A Peoples Government?

I have just come in from visiting the squatter camps at Kilarney outside Bulawayo. They have been there since independence in 1980 and are home to a transient population of homeless people who live in makeshift shelters. You can see how long they have been there by the trees and shrubs that have been planted.

Today there were just smoking ruins of what had been homes. The people were sitting with what they had left - a few blankets and pots and sticks. Perhaps an item of furniture or two. We saw armed Police still at work with smoke billowing up behind them in the valley below us. A local Pastor said to us that they had threatened him when they found him talking to the people in one settlement.

There are three separate camps - all told I am informed, about 2000 men, women and children. The site is on a barren hillside facing south and tonight we will have sub zero temperatures and a southeast wind blowing all the way from the artic across South Africa.

Three days ago they were warned - move or else. Many started to dismantle their meager homes, many simply ignored the threat. Today several Chinese made military vehicles arrived with a number of armed police onboard and these then went from settlement to settlement burning homes and ordering the people to move by tomorrow (Sunday) or face the destruction of their personal belongings.

This community of the poorest people in the country will spend tonight out in the open. Local Pastors said they would go in after the Police left the area to assess needs and to ask the people what they wanted to do. 90 per cent have nowhere to go at all.

Last week I saw a similar exercise in Dulibadzimu - a township in the Border town of Beitbridge. My estimate then was that in that exercise at least a third of the total population of the town would be rendered homeless. I personally put 5 families into my workshop until they can find an alternative. A widow I know, Mrs. Siphali, came to me and said they have destroyed my home and I have three children in local schools - one about to write O levels. "What can you do" she asked?

What makes this pogrom against the absolute poor so evil is that it is at the worst time of the year - mid winter. There has been little warning and no preparation of any alternative accommodation and the exercise is being carried out nationwide - millions of people are involved. If this were not stopped I would estimate that at least 2 million people - many of them children - will be rendered homeless and destitute. Without access to social amenities, water and sanitation.

Many will take the only route to safety - across the Limpopo and South Africa will have to brace itself for another influx of economic refugees from Zimbabwe. This time however they will be desperate and will be prepared to do anything to make a bit of money and I mean anything.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo 11th June 2005