Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe: Mugabe hands over incomplete houses to clean-up victims

CHINHOYI - The Zimbabwe government on Monday handed over incomplete houses to homeless families in the farming town of Chinhoyi before ironically accusing the United Nations (UN) the following day of wanting to build sub-standard houses for hundreds of other shelter-less Zimbabweans.
The more than 100 Chinhoyi families were left without homes or means of livelihood after the government destroyed their shantytown homes and informal business kiosks in a controversial urban clean-up campaign that the UN said left at least 700 000 Zimbabweans on the streets without income or shelter.

President Robert Mugabe's government, bowing to unusually harsh and severe criticism from the UN and from Western governments, local and international human rights groups, promised in July to build better houses for people displaced by the urban renewal exercise.

But the Executive Mayor of Chinhoyi, lying 120km north-west of Harare, Ray Kapesa told some of the displaced families during a ceremony to hand over the incomplete houses to them that they would have to finish building the houses on their own because the government was broke.

"As you all know that this programme had no resources, we are appealing to you to accept these houses as they are. Those who can afford to finish off the houses should please do so as a matter of urgency," said Kapesa.

The admission by Kapesa, a senior member of Mugabe's ruling ZANU PF party, that the government did not have money to build houses for people whose homes it demolished is the first time a senior official of either the government or ZANU PF has publicly conceded that the government does not have money to build homes for all the displaced families.

Economic analysts had warned that the Harare government was taking up more than it could handle by launching the home building programme codenamed "Operation Garikayi" when it was already hard pressed for cash to buy critically needed fuel, food, electricity and several other basic survival commodities in short supply in the country.

The UN, which called Mugabe's urban renewal campaign a violation of human rights and internal law in a harshly worded report last August, has offered to mobilise food aid and to provide temporary accommodation for victims of the clean-up exercise.

But the Harare government has accepted the food only and rejected the tents the UN was offering as temporary shelter, with Mugabe telling the world body's envoy, Jan Egeland, that "Zimbabweans were not tent people".

And on Tuesday this week, Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo publicly castigated the UN - which has now agreed to help build temporary brick and asbestos houses for displaced Zimbabweans - of designing a sub-standard house model because the world body looks down upon Africans.

Chombo, who called the semi-permanent house model an insult to Africans, vowed that the Harare government would not accept it, saying the UN should instead build permanent houses of at least two rooms each.

But UNDP resident representative in Zimbabwe and the world body's humanitarian co-ordinator in the southern African nation, Agostinho Aquarius, dismissed Chombo's claims as insincere. Addressing journalists in Harare a day after Chombo's public outbursts, the UN co-ordinator said the house model that the Local Government Minister was crying foul about was in fact designed by UN and Zimbabwean technicians.

The UN has had an uneasy relationship with Harare, with Mugabe accusing the world body of allowing itself to be used by powerful Western nations out to punish his government for seizing land from whites and giving it over to landless blacks.

The world body denies Western influence and says its criticism against Mugabe's policies are out of legitimate concern for ordinary Zimbabweans without food, jobs and shelter after five years of acute economic recession.