Operation Murambatsvina: an artist’s interpretation

When Zimbabw


ean artist Josiah Bob Taundi grew up in the townships of Harare he saw bulldozers as emblems of construction – machines that came to clear land for building houses and roads. But last year all this changed. Bulldozers came back to the townships and razed the very same houses that they had constructed. The Zimbabwean government called this “clean up”, Murambatsvina (Operation Restore Order).


Murambatsvina is nicknamed the “Tsunami” by many Zimbabweans. It is estimated that around 700 000 people were left homeless and without sources of livelihood after Murambatsvina. Anna Tibaijuka, the UN Special Envoy, who came to investigate the effects of Murambatsvina reported that the Zimbabwean government had acted in an “indiscriminate and unjustified manner” with “indifference to human suffering.”


While the urban demolitions were in full swing across the country, Zimbabwean artist, Josiah Taundi could not help but see the agony and pain reflected in the eyes of those that had been affected by Murambatsvina. In an effort to depict their plight he began to vividly re-construct Harare’s urban destruction.


In the black and white painting titled “Boys”, Taundi brings out the emotions of fear, anxiety and apprehensiveness on the faces of children who watch their homes being demolished.


The jovial artist, clad in shades and looking like American hip-hop artist Kanye West, says that he was inspired to capture this scene after watching the news on national television when riot police armed to the teeth went to demolish houses in Chitungwiza. And as children, some in school uniforms, looked on in confusion.


“Thinking Hard” depicts a man sitting outside his home wondering whether the authorities will consider it legal or not, and whether it will survive Murambatsvina. The barefooted man sits holding his head in confusion wondering who might have angered God to this extent that people were being made homeless.

“Day of Reckoning depicts young entrepreneurs who have had their plumbing business destroyed. These “indigenous businessmen”, one wearing a Zanu (PF) t-shirt and the other an opposition MDC t-shirt walk together as they map out the way forward for the future. This painting shows that the demolitions did not only affect members of opposition political parties as some would like to believe. But that Murambatsvina also affected staunch supporters of the ruling party, who they had voted into office just a few months earlier.


Copyright rests with the author. No unauthorised use of these images. For further enquiries please consult the artist by writing to [email protected] – with acknowledgement to Kubatana.net


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