Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe: Harare presses on with demolitions

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HARARE -- Zimbabwe police yesterday destroyed an industrial and office block in Harare's red-light Kopje district barely three days after the government announced it was temporarily halting its controversial urban clean-up exercise.
The office complex at the corner of Speke Avenue and Luck Street in Kopje, housed general dealers in spare parts, coffins and wooden furniture.

Harare announced last Friday that it was stopping its controversial urban clean-up drive under which it has demolished houses, informal trading stalls and offices, casting close to a million people onto the streets without shelter, food or a means of livelihood.

According to weekend media reports, President Robert Mugabe and his government had called off the clean-up drive to fulfill conditions set by South Africa before it could loan Zimbabwe about US$1 billion to buy urgently needed food and fuel.

Pretoria is said to have told Mugabe and his government they would have to call off the clean-up drive that has drawn harsh criticism from Western governments and international human rights groups before the money could be made available.

Police spokesman Wayne Bjudzijena could not be reached to establish whether the law enforcement agency was under fresh orders to resume demolitions of houses and office buildings deemed illegal.

Police details interviewed by ZimOnline at the Kopje office building said they were "under strict instructions" to demolish the building, adding that they did not take orders from newspapers, in apparent reference to reports carried by the official Herald newspaper last Friday saying the government had temporarily halted the clean-up campaign.

"We don't take our orders from newspapers. We are under strict instructions to destroy this place. It is full of foreigners that are involved in shoddy deals," said one police officer.

Tenants, most of them believed to be Nigerian businessmen who have flocked to Zimbabwe since the country's economic crisis began to worsen five years ago, watched in shock and horror as armed police and bulldozers razed the property to the ground yesterday morning.

A few lucky ones were able to grab one or two pieces of furniture or some stationery before the rest went down with the building into one huge heap of rubble.

The demolition of the Harare building happened as a South African Council of Churches (SACC) delegation arrived in Zimbabwe yesterday on a follow-up mission to work out how the SACC could mobilise international relief for people displaced by the clean-up exercise.

The SACC visited Harare last week and issued a damning report condemning Mugabe and his government for inflicting untold misery and suffering on poor urban families through their home demolition programme.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has promised to back the SACC's attempts to raise relief for the evicted Zimbabwean families.