Chronology of events since housing domolition, Zimbabwe

News and Press Release
Originally published
1. The affected communities

The communities affected by the ongoing evictions in Zimbabwe are all those of poor residential and informal settlements within and surrounding the major urban centres including Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Mutare, Kariba, Chipinge, Victoria Falls. The clean operation has also affected those who are employed in the informal sector.

2. Reasons for the evictions

The Zimbabwean government says that Operation Murambatsvina ('Restore Order'), which literally means 'drive out rubbish', is necessary for ridding the country of its criminal elements. This operation is aimed at:

Eradicating illegal and unhealthy homes

- Eliminating black-market dealings in scarce commodities such as petrol and mealie meal (the food staple)

- And clamping down on illegal foreign currency trade

- General beautification of the cities

There are many unofficial speculative reasons for the clean operation which will not advance the cause of the thousands who have been rendered homeless over night.

3. Approximate number of people affected

It is estimated that over 300,000 people have been affected by Operation Murambatsvina-Restore Order. So far, at least 250,000 people have been left homeless and approximately 30,000 vendors have been deprived of their livelihoods, some of the vendors have been arrested and made to pay varying fines for contravening city council by laws.

Zimbabwean police have arrested 32,435 people and demolished 21,194 so called illegal structures nationwide since the operation began on 19 May. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing estimates that a total of 2-3 million people are targeted in the campaign.

4. Background to the Evictions

Zimbabwe recently held national elections. The ruling ZANU-PF party won a resounding majority of seats in Parliament, despite the contestations of the elections in certan quotas. Zimbabwe has a population of about 12.5 million almost half of which live in urban areas. Zimbabwe has an unemployment rate averaging over 80%, of which the majority of the unemployed depended on the informal sector; inflation is pegged around 130-145 %. There are also severe shortages in other food stuffs, fuel and basic commodities.

It is within this context that Operation Murambatsvina-Restore Order was officially started on 19 May 2005. President Mugabe initiated this campaign to rid Zimbabwe of what he told Parliament was "a chaotic state of affairs" in the nation's cities and towns.

The result has been that the evictions of 250,000 people without provision of alternative accommodation or sufficient notice. Additionally, 30,000 street vendors have been arrested for trying to sell their wares. The evictions have destroyed people's livelihoods leaving people to survive out in the open on cold winter nights. Some children have reportedly died during the demolitions and police are restricting civil society providing assistance to those affected.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing recently appealed to the authorities to halt the mass forced evictions, and reminded the government of Zimbabwe that various resolutions by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights clearly stated that 'the practice of forced eviction constitutes a gross violation of human rights'. Zimbabwe has not heeded the calls and Operation Murambatsvina-Restore Order continues to evict the urban poor and destroy informal trading.

5. The main events that have taken place so far are as follows:

17 May

Housing demolition and eviction starts in Chitungwiza, Harare.

19 May

Operation Murambatsvina-Restore Order officially begins and 550 people are arrested in Harare alone. A freelance journalist filming police as they cleared Harare's central business district of street vendors is detained.

23 May

Police in Zimbabwe continue demolishing thousands of shacks and vendors' kiosks along a 10km roadside stretch of curio stalls at Victoria Falls. 20,000 families are affected by evictions in Beitbridge. In Bulawayo, evictions target informal traders in Nkulumane, Emganwini, Entumbane and the city centre confiscating their goods in the process. In these areas that were raided, informal traders were legally licensed and had paid to be allowed to operate by the council.

26 May

Evictions erupt in Hatcliffe Extension in Harare. 9,000 people are evicted, 2000 of which are evicted at gunpoint, even though they had lease agreements issued by government. 7,000 arrests are made in the town of Gweru.

27 May

In Chipinge, the police order people to abandon work and destroy their stalls.

28 May

3,000 paramilitary police and armoured troop carriers descend on suburbs such as Glen Norah, Glen View and Mbare in Harare to evict residents.

29 May

Evictions start taking place in Kariba.

30 May

Evictions commence in Victoria Falls resulting in 35,000 people losing their homes. It is reported that 9,000 illegal structures are destroyed in the Mutare suburb of Sakubva. People are evicted from Mbare, Harare's oldest township and men, women and children watched their flimsy homes go up in flames.

2 June

Zimbabwean police raid Harare's townships destroying 'illegal shelters', leaving 10,000 homeless.

4 June

In Chinhoyi, 620 gold prospectors are arrested for smuggling gold out of the country or selling it in the parallel market rather than to the central bank.

6 June

ZWNews reports that Zimbabwe cannot afford to buy bread to feed the nation. However, the destruction of livelihoods continues with Operation Murambatsvina-Restore Order.

9-10 June

The MDC leads a strike in protest at Operation Murambatsvina-Restore Order.

