadoma, until Mugabe’s land invasion campaign, beginning in 2000, drove hundreds of thousands of black farm workers and their families out of their homes and employment. When his farmer employer had his farm confiscated, Banda moved to Porta Farm. “My whole working life was spent in Zimbabwe’s mines and on Zimbabwe’s farms,” said Banda as he looked at the wreckage of his home. “My wife [72-year-old Molly] and I don’t have homes we can go back to in Malawi.”

And here's a horrific irony: Porta Farm, a dense squatter area that was recently destroyed, was established by Mugabe’s government 14 years ago to tidy up Harare ahead of Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Zimbabwe for the 1991 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. The squatters there were actually placed there by the government.

Finally, the squatters had an intense face-off with Anna Tibaijuka, the UN representative sent to monitor the situation. "If you can, please ask our leaders what crime we have committed to deserve such punishment," one young woman asked her. Tibaijuka counselled patience: "I am upset by what I have seen here, but please remain calm. We are going to work together, just be patient. The secretary general is much concerned, that is why he sent me here. We are definitely going to do something about the issue, but we cannot solve the problem at once."

A prior IWPR dispatch provided a good description of the communities being targetted: The houses destroyed by Mugabe’s soldiers and police are described as shacks. But “shack” is sometimes too grand a term to describe the corrugated iron, plastic, asbestos and cardboard shelters that house the majority of Africans south of the equator, covering entire landscapes. Enter a shack and it is like walking through the looking glass. Interiors are immaculate, the dirt floors covered with lino, kitchens lined with units and gas-fired stoves, beds in the back rooms, the walls papered and lined with posters of footballs stars and religious icons. All of it - everything the owners possess from a lifetime of struggle - kept spotlessly clean by “mamas” who often spend their days working as domestic staff for better-off black and white people.

In all, IWPR says almost one in ten Zimbabweans (1 million out of a population of 11.5 million) have been rendered homeless by Operation Drive Out the Rubbish. Human rights organisations estimate that about 300,000 children have dropped out of school as a result of the assaults on their homes.

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