Operation Murambatsvina victims return to informal settlements

BULAWAYO – Many of those affected by the Zimbabwe government’s controversial Operation Murambatsvina clean-up campaign are still waiting for the new houses the state promised them.

Among them is Munetsi Takadini, 57, whose two-roomed shack in Bulawayo’s oldest suburb, Mako

koba, where he had lived with his family of eight for over 20 years, was demolished during the campaign.

Five of his school-going children have had to drop out due to distance and financial constraints since he lost the income from his backyard shoe-repair business when such informal enterprises were also outlawed by the government during the clean-up campaign.

Two weeks ago Takadini watched from his tent in Cowdry Park, west of Bulawayo, as the government handed over completed houses and stands to other victims of the clean-up campaign. So far 5,000 people have been allocated stands and houses under the reconstruction programme.

“We were told that we would be the first to be given houses. I have been on the housing waiting list for over 12 years, but my name is not on the list of beneficiaries of the housing scheme because I can’t afford the deposit,” he complained.

The deposit ranges from $600,000 (US$8) to $7million, depending on the size of the house.

Dubbed ‘Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle’, the government reconstruction initiative aims to roll out 1.2 million houses a year, with 4,900 being built within a few months.

But its criteria for the allocation of houses, which include payment of the initial deposit, proof of formal employment and a specified salary, have made them unaffordable to people displaced by Operation Murambatsvina, like Takadini.

As a result, four of Bulawayo’s old informal settlements have slowly come back to life.

At the Methodist Church in Bulawayo’s central business district, Nokuthula Mpofu, a mother of four, waited to receive her monthly allocation of maize-meal and beans sourced by 150 pastors under the Churches of Bulawayo banner, which has been assisting displaced people.

“I have been on the housing list for many years, but when I realised that I wasn’t one of the beneficiaries and could not afford the deposit, I returned to the squatter camp,” she told IRIN.

Mpofu was one of many residents who returned to Matsha’amhlophe informal settlement, which was deserted for three months after being destroyed during Operation Murambatsvina.

Martha Nyakuni of the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation said a large proportion of those displaced by the clean-up campaign had not been accommodated in the first phase of Operation Garikai.

“These people were staying in shacks – not because they wanted to, but because they could not afford the rental in decent houses,” she pointed out.

Nyakuni added that the implication was that the 5,000 beneficiaries of the first phase of Operation Garikai were gainfully employed and had not been affected by the demolitions.

The government required all urban councils to produce lists of intended beneficiaries for housing so that it could “vet the names in terms of ability to pay, which includes earning a government-scale salary”.

A Human Rights Watch report, ‘Evicted and Forsaken’, highlighted the plight of the people displaced by Operation Murambatsvina in December.

It said Operation Garikai had little to do with a humanitarian relief effort, as the vast majority of the internally displaced would not be among its beneficiaries because they were unlikely to meet the criteria for ownership of the new houses.

The report also said the number of houses being built was “negligible” compared to the hundreds of thousands of people rendered homeless by the evictions; a concern echoed by UN Humanitarian Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland during his recent visit to the country.

Addressing Parliament last week, President Robert Mugabe said his government was committed to providing decent houses to those displaced by the clean-up campaign.

Although the Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, Ignatius Chombo, admitted that many displaced people were yet to be included in the government’s housing scheme, he was confident that the government would be able to accommodate them.

“We never said we would accommodate everyone at once – this programme is moving in phases,” Chombo told IRIN. “Of course, it is true that some deserving cases are still without accommodation, but they should not worry because the next phase is theirs. We hope to be through with the reconstruction programme by May next year.” — IRIN

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