The Plight of Women in the looming Operation Murambatsvina 2

Harare City Council is this week expected to launch a campaign to demolish illegal structures that have mushroomed across the capital as the local authority heeds Government’s call to clamp down on the menace. Council has since warned residents to move their valuables away from the illegal structures as its team will be descending on suburbs such as Mbare, Kuwadzana, Budiriro and Dzivaresekwa as early as Tuesday.

Some of the tuckshops (sources of livelihoods for most poor people) that were demolished in Ruwa last week
Some of the tuckshops (sources of livelihoods for most poor people) that were demolished in Ruwa last week

Town Clerk Dr Tendai Mahachi confirmed the latest development, saying the illegal structures, which include tuckshops and unplanned houses, were causing “chaos” in the city. “We are targeting tuckshops, unplanned buildings and all other structures that are illegal.

The sprouting of these structures has created chaos in the city and we have been left with no choice but to pull them down. “What we are saying as council is if you have an illegal structure it is your duty to recover what you can from the building before we bring it down…… Sundaymail newspaper- 10 November 2013.

HZT is disheartened by the recent statement released in the state media that the Government is going ahead with the demolition of houses and tuckshops in and around Harare this week. The organization carried out a fact finding visit to Chitungwiza in order to ascertain the effects of the proposed demolitions on socio-economic stability in Zimbabwe. This resulted in an assessment of the gendered effect of the demolitions.

Of the women interviewed, one lady (named withheld) who was interviewed in Unit A extension, is married and has three children stated that she was affected by the 2005 Murambatsvina and the thought of another Murambatsvina is too painful and traumatizing to even think of or begin to imagine.

The victim reiterated that she was pregnant and residing in Unit O when the 2005 demolitions began. To make matters worse, it was during the cold season and there was nowhere for them to go. It was humiliating and degrading for her family to find an alternative 1 room as shelter at her father-in-law's house.

They then later found a place to rent while processing a residential stand which took a long time to be allocated because of the long waiting list from council which seemed to “ignore” their pleas. It was only in June 2013 that they managed to acquire a piece of land from their meagre salaries through Frederick Mabamba a ZANU PF councilor who owns most properties and housing cooperatives in Chitungwiza, who allocated the land on the "illegal" sites in Unit A extension. During the period her family acquired the residential stand to date, they have managed to construct a two roomed house which they are currently occupying.

She expressed concern and worry over the looming demolitions which will have a negative impact on her life. Among her concerns was the issue of becoming a lodger once again, issue of scarce accommodation and an increase in rentals because 4000 houses means 4000 plus families will be in need of accommodation. Further, her children will have to be transferred from school and get accustomed to a new learning environment, which may affect their performance.

The demolitions come at a time when her family is still rejoicing at the fact that they now have their own place to stay and can plan for other socio-economic concerns such as farming. She further mourned that in the event that they are displaced, they have nowhere to go and this has traumatized her husband to such an extent that he no longer has peace of mind and cannot eat nor sleep well.

It is her only hope that Government provides an alternative solution, either it offers them alternative accommodation or compensate them for the money they spent on the stand or help the family to regularize the residential stand in line with the Government's expectations.

It is saddening to note that most women like her have to suffer the burden of being a woman, a mother and a wife in such a situation and are expected to offer emotional support to the family yet they are also victims of the Murambatsvina. Some of the women interviewed bemoaned that the operation will heavily affect relationships established in the communities and sources of livelihoods as well as social service benefits like Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM).

Some of the families affected have been staying in those areas for the past 7 years and it is astonishing and disheartening to note that the Government has only realized now that they are illegally settled yet at the same time it does not have a solution to their problem but only to leave them homeless. The plight of women must therefore be given careful consideration before any initiative is taken into action by the Government.

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