SA churches gear up for massive Zimbabwe relief campaign

HARARE - A South African church group on an aid mission in Zimbabwe said on Tuesday the challenges created by President Robert Mugabe's home demolition programme would see the churches undertaking their largest ever relief campaign.
Irvin Abraham, the South African Council of Churches delegation's spokesman told ZimOnline last night that the group was, together with the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, creating a data base of the affected people and the assistance they require.

Aid groups say at least 300 000 people have been left homeless by the government's blitz on city backyard cottages and shantytown homes but the opposition puts the figure at 1.5 million people.

"I have no doubt that this will be the biggest appeal being undertaken by the South African churches," Abraham said after meeting with Zimbabwe church groups. "There will also be international appeals because of the scale of the challenges and already there are some pledges from some churches," he added.

The demolitions have attracted international condemnation from the Commonwealth, European Union, among others and last month led United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to send a special envoy to investigate the operation.

President Robert Mugabe has defended the crackdown as necessary to rid urban settlements of crime and to end black market trading in basic commodities in short supply in Zimbabwe.

The government has however temporarily halted the operation in more affluent suburbs a move seen as buckling to pressure from South Africa, which has reportedly asked the government to end the demolitions.

Harare officials, including central bank governor Gideon Gono last week met his South African Reserve Bank chief, Tito Mboweni, to discuss a possible financial rescue package for crisis-hit Zimbabwe.

Annan's office on Tuesday said the UN boss would receive his envoy's report in the coming days and would study its contents to determine the next steps to be taken by the UN.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, designated the point-man on Zimbabwe by United States President George W. Bush and other key Western leaders, has also said he will act after the UN report is released.