Victims of Operation Murambatsvina still in limbo

VICTIMS of the government-sponsored Operation Murambatsvina are still stranded in filthy shacks five years after the government brutally razed their homes under the pretext of eliminating illegal settlements in urban areas, according to findings by respected local and international rights groups.

Many have been forced into squatter camps where, with no running water, toilets and food, they risk life and disease daily.
Victims and organisations say the inclusive government’s response to Operation Murambatsvina victims has been lethargic.
Amnesty International (AI), which campaigns for the protection of human rights, said Zimbabwe must take action to protect hundreds of thousands of people left to survive in substandard settlements. The government, AI said, should find money to compensate victims, most of who have sunk into deeper levels of poverty.
AI and several local organisations recently undertook a study on the effects of Murambatsvina, five years on.
Their findings, released on Tuesday May 18, the date the government launched Operation Murambatsvina five years ago, show how victims are living in dire conditions.
“It is a scandal that five years on, victims are left to survive in plastic shacks without basic essential services,” AI Zimbabwe director Cousin Zilala said.
“The needs of these victims are at risk of being forgotten because their voices are consistently ignored,” Zilala said.
According to a UN report on the evictions, 700 000 people were directly affected by the programme, which targeted illegal settlements, backyard buildings and informal businesses such as flea markets.
AI worked with Combined Harare Residents Association, Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Association, Zimbabwe Human Rights Lawyers Association and representatives of Murambatsvina victims in the study.
Those affected by Operation Murambatsvina rapidly became invisible; forced to relocate to rural areas, absorbed into existing overcrowded urban housing or pushed into government-designated settlements, according to the findings.
Felistas Chinyuku, a victim and former chairperson of the Porta Farm Residents Association, said the settlement, which housed over 10 000 people on the outskirts of Harare, was destroyed despite the community obtaining several court orders barring authorities from carrying out evictions. Chinyuku now lives at Hopley Farm on the outskirts of Harare, where the majority of residents stay in make-shift housing.
“Five years have passed and many of us are still living in tents,” she said. “There are no schools, no health services and very little sanitation. This is no way for humans to live.”
Residents of Hatcliffe Extension settlement in Harare faced similar injustice in 2005 when the authorities disregarded lease agreements and destroyed their homes.
“Operation Murambatsvina achieved the opposite of the publicly stated objective – restoring order. In Harare, it resulted in overcrowding in poor neighbourhoods with as many as three families sharing a four-roomed house,” said Lorraine Mupasiri of CRHA.
“We are particularly concerned about the rising housing backlog in Harare. More than half a million people are on the waiting list.”
Women have been especially affected since they form the majority of informal market traders and in many cases are the primary providers, not only for their own children but children orphaned by the Aids pandemic, said AI.
A housing programme introduced to counter the international rage that followed Murambatsvina failed to get off the ground.
Known as Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle, the housing scheme has been a failure, with most structures built under the programme proving uninhabitable because they lack proper sanitation facilities.
“They (Operation Garikai houses) have no floors, windows, water or toilets. Communities living in designated resettlement areas are dependent on humanitarian assistance and self-help initiatives for their survival,” said Zilala. –– Staff Writer.

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