12 June

Bulawayo's oldest suburb, Makokoba, is hit by evictions and has several homes razed to the ground. In Killarney and Ngozi Mine settlements of Bulawayo, 2,000 residents are the victims of government evictions.

13 June

The Zimbabwean government bars humanitarian groups from assisting thousands of families whose shanty homes and informal businesses were destroyed by Operation Murambatsvina-Restore Order.

14 June

Armed riot police descend on the popular Green Market in Mutare and burn market stalls belonging to licensed informal traders.

15 June

SW Radio Africa reports that almost a million Zimbabweans are left homeless by police evictions and demolitions of about 190,000 homes.

16 June

Police in Bulawayo destroy so-called illegal houses in Entumbane, Njube and Mzilikazi. In the Harare area, the Mukuvisi River becomes home to scores of squatters whose illegal shacks were destroyed by the police during the on-going clean-up operation in Mbare.

17 June

It is reported by ZWNews that police move into rural areas to demolish homes built without permission on some of the thousands of farms seized by government from their white owners under the controversial Zimbabwean land reform programme.

18 June

ZWNews reports that more than 300,000 children of informal traders and city squatter families in Zimbabwe have left school since the destruction of their homes.

19 June

Mugabe warns priests and churches not to assist or house the victims of evictions and demolitions.

In Victoria Falls, a man is beaten up by police for working in his small vegetable patch instead of building his house. In one of the communities at Victoria Falls all the shacks were burnt and the residents were told that they could not erect any form of shelter. Those that can afford to have left for their rural homes but a majority are still in the settlement.

20 June

Dialogue on Shelter reports that the past week has seen evictions in Harare's Mufakose, Kuwadzana, Dzivarasekwa suburbs and the dormitory town of Chitungwiza affecting an estimated 100,000 people.

22 June

Zimbabwe police, having evicted and demolished homes, start demolishing the vegetable gardens the urban poor rely on for food saying that the crops planted on vacant lots are damaging the environment.

28 June

The police razed to the ground dwellings at Porta Farm affecting close to 1,500 families and households. People being moved to Caledonian Farm this was in contempt of a court order granted to the family in the High and Magistrate Court.

6. Future threats

Presently, Operation Murambatsvina-Restore Order is largely affecting urban areas. However, future evictions threaten rural areas. There are reports of police moving into rural areas to demolish homes built without permission on some of the farms seized from their white owners for redistribution to black Zimbabweans. In some of the peri-urban areas court orders had to be obtained to stop the evictions and destructions.

In the meantime hunger and disease threaten evictees. In the wake of Zimbabwe's economic crisis and Operation Murambatsvina-Restore Order, many evictees and the homeless face the prospect of malnutrition and starvation. Epworth, outside Harare is reported to be dangerously overcrowded. This is a result of displaced people moving to Epworth to rebuild their homes. The growing numbers of people being accommodated in this 'eviction free' suburb is cause for concern. The potential for violent riots increases daily and the inadequate facilities available for such a large population could lead to a disease outbreak.


3 June 2005

The following statement was issued today by Miloon Kothari, Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on the right to adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living:

The Special Rapporteur on adequate housing today addressed an urgent appeal to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Zimbabwe urging the Government to immediately halt the mass forced evictions reportedly taking place in the country.

The Special Rapporteur reminded the Zimbabwean authorities of their obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which the country ratified in 1991.

He drew attention in particular to General Comments no. 4 (1991) and no. 7 (1997) of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which state that "forced evictions are prima facie incompatible with the provisions of the Covenant and can only be carried out under specific circumstances", imposing certain requirements which State parties to the Covenant must respect, including the need for States to take the following steps:

First, States must ensure, prior to carrying out any eviction, that all feasible alternatives are explored in consultation with the affected persons, with a view to avoiding, or at least minimizing, the need to use force;

Second, legal remedies or procedures should be provided to those who are affected by eviction orders, along with adequate compensation for any property affected, both personal and real;

Third, in those cases where evictions are considered justified, they should be carried out in strict compliance with the relevant provisions of international human rights law and in accordance with the general principles of reasonableness and proportionality.

Additionally, evictions should never result in rendering individuals homeless or vulnerable to the violations of other human rights. Governments must therefore ensure that adequate alternative housing or resettlement is available for all those affected before executing an eviction order.

The Special Rapporteur further reminded the Government of Zimbabwe that United Nations Commission on Human Rights resolutions (for example, unanimously adopted resolution 1993/77) have clearly stated that "the practice of forced eviction constitutes a gross violation of human rights". Zimbabwe is a member of the Commission.

The Special Rapporteur urged the Government to reply to his appeal on an urgent basis, providing detailed information on the events and on the measures taken to ensure compliance with Zimbabwe's international law obligations under the human rights instruments it has ratified.