Life In Hell

But for residents of Whitecliffe suburb in Harare, this is part of life. The noise shows that something is taking place at their “primary school” under a tree. This is where the future of some young children is being shaped. It will continue like this until the authorities intervene.

This has been the order of things for the last five years since the government launched its controversial clean-up project, Operation Murambatsvina.

Hundreds of families who had settled at Whitecliffe Farm suddenly found themselves homeless. Despite repeated threats from the government that they would be provided with new accommodation under Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle, the settlers are fast losing hope, but have no plans of leaving what they believe to be their promised land.

Despite the hullabaloo around the resettlement of families affected by Murambatsvina, the government appears to have backtracked on its promise.

“Life has really become hell, especially for us women,” said a resident of Whitecliffe, Constance Tapera.

“I have two children who are supposed to be at school. I am not employed, so I cannot afford to pay the fees and bus fare for them to go to school in Kuwadzana (a high density suburb a few kilometres from Whitecliffe). Right now my children and those of my neighbours learn under a tree. We were better off before they destroyed our houses, life was much better.”

Tapera is part of hundreds of Murambatsvina victims who now live in shacks in and around Whitecliffe. In order to survive, at times she has to allow herself to be abused by her male neighbours.

“It is better for those women who are married; at least their husbands can build better cottages for them. For me there is nothing I can do, I just have to make do with these plastics. It always gets really bad when it rains. Sometimes men demand bribes or sexual favours to help me even in the smallest possible manner,” said Tapera.

The residents of Whitecliffe are currently up in arms against the government following  a new directive that they have to re-apply for houses that were allocated to them in 2005.

The process is already underway. Residents are required to produce offer letters obtained in 2005, and those without offer letters have to pay a certain fee. This has irked many residents who believe that the provision for people to pay for offer letters would create a free for all which will benefit only the wealthy. Because of the poor response they have received from the police and state security agents, the residents said they have mobilised each other to deal with whoever would attempt to move them. 

 “We are now living in fear, people are being threatened everyday but we will not give up. These houses belong to us. That is what Minister (of Local Government) Ignatious Chombo told us when he addressed us in the presence of (Anna) Tibaijuka in 2005,” said another resident, who only identified herself as Rebecca.

A leader of the local residents association said most Murambatsvina victims who were supposed to benefit from the project were now living like destitute in makeshift houses a stone throw away from Whitecliffe.

“It is sad that these are people with offer letters and meet all the requirements to be in those houses, but they have been displaced by people who were not even affected by Murambatsvina,” he said.

The residents’ leader said they have since sought legal assistance to stop people who were not affected by Murambatsvina from being allocated houses under the current exercise. In the meantime, they have organised to physically resist any attempts to evict them.

A number of residents have gone to the courts, but this has not helped their situation. This has left the residents with no option but to face up with their daily battle to access social services.

“We are living like animals, but by the grace of God we will not die,” said Tapera.

Officials from the Ministry of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development would not comment on the matter. They referred all questions to an official identified only as Sibanda, whom they said was handling the Whitecliffe issue.