Influential rights group, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said the police raided and destroyed the informal settlement at Borrowdale Race Course in Harare just after midnight on Tuesday.
The police from Harare Central Police Station and the nearby Highlands Police Station ordered the settlers to remove their possessions from the shacks and go and built homes in their rural areas. After 10 minutes elapsed, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) members, some of whom were armed, and also accompanied by police dogs, ordered all the settlers to embark into the police vehicle and proceeded to torch at least a hundred shacks.
This was done despite the fact that some of the settlers had not managed to remove their possessions. The settlers were then detained in the cold weather until the early hours of the morning when they were taken to Harare Central Police Station.
Most of the settlers whose shacks were torched down are victims of Operation Murambatsvina and some of them are employees of the Borrowdale Race Course. They moved to the settlement after being rendered homeless when their houses were destroyed under the widely condemned clean-up campaign while some of them started to reside at this settlement in 2000.
ZLHR lawyers said they had a torrid time trying to locate the detained settlers at Harare Central Police Station on Wednesday due to the fact that the police had not made any entries in their detention book.
Fifty five settlers who included five minor children were eventually located at 13:30 hours on Wednesday.
But the lawyers were denied access to the settlers by the Criminal Investigation Department section represented by one Superintendent Muchengwa who advised them that their clients would only be allowed legal representation once they have been formally charged.
The rights group, which in 2005 represented several victims of Operation Murambatsvina denounced the police for their unlawful and unprocedural actions.
“Evicting and burning down the settlers’ houses without adequate notice and without providing alternative accommodation and the arbitrary deprivation of property that ensued following the illegal torching of the shacks is a violation of their right to shelter and to family life, which are guaranteed under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which Zimbabwe is a voluntary State Party,” ZLHR said in a statement seen by Radio VOP.
The human rights group said it was disheartening that the police chose to carry out such a vindictive action against the settlers during this cold spell when they don’t have any powers to evict people.
The torching of the settlers homes is reminiscent of the clean up campaign, which was undertaken by President Robert Mugabe’s previous government in 2005 which left more than 700 000 homeless after the demolition blitz.