13 April 2014

Zimbabwe: 'They Don't Care About the Poor, Vulnerable'

editorial

A picture of 14 children struggling to get a morsel of sadza is hardly an image that we want to see 34 years after independence.

The picture taken at Chief Rusambo's homestead, deep in Rushinga, Mashonaland Central, and published in this paper last week succinctly portrays how life for the children has been turned upside down after they were evicted from Spelenken farm in Mazowe two months ago.

Food is in short supply and so is shelter at the homestead of the big-hearted chief who has welcomed the families who desperately needed assistance after being dumped there by police.

The sad thing is that three months ago these families were looking forward to a bumper harvest in Mazowe. Little did they know that government had sinister plans to remove them from the area.

We all know the First Family has huge interests in the area, and there are no prizes for guessing who is going to benefit once all the families residing there have been removed.

Unless there was last minute intervention by non-governmental organisations last week, the cold spell that has gripped the country over the past few days is hitting them hard. When you live in the open, there is little one can do to mitigate the effects of the chilly weather.

Strangely certain people in government don't seem to realise that people are not animals; that they are meant to stay in homes and not in the open. They don't care about the predicament of the poor, the old and the chronically ill who have been left without shelter.

While floods may have precipitated the wholesale eviction of people in Tokwe Mukosi resulting in the creation of Chingwizi transit camp where 18 000 people are living in inhumane conditions, there is no justification to have families who were once living happily in the Mazowe valley all of a sudden become homeless.

The debacle shows that we have a government which, instead of protecting its people, is the perpetrator of human rights violations. Zimbabweans, even the poor farming community close to the President's huge farm, deserve and are entitled to human dignity, shelter and food.

Tragically, all these become unattainable once they are kicked out of their homes by baton wielding police.

Authorities do not seem to care that the rights of people are violated once they are dumped in areas where they cannot access food, health and school facilities.

Nobody, including President Robert Mugabe, seems to care about the humanitarian consequences of these on-going displacements happening with alarming frequency.

Unfortunately we have seen these violations before when government embarked on a widely condemned clean-up operation in 2005 that was dubbed Murambatsvina.

The operation left 700 000 people homeless after bulldozers razed their houses.

The scale of the human suffering and devastation that occurred prompted then Secretary General Koffi Annan to dispatch Anna Tibaijuka, a special envoy on Human Settlement Issues to assess the deteriorating humanitarian situation.

Tibaijuka saw firsthand how Mugabe's actions had caused untold devastation in Harare.

After leaving Harare, she produced a 100 page damning report showing the demolitions were "carried out in an indiscriminate and unjustified manner, with indifference to human suffering, and in repeated cases with disregard to several provisions of national and international legal frameworks."

In a bid to cover-up its crimes, government embarked on Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle which was meant to provide housing to the victims of the operation. Due to resource constraints, the programme was doomed from the start.

Nine years later, after Tibaijuka recommended that those who orchestrated Murambatsvina be prosecuted, government is planning yet another clean-up in Chitungwiza.

Ignatius Chombo, the minister of Local Government announced last week that government would demolish "illegally built" houses located on wetlands and on land reserved for other projects without council approval.

"We want an orderly city," Chombo declared. "We need sanity and a well-planned city. People should stop fraudulent land sales by self-styled barons who are eager to sell land not belonging to them."

"What human rights are there to talk about when people settle where they are exposed to dangers."

It is strange that Chombo, who wants to see sanity in the dormitory town did not raise a finger in protest when Zanu PF land barons sold the land to the people who are now on the verge of being homeless. Most of these land sales occurred during the time when Zanu PF wanted to secure votes in the area.

If Chombo was unhappy with houses being constructed on wetlands, why didn't he instruct his officers to stop the barons from selling stands in the area? Why were the homeseekers allowed to build on wetlands?

It is distressing to note that a decision has already been made to demolish the structures, yet no plan has been made to house the affected people.There is no doubt the looming evictions will bring untold suffering to families that will be left without shelter as winter approaches.

Zimbabwe is party to the convention on Economic, Social and Cultural rights, which prohibits a country from evicting people without having made alternative plans for them. This won't stop another Murambatsvina from occuring.

The planned demolitions will create another humanitarian crisis at a time when government is failing to provide decent shelter and food to 18 000 people at Chingwizi. No plan has also been put in place to assist the people who were evicted from Mazowe valley.

The manner in which government is moving forward with illegal evictions shows total disregard for people's well-being.

Government does not think about human suffering. The weak, the vulnerable and the poor have no protection under this government!

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