AKRON, Pa. and STRASBOURG, France -- Hundreds of thousands of people in Zimbabwe have lost their homes after a government "cleanup" operation. Many are sleeping in the open in what is the coldest time of the year.
In response, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is providing funds for 5,000 blankets to shelter homeless families and accepting donations to pay for blankets. Mennonite World Conference (MWC) is calling Anabaptist and MWC-related congregations across the globe to a July 24 day of prayer for Zimbabwe's current situation and an impending drought and economic hardship.
Conservative estimates indicate that more than 250,000 people have been displaced since late May, when Zimbabwe police and army personnel began Operation Murambatsvina ("Restore Order/Clean Up"), according to Action by Churches Together (ACT). Amnesty International reports that three people have died as a result of the displacements.
The government has stated the campaign targeted illegal and informal businesses, purportedly illegal structures and houses, street children, homeless people, street traders and foreign-currency dealers. Government officials have promised to address the housing crisis.
The demolition of shelters and market stalls and the removal of informal traders began in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, and spread across the nation.
Even before demolitions began, Zimbabwe was facing a drought, almost no harvest and a collapsed economy. According to ACT, demolitions destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people at a time when Zimbabwe's unemployment rate is estimated at 70 percent.
"In Bulawayo as in all the other towns many of us watched helplessly as the vendors fled while their stalls were destroyed and their wares confiscated," report MCC Zimbabwe representatives Doris and Jethro Dube.
"The nights are very cold. Some of the people sleep in the open. We just need to do something as soon as possible," reports Bishop Danisa Ndlovu, Brethren in Christ of Zimbabwe and MWC vice president. "These people have many needs, as some lost everything including clothes."
MCC is providing some $75,710 Cdn./$60,000 U.S. to purchase and distribute the blankets to people being assisted by churches in Bulawayo. The blankets will be purchased in Zimbabwe. Donations to pay for the blankets are being accepted through designated gifts to the Zimbabwe Assistance Fund.
MCC and Bishop Ndlovu worked together with churches in Bulawayo to develop the project, which will be carried out in July and August by a Christian task force that was set up to respond to the needs of the displaced people.
The Brethren in Christ Church in the United States has provided $6,310 Cdn./$5,000 U.S. to the Brethren in Christ Church in Zimbabwe for emergency relief, and MWC officials report a number of inquiries from people who want to respond to needs in Zimbabwe.
On July 24, MWC is asking Anabaptist congregations across the globe to join Zimbabwe churches in prayer for the nation and those who have been displaced.
"Prayer changes things! In the midst of the many challenges that this our nation is going through we pray that God will demonstrate that he is God ... show us the great and mighty things which we do not know ... God's will, will always be the best for us," Bishop Ndlovu said.
Bishop Ndlovu noted he was moved that a late June interdenominational prayer meeting at Bulawayo Central Brethren In Christ Church brought Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Evangelicals and Pentecostals together to pray for the country and displaced people.
Send your check marked "Zimbabwe
Assistance Fund" to MCC at PO Box 500, Akron, PA 17501, or call (888)
563-4676 in the United States.
In Canada, mail your check to MCC at 134 Plaza Drive, Winnipeg, MB R3T 5K9, or call (888) 622-6337.