Demolitions: Hell Hath No Fury For Zimbabwe’s Disabled Community

By Jeffrey Moyo

HARARE – 48-year old Evias Denford Gunyumbi, blind and with his legs amputated owing to his diabetic condition, slithers on the ground as he  gropes for his wheelchair while he crawls inside the rubble of his house demolished following calls by local authorities for the destruction of illegally built homes.

Gunyumbi’s wife, Idah, is also blind though she appears physically fit while their two children in their teens say they could not complete their education seized with the role to look after their parents.

On top of the physical infirmities they have, the Gunyumbi couple also lives with HIV and AIDS, an ailment that they say also hit their children at birth.

As if that is not enough trouble for the family, last year they lost their home to the council-sanctioned demolitions of homes said to have been built illegally in Budiriro four, a high density suburb in Harare.

Last year alone the Harare City Council demolished close to 100 houses in the low income suburb of Budiriro four after the Harare local authority said the houses were constructed on land reserved for a school.

The tragedy that hit the Gunyumbi family and scores other like families fell on September 30 last year after hordes of council officials descended on Budiriro and proceeded to demolish numerous homes.

As if insensitive to many families like Gunyumbi, the demolitions took place without a court order, subsequently violating Section 74 of this country’s constitution.

According to this country’s constitution, no person may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances.

But for many families faced with multi-physical and medical maladies like Gunyumbi, the constitutional provision has not favoured them.

“What you see is what remains of our demolished home. Nobody cared to ask us why we were paying water bills from council when they came here to destroy our home, not even inquiring about our welfare. Nobody even bothered to map the way forward for us after demolitions ensued,” Gunyumbi said.

“Whether the law works or not, I can’t say now, but together with my wife and children we were forcibly marched out of the house before the local authority guys razed it to the ground alongside many other houses neighbouring us,” added Gunyumbi.

And lost in the middle of what remains of their home, the family says they are contemplating migrating to their rural home in Mutoko, a district 143 kilometres east of Harare, the capital city of this Southern African nation.

The situation is even worse for Gunyumbi’s wife who is heavily pregnant, having to cope with conditions in the open air following the demolition of their home.

“It’s often raining these days and it is a very painful situation that faces us as a family. This home which was demolished was built for us by my brother based in the United Kingdom,” said Gunyumbi’s wife.

For the ailing couple’s children, Tigere aged 18 and Muka 15, the future seems bleak.

“We can’t go to school now because we have to take care of our parents and our family belongings strewn in the open since our home was brought down,” Tigere said.

Saddled by the experience of losing a home, even Muka said he has fallen on hard times worsened by his medical condition.

“I’m now suffering from pneumonia. I’m so sick and living in the open has rendered my medical condition worse,” Muka said.  

But whether or not demolitions of ‘illegally’ built homes affected people living with disabilities, local authorities here seem unmoved.

Rather, authorities have fired salvo at the residents owning homes allegedly built illegally.

“Harare residents should learn to respect land uses, taking into consideration that there is land meant for schools, clinics and recreation and we should make sure we do not tamper with such land,” Harare Council spokesperson Michael Chideme, said.

Following the demolition of homes here since last year to the present, approximately 340 people living with disabilities were left homeless, this according to the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH).

NASCOH is the umbrella body of and for people with disabilities in Zimbabwe concerned with the care and rehabilitation of people with disabilities while it coordinates the activities of the member organisations working with and for people with disabilities.

The NASHCO findings are despite commitments by the government’s social welfare department to take care of the plight of people living with disabilities who lost their homes to government-instigated demolitions since 10 years ago to the present.

In 2005, the Zimbabwean government razed down thousands of homes in urban areas countrywide, rendering over 700 000 people homeless then, according to the United Nations.

More than 10 years after the Operation Clean –Up exercise then dubbed Murambatsvina here, it seems it never rains, but pours for many people living with disabilities like Gunyumbi, who on top of being disabled, together with his entire family also live with HIV and AIDS.

To the Gunyumbi family and several similar families faced with like challenges, it seems suffer continues.

 

“Yes, we are not alone in this mishap, but at the same time we don’t know who to blame now, but the reality is that as a family, we are now faced with a double tragedy of homelessness, thanks to the demolition of homes, and the AIDS trauma we have had to endure over the years,” Gunyumbi said.