Zimbabwe facing 'humanitarian crisis': S. African bishop

Harare (dpa) - South Africa's Anglican archbishop of Cape Town believes Zimbabwe is facing a "humanitarian crisis'' following the government's campaign of shack demolitions that has left at least 300,000 people homeless, his spokesman said.

Spokesman Matthew Esau, in remarks late Monday after Archbishop Njongonkulo Ndungane and an 11-member ecumenical group of South African church leaders had met Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, said that Ndungane had the impression that "certainly Zimbabwe is in a humanitarian crisis''.

"The situation here reminded him (Ndungane) of Somalia,'' said Esau, in reference to the effects of the Indian Ocean tsunami that battered the East African country's coastline last December, which Ndungane had seen for himself.

"In Somalia it (the crisis) was naturally-caused, and here it's caused by a government,'' noted Esau.

Since mid-May, Zimbabwean police have been demolishing houses, cottages, backyard shacks, flea markets and squatter camps as part of what the government says is a campaign aimed at curbing crime and easing pressure on overcrowded towns and cities.

In addition to creating homelessness, up to 750,000 people have lost their livelihoods, human rights groups say.

Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says the police are trying to drive opposition supporters out of urban areas into the countryside where Mugabe's ruling Zimbabwe African National Union -Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) is dominant.

Esau said Archbishop Ndungane, together with his counterparts who include officials from South Africa's Methodist, Dutch Reformed and Roman Catholic churches, held a 45-minute meeting with Tsvangirai on Monday evening.

The delegation, which arrived Sunday, is due to return to South Africa on Tuesday. On Monday the group toured Caledonia Transit Centre, outside Harare, where they were reportedly "shocked'' by the conditions under which at least 5,000 displaced people are living.

Esau said the church leaders' findings would be presented to a meeting of the central committee of the South African Council of Churches where "proposals for the way forward'' would be discussed.

When asked if what the church leaders had witnessed in Zimbabwe would be used to try to influence the South African government's policy towards Zimbabwe, Esau replied: "That's certainly not being ruled out.''

South African President Thabo Mbeki has been criticised by the West and Zimbabwe's MDC for his government's policy of "quiet diplomacy'' towards Mugabe's government.

They say Zimbabwe's economically-powerful neighbour is in a prime position to pressure Harare into carrying out democratic and human rights reforms. dpa rt ds


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