Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe: Mugabe sweeps the 'trash' into the country

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Barely 24 hours after the police had forcibly removed the homeless victims of Mugabe's so-called "clean-up" operation from the churches where they had taken refuge in Bulawayo to a holding camp just outside the city boundaries, the police have forcibly moved them on again - this time dumping them almost indiscriminately in rural areas. From the speed with which this latest operation was undertaken it is evident that the police were under orders to clear the holding camp at Helensvale Farm of all its occupants without delay. Little or no consideration was given to the welfare of these destitute people rendered homeless by the Mugabe regime a few weeks ago or to their chances of finding shelter, food, water or other amenities in the famine stricken areas where they were dumped.
This further, again unlawful, forced removal of some of Zimbabwe's poorest and most vulnerable people, in breach of their fundamental human rights, is believed to be linked to the extremely critical report on the whole "Operation Murambatsvina" issued by the United Nations in New York yesterday.

One of the many victims who had been given sanctuary in the Brethren in Christ Church in Mpopoma township of Bulawayo, phoned the pastor of that church this afternoon to report that he had been transported, against his will and without any consultation, from Helensvale to the rural Tsholotsho. He has no family in the area nor prospect of finding accommodation or employment there. In another bizarre incident it emerged that three former street children from Bulawayo found themselves caught up in the police sweep through the churches on Wednesday night. They were taken to the Helensvale holding camp on Thursday and a day later were transported some 20 kilometres out of Bulawayo before being dumped on the roadside. By Friday evening the three exhausted, hungry and rather bemused street children had walked back into the city.

Of those spoken to by our reporter none had eaten since they were seized from the churches on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.

Our reporter also spoke to one of those women who had been involved in organising the provision of food to those previously sheltering in the churches. She expressed a particular concern about two orphaned babies, one aged 4 months and the other 7 months. While enjoying the shelter and provision of the churches these babies had been fed on baby milk formula and cared for by surrogate mothers, but what would become of them when removed from this support network? Other carers from the churches expressed grave concern about some of the frail elderly among the twice, now three times, displaced victims.

It is understood that a group of between 80 and 100 of those previously sheltering in the churches managed to escape the police sweep on Wednesday night and are still at liberty. Bulawayo pastors are meeting over the weekend to consider how they can move them safely, and with some basic provision of food, to rural areas where they will be safe from further police harassment. The church leaders concerned are also to consider how to re-establish links with their former charges, now widely dispersed across the surrounding rural areas, so as to see what further assistance they can render these hapless victims of the regime's brutal programme of forced removals.

Mugabe's "Operation Murambatsvina" (meaning "clear away the trash") was harshly condemned in the report, published yesterday, of the United Nations special envoy, Ms Anna Tibaijuka, to the UN Secretary-General. In remarkably blunt language the report describes the destruction of urban slums as a "disastrous venture" that has left 700,000 people without homes or jobs, violated international law and created a grave humanitarian crisis. By diplomatic convention a copy of the report was made available to Robert Mugabe two days ago. Which raises the question, apropos the latest human rights outrage, whether having been exposed for the criminal that he is, Mugabe actually thought he could get away with it by sweeping some of the evidence away - that is by sweeping "the trash" from the towns into country.