Zimbabwe: 'Mugabe made us into refugees'

Yesterday was World Refugee Day. Many Zimbabweans have been left homeless and struggling to survive as a result of the government's senseless 'Operation Murambatvina' - a policy of 'clearing out the trash', which manifested itself in the destruction of homes, trading stalls and the theft of property. What kind of leaders, are these, who destroy peoples' homes at the height of a harsh winter leaving women and children at the mercy of the elements? What kind of mind conceives such an evil and heartless thought? We asked a supporter to write us a piece that included real-life stories of Murambatsvina refugees in Zimbabwe. Names have been changed in this article.

It is winter again, a time when the majority of Zimbabweans are reflecting on the beginning of the most barbaric and catastrophic act, by a totalitarian regime, in 2005. The satanic act, which was engaged without proper consideration of the repercussions, continues to wreak havoc on the lives of millions of poor Zimbabweans. Since 2005, winter has been characterized with bitter memories of the loss of homes, house hold property, flea markets, offices, the pain from beatings and torture and unfortunate deaths of some loved ones, during another act of madness by Mugabe, the second after Gukuruhundi.

Mugabe, Chihuri and Chombo defended "Op M" (Operation Murambatsvina) as a clean up exercise meant to wean the unwanted garbage, which later turned out to be humans in the form of city dwellers, perceived to the sympathetic to the opposition MDC.

Tempers were beginning to boil two months after another rigged 2005 parliamentary election which pitted the ruling Zanu PF party against the MDC, giving the ruling party the required two thirds, to amend the constitution. To counter a possible uprising, Mugabe acting upon intelligence from the JOC (Joint Operation Command) embarked on the operation which not only caused massive sufferings but invited condemnations from the UN and the world over.

Society was disintegrated, those with rural homes leaving towns for good. The remaining folks were with either forcibly moved to unknown places or detention centers where they were quarantined. Sources of income were destroyed and rentals shot to alarming rates, making the cost of living in cities very high. The drama is still unfolding.

Sally Phiri (35), a mother of three and a widow, had her flea markets along what was formerly Union Avenue and Rezende Street, closed, losing all her wares in the process (the Police and City Police claimed vendors goods for themselves).

"I lost everything, they took goods worth $30 million by then, I remember a police officer complaining that we should suffer because we voted for MDC" Sally Phiri said.

Back home, Sally's brick walled cabin was destroyed in Mbare, leaving her with nowhere to go. As a 'Phiri', Sally's origin is Malawi - a country she has never even visited before. At the Malawi High Commission, she was asked to denounce Zimbabwean citizenship before attaining Malawian status since she is above 21 years of age. The dilemma Sally found herself in has reduced her to a beggar, and she now lives in the open air in the same yard of her former lodgings.

Sally's new home has beds, wardrobe, cardboard boxes and plastic functioning as walls, exposing her and her three children to cold and rain.

Sally Phiri is not the only one in this predicament. Currently in most high-density areas of Harare, families are still sleeping in the open, especially in back yards. Those with houses had their extensions destroyed leaving as much as twelve people in the same family sleeping in two or three roomed houses. Thus the social moral fibre has been eroded since boys and girls are forced to sleep in one room.

"All I need is a place where I can access a toilet and clean water. I will never forgive Mugabe and his people for doing this to me" said Sally.

In Kuwadzana Stembile Moyo (38) a divorcee and mother of four now lives in an old and disused car at a former home industry site where the only toilet was closed. The place has no clean water and the few families now living there fetch their water from a well, where litter such as "used condoms" are found.

"I cannot afford to pay rent anymore so I was chased from by lodgings. I am a vendor at a beerhall as well as a lady of the night, but I am still finding it tough because customers are shying away because of the HIV/AIDS scourge" said Moyo.

Both Phiri and Moyo expressed bitterness at the criteria used by the Zimbabwean government to allocate "Operation Garikayi" stands and homes. Coincidentally they both registered to benefit from "GariKai" at the same time but were shocked to hear that only civil servants from the Zimbabwe Republic Police, Zimbabwe National Army, Air Force and Zanu PF activists and other government departments benefited instead.

Those allocated stands at Snake Park, Hopely Farm and Calidonia Farm, have however not been allowed to finish building, not even their toilets. The places do not have running water except at Caledonia farm, where an NGO donated a borehole, which also feeds the entire Tafara area. The plastic walls demarcating the houses have been blamed for fueling prostitution as privacy no longer exists.

School girls have also been reported to be engaging in prostitution as well because their families were displaced by Op M and forced to relocate to areas far from their schools. Parents are failing to give them bus fares, leaving them vulnerable.

In the run up to the Budiriro by-election in 2006, unconfirmed reports from MDC indicate that, most people who registered to benefit from Op Garikayi had their names obliterated from the voters roll. MDC argued that without a general nation wide election, there was no way the government could have known who might have relocated from Budiriro. In essence the Mugabe regime started their preparation for the 2008 election long back.