One year since Murambatsvina

HARARE - On this day last year, May 18, the people of Hatcliffe watched in shocked disbelief as bulldozers accompanied by armed policemen descended on their suburb, smashing their homes in a cloud of dust. Some sat in the rubble and wept while others tried desperately to rescue a few belongings.

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During the ensuing days, the roaring bulldozers struck again and again in urban areas throughout the country. This was Operation Murambatsvina (clean-up) – Mugabe’s callous and vicious response to the massive pro-MDC urban vote in the March 2005 general election.
Thus began the systematic destruction of so-called illegal dwellings. The bulldozers spared nothing. Street vendors, even those trading legally, were arrested and fined, their wares and assets confiscated. Even municipal-built people’s markets were demolished. All this was done under the guise of an urban clean-up targeted at criminal activity.
However, most of the people affected were neither dirty nor criminal: most were victims of disastrous government policies and were trying by all means to eke out a living for their families. Operation Murambatsvina spread its stain indiscriminately across the country and in June the settlements of Killarney and Ngozi Mine were demolished, along with many suburban structures.
Winter set in. Thousands of families huddled in the open around pathetic fires. Many burnt their furniture in a desperate attempt to keep warm. Babies fell ill and died.
Many churches sheltered and fed the homeless for several weeks before armed police descended on them in dawn raids and removed them forcibly into makeshift camps away from public view, where no shelter, water, food, medical nor sanitary facilities were provided.
Shortly afterwards, thousands were again uplifted and strewn across the country, told callously to go back to the villages they had come from – despite the fact that they had known no home other than their urban dwellings.
Today, a year later, many still live in the open. And winter is coming again. They have lost their friends and family, their belongings, their means of earning a living. Sometimes they are not even allowed to bury their dead. On average, two people a week (often babies) die and the rate is increasing. The cause of death is often HIV-related and aggravated by malnutrition. Most of the children have no access to schools.
Despite widespread international protests, including from the United Nations, the Mugabe government has been unrepentant and has continued to do as it pleases. – Own correspondent

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