By Cris Chinaka
HARARE – UN humanitarian envoy Jan Egeland met Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe on Tuesday over the world body’s criticism of a government urban slum clearance campaign that has left thousands of pe
The two met at Mugabe’s offices in Harare a day after Egeland toured two settlements where families have been huddling in makeshift plastic tents after their houses were destroyed.
The United Nations said in a report that the campaign, characterised by Mugabe as a vast reconstruction programme, was carried out “with indifference to human suffering”.
The U.N. says the evictions, which Mugabe argues were meant to root out illegal trade in scant basic commodities, left 700,000 people homeless or without a livelihood and affected 2.4 million others.
Egeland’s tour is the second by a senior U.N. official since the demolitions ended in May. In July, special U.N. representative Anna Tibaijuka finished a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe and later issued a report saying the campaign was carried out in an “indiscriminate and unjustified manner”.
On Monday Egeland said he had seen evidence of a “great shortage” of shelter among victims of the slum demolition programme and said men, women and children were living in very bad conditions.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is also expected to visit the country, but has not set a date yet.
In November Harare accepted a UN offer to help the homeless after initially rejecting it on the grounds that the demolitions did not constitute a humanitarian crisis. About 2,500 houses are expected to be constructed under the programme.
Critics say the slum clearances worsened the plight of Zimbabweans grappling with the country’s worst economic crisis since independence, widely blamed on government mismanagement.
Zimbabweans have wrestled with shortages of food, fuel and foreign currency, unemployment over 70 percent and one of the highest rates of inflation in the world.
Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, denies responsibility for Zimbabwe’s crisis. He says that his domestic and international opponents have sabotaged the economy in retaliation for his programme of seizing white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to blacks.
Egeland was expected to visit the western Matabeleland region later on Tuesday before heading out to neighbouring South Africa where he will hold talks with the government of President Thabo Mbeki on closer collaboration and finding cash for a new US$500 million emergency fund. — Reuter