Zimbabwe: Harare accuses SA churches of pushing political agenda

HARARE - The Zimbabwe government last night said it would not bar South African churches from delivering aid to thousands of people displaced by its controversial urban clean-up exercise but accused the churches of pushing a political agenda under the guise of aid.

The South African Council of Churches (SACC) yesterday dispatched 6 000 blankets and 37 tonnes of food to Zimbabwe to be distributed to the most vulnerable groups in the crisis-hit country as part of "Operation Hope for Zimbabwe".

Zimbabwe State Security Minister Didymus Mutasa, who also oversees distribution of food aid, told ZimOnline: "Surely we are not going to stop them, we will let them come and hand out the aid but they will not find any victims of Operation Murambatsvina because there are beneficiaries of Operation Garikai."

Murambatsvina is the government's codename for the clean-up exercise while Garikai refers to a reconstruction drive that the government says it is undertaking to provide housing for people left homeless after their city backyard cottages and shantytown homes were demolished by the police.

Earlier last month, two SACC delegations that visited Zimbabwe expressed shock at the scale of the disaster and human suffering caused by Harare's clean-up drive and urged Mugabe to halt the exercise.

The church leaders immediately announced after their fact-finding mission that they were planning a massive relief campaign to assist thousands of families evicted during the exercise that has also been criticised by Western governments and international human rights groups as a violation of the rights of the poor.

President Thabo Mbeki last month endorsed efforts by the SACC to raise humanitarian support for victims of Mugabe's urban renewal drive.

South African Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane last night told journalists the religious body would meet Mbeki soon to discuss United Nations envoy Anna Tibaijuka's report condemning Harare's clean-up exercise.

"The president indicated to us that he would like to meet us to engage on the United Nations report," Ndungane told reporters.

On the pavement outside the SACC office in Marshall street, Johannesburg, Ndungane prayed for "sanity" to be brought to the leadership of Zimbabwe.

But Mutasa said only the Harare authorities were best placed to know the people in need of help than foreign clergymen and accused the SACC of hypocrisy alleging that the church movement in South Africa had failed to help Zimbabweans at their "greatest hour of need during the country's liberation struggle".

He said: "This (aid) is really not intended for what they say it is supposed to be, that's not true. They are doing it to help the MDC (Zimbabwe's main opposition Movement for Democratic Change)."

Mugabe has defended the widely condemned blitz, justifying it on the need to restore order in cities and towns and to douse a thriving parallel market for foreign currency and basic commodities.

Tibaijuka two weeks ago issued a damning report on the Zimbabwe government's demolition of houses and called on Harare to stop the controversial campaign which she said also violated international law.

The UN said at least 700 000 people were rendered homeless by the demolitions and another 2.4 million directly affected by the campaign. Zimbabwe has rejected Tibaijuka's report saying it was biased and hostile. - ZimOnline