[Marxism] Mugabe and the homeless

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Nov 13 09:24:31 MST 2005

 From ABC television's Nightline, Nov. 3rd:

(Voice Over) Robert Mugabe calls this "operation clear the filth." The 
destruction is so widespread, people in Zimbabwe call it "operation 
tsunami." The devastation is even visible from space. An entire 
neighborhood wiped off the face of the earth in just two weeks. In an 
exclusive interview, President Mugabe told ABC News he is simply trying to 
clean up slums.

(Off Camera) You announced the program on May 19th, correct? Some of the 
destruction happened within days and some people had absolutely no notice 
that their homes were going to be destroyed.

No, every people were given notice, generally. Perhaps some people had not 
heard that the government was going to destroy ...

(Off Camera) Well, what do you say to somebody whose home - somebody comes 
to you, "your home has to be destroyed now"? They have no notice. What do 
you say to those people?

Well, maybe, if it's just one person - we say it's an exception. But if 
it's the whole lot of people, then of course there is a case. But it wasn't 
like that.

(Voice Over) The pictures tell a different story. Women with young children 
in the rubble of their homes. A UN report says since May, 700,000 people 
have been left without homes or livelihoods. We confronted President Mugabe 
with one of the reports eyewitness accounts.

(Off Camera) This 19-year-old says, "I was living in a cottage with my 
younger sister and my disabled brother. Then, the cleanup operation came 
and destroyed the cottage. Now we have nowhere to go and we are sleeping 
outside. Our blankets and our other property were stolen. We're not going 
to school because we no place to stay. We're sleeping outside with my 
disabled brother in a cold place." This is just one of thousands and 
thousands of stories.

Thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands. Where are the 
thousands? You go there now and see whether those thousands are there. 
Where are they? A figment of their imagination. They exaggerated this. 
Obviously, when you destroy slums, even as you prepare new places for them, 
there is a dislocation, disorganization of a family for that moment. And 
please understand us. We have to clean, to do the cleanup operation, 
destroy slums and get these people into new homes.

(Off Camera) The UN report says 500,000 people have been left homeless with 
no place to go.

They say 700,000.

(Off Camera) 700,000 have either lost their livelihoods or their homes or 
both. And you talk to people in the human rights community who have been to 
Zimbabwe, who have done the research on this and they say that this number 
is -vastly understates the problem. It's over a million people that are 
left without homes.

That's nonsense. Anyone who wants facts, you come and see what's happening. 
We removed them from slums and put them in new places. It wasn't just a 
sudden, you know, thing that we felt we had to do. It had been planned for 
quite a long time, with funds having been set aside to provide new homes 
for people. How else could we have done it? Just tell me.


NY Times, November 13, 2005
In Zimbabwe, Homeless Belie Leader's Claim

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe - President Robert G. Mugabe has one word for reports 
that Operation Drive Out Trash, the urban-demolition campaign aimed at slum 
dwellers that his government describes as a civic beautification program, 
has rendered thousands of his impoverished citizens homeless.

"Nonsense," he told ABC News in an interview broadcast on Nov. 3. 
"Thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands. Where are the 
thousands? You go there now and see whether those thousands are there. 
Where are they? A figment of their imagination."

Clearly, Mr. Mugabe has not been to Bulawayo.

Just three miles west of the center of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest 
city, Robson Tembo and his wife, Ticole, live in the open air in a small 
pen, 12 feet by 12 feet, built of deadwood and scrap. Rows of plastic 
grocery sacks hold the assets they have collected over 72 years.

Five miles north, Nokuthula Dube, 22, her two daughters and two orphaned 
relatives are squatting in an unfinished two-room house of cinder blocks. 
During a reporter's recent visit, an unidentified woman lay curled up on 
the concrete floor of the house's only closet, sleeping.

On the other side of town, Gertrude Moyo, 28, lives with her four children 
and seven other families in tents, pitched in the bush.

More than simple homelessness binds the three families. Until a few months 
ago, they all lived in Killarney, a shantytown with an improbable name that 
had housed Bulawayo's less fortunate citizens since the early 1980's.

Today, Killarney is a moonscape of sunbaked dirt, scrub and burned-out 
rubble. Last May and June, police officers reduced its huts to wreckage, 
burned their remains and routed the area's more than 800 residents as part 
of Operation Drive Out Trash.

"They had iron bars as long as this," Mr. Tembo said of the police, 
stretching his arms wide. "They demolished part of every hut, and then they 
told us to destroy the rest."

Mr. Tembo said he refused, and so the police finished the job, leveling his 
two-room home built of wooden poles and metal walls.

More than five months after the demolitions began, Zimbabwe's government 
continues to insist that the destruction of 133,000 households, by its own 
count, was a long-overdue slum-clearance effort that has caused its 
citizens only temporary inconvenience.

The government contends that most of those made homeless have been 
relocated to the rural villages where they lived before migrating to the 
cities, mostly to look for work. Others, it says, will be placed in 
thousands of new homes being built to replace the illegal huts that have 
been razed.

Mr. Mugabe has rejected the United Nations' attempt to raise $30 million to 
aid the victims of Operation Drive Out Trash on the ground that Zimbabwe 
has no crisis. Despite a public appeal by Secretary General Kofi Annan on 
Oct. 31, the government so far has rejected any assistance that implies 
that its evicted citizens are in distress.

Yet many are in great distress. Relying on the estimates of Zimbabwe's 
government, the United Nations says 700,000 people were displaced by the 
May and June demolitions and a later campaign, Operation Going Forward, No 
Turning Back, in which police officers routed those who tried to return to 
the cities and rebuild.

