The week of 26 November to 1 December 2006 saw seven civil society representatives from different African countries visit Zimbabwe on a mission coordinated by CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition. The aim of the mission was to provide an opportunity for regional civil society and the international community to offer solidarity to Zimbabwean civil society during the country's current humanitarian and human rights crisis. The mission also sought to discuss with various stakeholders the ways and means in which civil society can effectively respond to the repressive legislative environment for civil society, and assistance that can practically be provided from abroad.
The visiting team met representatives of civil society including those from non-governmental organisations, women, students, business, trade unions and faith-based groups, as well as individuals in government and opposition parties. They informed the visitors about the high levels of serious violations of human rights, such crimes as rape and torture and the struggles of ordinary Zimbabweans to attain a decent standard of living. They were also informed of the efforts of the courageous human rights defenders who are challenging the system and demanding respect for and restoration of basic human rights, despite ongoing intimidation and arrests. They observed considerable mistrust of government by civil society and general intolerance of opposing views, even among civil society.
Members of the visiting team attended public meetings in Harare and Bulawayo organised by Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, which were held on the 28, 29 and 30 November. At the public meeting held on 28 November, in one of the high density suburbs, the team observed that participants were vehemently opposed to the way the government is dealing with the situation the country is in. They expressed serious disagreement with the way government is operating, including the emphasis on "operations" or projects, without any programme to resolve the main sources of the crisis in the country which they identified as one of governance and legitimacy. "There is no respect for human rights. There are very high levels of corruption and very low levels of service delivery, while prices of these same services have increased considerably and there is no accountability from those in authority," explained one of the participants. The City of Harare had just recently indicated plans to drastically increase the rates and other municipal charges. Residents complained that refuse removal was not being undertaken and that they sometimes go for days without water.
At the public meeting held in Bulawayo, participants expressed similar sentiments to those in Harare regarding engagement with the government, with some taking a hard line in favour of more defiance, active resistance and demonstrations. In both meetings, young people were the strongest in expressing the view that the government can only be removed through a violent resistance, considering that authorities have resorted to using brutal force against demonstrators, even women - some with children on their backs.
At the 'think tank' meeting held on the morning of 29 November with a variety of participants from civil society, the opposition and churches, the majority of participants rejected 'The Zimbabwe We Want: Towards a National Vision for Zimbabwe' document which was the focus of the meeting. Most did so based on positions already taken by their respective constituencies, some of which had already met and discussed this issue. They believe that this so-called initiative of the churches was in fact part of the government's strategy to derail them from their own initiative under the Christian Alliance's Save Zimbabwe Campaign.
At all public meetings, the team observed a high degree of intolerance towards opposing views, even among civil society leaders. Those who suggested engaging the government were booed into silence. This is a cause for concern.
The team members visited an informal settlement south of Harare where around 200 families are living, having been affected by Operation Murambatsvina in 2005. The informal settlers indicated that their shacks, made out of motor vehicle scrap metal and black plastic sheets, had been destroyed more than five times, but that they cannot leave as they have nowhere else to go. They survive from handouts given by well-wishers and doing small jobs, such as digging the fields of residents from the nearby townships.
The team was denied entry into Hopley Farm in the south of the Harare where some of the Operation Murambatsvina survivors are, as the management of the camp insisted that this was a government project and could only be accessed after obtaining permission from the colonel in charge of Operation Garikai / Hlalani Kuhle. Thus the team was not able to talk to survivors of the clean-up operation now confined inside Hopely Farm. The team then abandoned the planned visit to Caledonia farm to the east of Harare which they were informed was similarly guarded and therefore likely to be inaccessible without a permit from the authorities.
The team then divided into two groups with one going to Porta farm approximately 30 kilometres west of Harare while the other toured Mbare township in the south to see the telltale signs of the forced destruction of housing in these two areas. Those who visited Porta farm were not able to speak to people around the former settlement, but saw signs of the forced evictions such as charred clothing and the remnants of many houses that had been destroyed. Team members also viewed the 'before' and 'after' Operation Murambatsvina aerial pictures of the former settlement obtained by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and Amnesty International for their report "Shattered lives - the case of Porta farm" which allowed them to envision the extent of the removal exercise. Team members touring Mbare saw piles of building rubble on the edges of the township roads and in some cases, cement floors inside the yards of some houses indicating where housing structures had been pulled down.
Visits to the homes of some of the survivors of Operation Murambatsvina in Chitungwiza permitted team members to speak with some of the house owners who were forced to destroy their backyard buildings during the clean-up campaign. Most complained of being forced to live in crowed small houses with their children who previously occupied the now demolished outbuildings.
Some members of the team were also taken to a walled industrial stand in Chitungwiza that was said to have housed small-scale industries and businesses where they saw the remnants of the demolished structures.