Zimbabwe Asked To Redress Murambatsvina Victims

Amnesty International and and the Coalition Against Forced Evictions said on Tuesday Zimbabwe must take action to protect the people it left homless after the clean up operation and were now surviving in substandard settlements.

They said government should provide adequate alternative accommodation or compensation to those left homeless and jobless.

“It is a scandal that five years on, victims are left to survive in plastic shacks without basic essential services. The needs of these victims are at risk of being forgotten because their voices are consistently ignored,” said Amnesty International Zimbabwe’s director Cousin Zilala.

On May 18, 2005 Zimbabwe demolishied informal settlements across the country under a programme dubbed Operation Murambatsvina. More than 700 000 people were left homeless and jobless.

“Most were driven deeper into poverty by the forced evictions, a situation which has been further compounded by Zimbabwe’s economic crisis,” he said.

Following widespread local and international condemnation of Operation Murambatsvina, the government embarked on a re-housing programme, known as Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle later in 2005, which aimed to provide shelter for the victims and improve their living conditions.

“However, it was a dismal failure and now appears to have been abandoned,” Zilala noted. “The few houses that were built under the Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle scheme are completely un-inhabitable.” They have no floors, windows, water or toilets. Communities living in designated resettlement areas are dependent on humanitarian assistance and self help initiatives for their survival.”

“Those affected by Operation Murambatsvina rapidly became invisible, forced to relocate to rural areas, absorbed into existing overcrowded urban housing or pushed into government designated settlements. Those still in cities remain at risk of further forced evictions with no security of tenure. In 2009, Harare council attempted to remove some of the victims of the 2005 forced evictions but was forced to reverse the decision amid protest from housing and human rights organisations.” 

Since its creation in February 2009, the unity government has done nothing to improve the plight of survivors of the forced evictions and their children who have been born in informal settlements.

Felistas Chinyuku, a former chairperson of the Porta Farm Residents Association, said many of the victims were still homeless five years on.

Porta Farm, a settlement of about 10 000 people, was destroyed by the government in 2005, despite the community obtaining several court orders barring the authorities from carrying out evictions. 

“Five years have passed and many of us are still living in tents,” said Chinyuku a resident at Hopley Farm, on the outskirts of Harare, where the majority of residents survive in make-shift housing. “There are no schools, no health services and very little sanitation. This is no way for humans to live.”

Residents of Hatcliffe Extension settlement in Harare faced similar injustice in 2005 when the authorities wilfully disregarded lease agreements and destroyed their homes. They have not been compensated for their wrongful eviction and continue to face battles with the authorities. Residents are currently being asked to pay prohibitive fees in order to renew their leases. 

“Operation Murambatsvina achieved the opposite of the publicly stated objective – restoring order. In Harare, it resulted in overcrowding in poor neighbourhoods with as many as three families sharing a four-roomed house,” said Lorraine Mupasiri of Combined Harare Residents Association, one of the coalition partners. “We are particularly concerned about the rising housing backlog in Harare. More than half a million people are on the waiting list.

The forced evictions drove people not only from their homes, but also from their market stalls, depriving informal traders of their means of earning a living. 

Women have been especially affected since they form the majority of informal market traders and in many cases are the primary providers, not only for their own children but also for other children orphaned by the AIDS pandemic.

When informal traders have tried to resuscitate their trade they have been persistently obstructed by the authorities.

“The deplorable living conditions and struggle for survival which victims of Operation Murambatsvina continue to face, reveals the government’s failure to address ongoing injustices against some of the most vulnerable members of Zimbabwean society,” said Zilala.