An August survey of more than 23,000 Zimbabwean households by the South 
Africa-based advocacy group ActionAid International places the number of 
those made homeless as high as 1.2 million - more than 1 in 10 Zimbabweans.

Where many have gone is a mystery. The government carted thousands to 
holding camps that were later disbanded, and transported thousands more by 
trucks into the countryside and left them there, ostensibly near their 
rural homes. Those people are registered with local officials, but almost 
certainly, they are but a fraction of the total.

In the Nkayi district, a vast expanse of bush terrain north of Bulawayo 
with 110,000 people, fewer than 700 families are known to have been 
relocated, according to church officials involved in assisting them.

Similarly, the government's home-building plan has fallen far short of its 
promises and of the demand. Mr. Mugabe pledged three trillion Zimbabwe 
dollars for construction in July - about $30 million in American dollars, 
and dropping steadily given Zimbabwe's 400 percent inflation rate. But the 
national treasury is all but bare, and in Bulawayo, where 1,000 homes were 
promised in short order, fewer than 100 are being built.

So where are the homeless?

"This remains what I'd call an invisible humanitarian crisis - invisible to 
international eyes, the reason being that those who were displaced have 
been dispersed," said David Mwaniki, who oversees ActionAid's work in Zimbabwe.

Many are probably with relatives; a few have fled the country. Others are 
in the bush, surviving off the kindness of neighbors. Many more have 
vanished into hovels and tents and half-built houses.

The United Nations says 32,000 of Bulawayo's 675,000 residents lost their 
homes and were ordered to leave the city during the demolition campaign; 
city officials put the number at 45,000. Torden Moyo, who directs an 
alliance of local civic groups called Bulawayo Agenda, says there is no 
doubt where they have gone.

"Ninety-five percent are now back," he said. "They're still struggling, 
still homeless, still penniless, still shelterless. They've been made 
refugees in their own country."

Killarney is proof of that. Before the demolitions, it was dirt-poor but 
thriving, subdivided into three villages with stores and services. All that 
has been razed and burned. Northeast of town, not far off the road to 
Bulawayo's airport, Nokuthula Dube, her own children and an orphaned niece 
and nephew share the two rooms of a half-finished home. Ten stunted 
cornstalks and some greens grow in a makeshift plot outside, but the five 
live on donated cornmeal from a nearby church.

Ms. Dube returned from her niece's school in June to find her home in 
Killarney's Village One wrecked and on fire. Homeless and pregnant, she 
lost her housecleaning job in a nearby suburb. Her husband, Nomen Moyo, had 
to move away to keep his job as a gardener. Ms. Dube said she and the 
children walked for a week, sleeping by the road, before finding the shell 
where they now live.

In September, Ms. Dube had a daughter, Mtokhozisi. She left her 3-year-old 
daughter, Nomathembe, and the two orphans - 10-year-old Pentronella and 
14-year-old Kevin - alone while she gave birth in a local hospital. She 
walked home from the hospital with her newborn. "I left in the morning," 
she said, "and arrived around 3."

A few weeks ago, a man who said he was the house's owner appeared. "He 
wants us to leave," she said. "He's claiming that this is his house."

Asked where they would go, she said, "Only God knows."

Across town, Gertrude Moyo, who lived in Killarney for 23 years before 
being driven out on June 11, lives in a 10-foot-by-15-foot tent with her 
four children. Her husband died a year ago. She said the police first took 
the family to a transit camp for the homeless, then to the tent. Mrs. Moyo 
said she was told to wait for a new home.

In fact, the government is building a row of houses next to her tent, and 
says they are for victims of the demolitions. But Ms. Moyo said the police 
had told her that her family was going not to a new home, but to a plot of 
farmland north of town.

Robson Tembo and his wife drifted from one church to a second, then to a 
succession of relatives' homes before finally returning in late September 
to Killarney's Village Three. They built their scrap-metal enclosure not 
far from the two-room home in which they once lived, and which the police 
had razed in May.

Once a miner, Mr. Tembo is now too infirm to walk very far, much less work. 
A son who cleans houses gives the couple maize; a second sometimes brings 

Mr. Tembo's great worry, he said, is that the police, who cruise up and 
down Killarney's main dirt road, will evict the couple again. "I'm from 
Malawi," he said. "But if they tear down this hut of mine, I will stay 
here, because I have nowhere to go in Malawi."

Local church workers, who have assumed much of the burden of finding and 
caring for the homeless here, say that about 240 of Killarney's residents 
have returned, many living in the sort of scrap-metal lean-to's that the 
Tembos cobbled together.

Down a dirt path, past the charred remains of huts in what was once 
Killarney Village Two, Mhulupheki Tshuma, 29, his wife, Ncadisani, and 
their 20-month-old son survive by scavenging plastic containers and 
collecting white pebbles, which Mr. Tshuma sells as decorations for graves. 
Two other children have been sent to live with relatives elsewhere in town.

Mr. Tshuma was born here, and his parents died here. The family lived in a 
two-room mud hut when the police arrived in early June and burned it down. 
"The only thing I took out," Ms. Tshuma said, "was the children."

After wandering for three months, they returned on Sept. 4 and built a 
hovel. The police demolished it on Sept. 29. Now they live in the open air, 
their living space bounded by knee-high mud walls and pieces of rubbish.

Mr. Tshuma said the police returned early this month and beat him roundly, 
telling him he had to leave. But that is impossible. "We came here," he 
said, "because we didn't have anywhere else to go."

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