Remember the Victims of Murambatsvina
When the Murambatsvina operation was mounted by the government of
in 2005 it was directed at those who occupied illegal dwellings in
areas and who operated informal businesses to support themselves and
families. According to the United Nations subsequent report on this
operation 700 000 people were rendered homeless and some 2,4 million
affected in some way by the exercise over a period of three months.
In Bulawayo, one of the target areas was the squatter camp at Killarney
to the south of the City near the Old Nick Mine. This area was home to
2000 people who had built small mud and grass homes and drew water from
nearby urban settlements. The area was adjacent to low-density housing
many found work there or traveled into town to work in the informal
Whitestone Church together with other local Churches adopted this
and operated a small Church there for the people. The Church supplied
periodic humanitarian aid of different kinds (blankets, food and
the community. A pastor was employed to care for their needs together
other informal settlements around the City.
When the army and police moved in to destroy these homes, the Churches
rallied their members and a modern form of the Dunkirk evacuations took
place with people arriving in horse boxes, cars and trailers as well as
small trucks and even a 7 tonne truck to move the assets of the people
three church halls in the City until such time as something could be
for them. In the end 217 families were moved, others choosing to stay
relatives elsewhere, and this constituted about 1500 men, women and
They were accommodated at three Churches - the Methodist and Anglican
Churches in Hillside and the Presbyterian Church in the City centre.
Conditions were crowded but adequate and the Churches helped with
and food. The children were introduced to a short-term programme of
After three days, in the early hours of the morning, military trucks
at all the Churches accompanied by armed soldiers and police. The
were loaded onto the trucks and taken out into the rural areas. No
was made to try and find out where they would like to go, they were
dumped in the rural areas - in many cases up to 200 kilometers from
Killarney. They were simply left on the side of the road to try and
their way into the local community for help.
The church responded by trying to locate all the people involved and to
continue assistance as best they could. The Pastors eventually found
majority and resumed care and supplies of essential needs. This
through to today although at a much lower level. The principal player
this operation was Pastor Albert Chitindo and he has maintained a
this operation from its inception.
According to Albert, the Pastors involved have conducted burials at the
of 2 to 3 a week amongst this displaced community since their eviction
their homes. Many returned to Killarney to try and rebuild their lives
have been displaced and their homes destroyed for a second time. In
urban centers this process continues - last week 28 homes were burnt
their contents destroyed by Police in the Kwe Kwe area for instance.
By our rough count half the community displaced from Killarney has died
since 2005. The main reasons have been malnutrition, starvation,
(the 2005 and 2006 winters were especially cold) and diseases. The main
casualties have been the children and men. The latter succumbing to
hopelessness and despair when they were unable in any way to either
or provide for their families.
The actual numbers of people displaced by Murambatsvina may in fact
been significantly higher than the UN estimated. Those estimates were
on official figures given to the UN team by the State. In one small
Beitbridge the total numbers of displaced were estimated at 22 000 out
official numbers in the town of 50 000 - over 40 per cent. However
housing situation in Beitbridge was particularly poor and informal
settlements extensive. 70 per cent of the displaced population remains
homeless in Beitbridge.
In Harare the numbers affected by the operation were very substantial
destruction of informal and even some formal housing was widespread and
involved hundreds of thousands of homes in areas such as Mbare township
the most densely populated urban settlement in the country.
Despite promises, the provision of housing for these displaced people
stopped completely. A major housing scheme at Cowdrey Park outside
has several hundred half finished dwellings - many of which are
illegally by squatters and many are only partially complete. There are
services to these 'Garikai' homes. The same situation applies to
urban centers including the major Cities.
The objective of the Murambatsvina exercise was not to control illegal
settlement but in fact to reduce the urban population. The regime in
had discovered in the 2005 elections that the urban areas now held a
majority of the people in the country for the first time and were
that these populations could not be controlled for political reasons in
same way as in the rural areas. In particular they were concerned about
informal sector businesspersons who are the basic strength of the MDC.
Through this exercise the regime sought to drive out of the urban areas
many as a million people. They did not care where they went to or what
happened to them so long as they left the urban areas. If they died or
to South Africa or remained in the rural areas under the jurisdiction
traditional leaders, they would be neutralized politically. That was
How many have died as a direct result? Hundreds of thousands! My own
goes out to all those Dads and even Grand dads who have died of a
heart and despair let alone all those little brown children who died of
exposure and hunger. For me, this is another form of genocide,
it was totally unnecessary.
Bulawayo, 17th October 2007