HomePoliticsOne year on, Murambatsvina victims still homeless

One year on, Murambatsvina victims still homeless

Augustine Mukaro

HUNDREDS of thousands of victims of the widely condemned Operation Murambatsvina are still homeless, jobless and destitute, exposing government&#82

17;s failure to accommodate people displaced in its ill-conceived blitz on squatters last year.

Government’s failure to provide for the displaced people raises questions as to whether the $3 trillion availed to fund Operation Garikai was put to good use.

A media tour this week, marking the start of eight weeks of Murambatsvina commemorations, revealed shocking living conditions and a deteriorating situation for the majority of the victims. Even those who benefited from the much-touted Operation Garikai moved into houses that have not been completed.

In Mbare, Spiwe Hukwe and hordes of other displaced families still live in the open along Mukuvisi River.

Hukwe said they were denied entry into Hopley Estate because they were latecomers.

“People at Hopley said they would only accept those brought to the compound by the police,” she said.

“We are constantly raided by riot and municipal police, demolishing all structures we put up on this open space. We go into hiding during police raids and come back later to put up these structures.”

What Hukwe calls home is a two-square-metre space surrounded by loose bricks piled almost knee high. The roof of the structure is plastic sheeting, which she can easily remove in the event of a raid. The structure houses five other people.

At Hopley Estate, social welfare officer Ezekiel Mpande barred journalists from entering the camp saying they should get clearance from the Garikai secretariat.

The newly established secretariat in the Ministry of Public Construction is headed by a Colonel Gwanetsa.

However, residents who managed to slip out of Hopley camp told heart-rending stories of their plight, accusing government agencies of ill-treating them, distributing donor food on partisan lines and denying them access to government-built houses in favour of soldiers, prison officers and other state-linked people.

“Hopley remains a security zone,” Boas Muchimwe, a resident on the camp, said.

“We are always guarded by soldiers, prison officers and others. Anyone visiting us is rigorously vetted before they can be allowed in.”

A boom gate manned by security guards in black uniforms is mounted at Hopley’s main entrance to ensure that no one gets into the camp unnoticed.

In Chitungwiza, thousands of former self-employed people whose roadside shops were destroyed last year complained about constant raids saying they had lost a lot of goods.

The government launched Operation Murambatsvina in May last year ostensibly to rid towns and cities of criminals and to clean up illegal structures. Subsequent investigations however suggest that the operation was a preemptive strike on planned anti-government demonstrations against the deteriorating economic situation in the country.

The Chitungwiza residents blamed government for failing to provide alternative areas for people to either live or conduct their businesses.

“Government has not given us an alternative area to operate from,” one trader said. “The majority of these people have nowhere to go or other means of survival since their stalls were destroyed.”

NGOs promoting human rights said government blocked them from providing assistance to the needy, a situation they said could worsen the plight of the clean-up campaign victims.

An international medical aid organisation, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), said several victims of last year’s controversial government clean-up exercise could not access life-prolonging drugs, putting them in danger. In its latest report covering the period January to March this year, the MSF said at least 10% of the 371 patients they had attended to at Bellapaise Farm in Epworth, were in desperate need of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs).

“Unfortunately there are no referral options anymore for these patients who require ARVs because the waiting lists are full until the end of the year,” says the report.

“This is a serious concern; how many patients will survive until the end of the year? The high cost of CD4 counts needed before starting ARV treatment is also a barrier to many; patients are currently being charged between $3,6 million and $10 million for laboratory tests.” The report says most of the patients who are living in squalid conditions at the farm will not survive until the end of the year.

At least 600 people are living on the farm after their houses and backyard shacks were destroyed in a clean-up exercise defended by President Robert Mugabe as necessary to rid cities of squalor and crime.United Nations special envoy Anna Tibaijuka said the clean-up exercise left at least 700 000 people homeless and affected another 2,4 million in various ways.

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