Zimbabwe: Evicted Bulawayo residents moved to holding camp

BULAWAYO -- More than 300 people, who were being sheltered by churches in Bulawayo after their homes were demolished by the government, have since last week been moved to a state holding camp at Helensvale farm, 20 km north-west of the city.
Church leaders, who had refused to move the over 2 000 displaced people to the holding camp until basic amenities such as tents, toilets and clean water were in place, yesterday said they were "satisfied" with the facilities installed at the farm.

The religious leaders, assisted by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), continue to be responsible for the welfare of the families at the green-tented transit camp.

More of the displaced families still in church halls across Bulawayo will be vetted and sent to Helensvale or to their original rural homes, according to Zimbabwe National Pastors' Conference chairman, Raymond Motsi.

"We continue to play a very significant role in deciding who goes where and what happens and the NGOs are very much behind us. The most important thing is that the government has minimal input in terms of what's going on here and the church is the bigger influence," Motsi said.

The families, part of close to a million people displaced by the government's clean-up campaign countrywide, are supposed to remain at Helensvale for up to three months before they can find more permanent places to stay.

Conditions at another state holding camp, at Caledonia farm near Harare have been condemned by local and international human rights groups. A South African Council of Churches delegation that visited the overcrowded Caledonia last week described the situation there as shameful and absolutely unacceptable.

More than 4 000 people are staying at Caledonia without adequate clean water, food or toilets. Most of the people spend the cold winter nights in the open because there are no enough tents.

Bulawayo church leaders from various denominations fearing that Helensvale could become another Caledonia, persuaded the government not to relocate displaced people to the camp until conditions and facilities there were in line with internationally accepted standards for internally displaced people.

Helensvale is easy to spot along the highway from Bulawayo to the fading tourist town of Victoria Falls with its rows of neatly pitched green tents bearing the Red Cross and Red Crescent logo.

One hundred tents have been pitched so far to accommodate the 66 families that have moved in since relocation began last Wednesday. A family of five is allocated a tent while individuals, teenagers or single parents share five to a tent. Trench toilets have also been dug and are already in use.

The United Nations Children's Education Fund (UNICEF) provided five water tanks with a capacity of 5 000 litres and also has a bowser to replenish supplies as there is no running water on the farm.

World Vision is providing food rations comprising mealie-meal, cooking oil and dried beans. Churches provide sugar, salt, fresh vegetables and other food items that World Vision does not supply. Each family cooks its own meals at a communal open air kitchen.

A tent that serves as a clinic has been pitched where volunteer doctors who visit the camp to attend to the sick operate from. Children are expected to enrol at a primary school about two kilometres away on a neighbouring Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (ARDA) Estate.

The government however keeps a close watch on what goes on at the camp. Two police officers in plain clothes are stationed at the entrance to the farm round the clock to monitor who goes in and out of the camp.