Zimbabwe: Mugabe swoops on the rich in eviction campaign

The Zimbabwe government yesterday widened its destruction of homes and backyard cottages to Harare's affluent suburbs, barely three days after bidding farewell to a United Nations envoy who was in the country probing the controversial home demolition campaign.

Armed police descended on the suburbs of Waterfalls, Hatfield, Hillside and Braeside ordering residents to pull down backyard cottages, tuckshops and other structures and save whatever building material could be salvaged.

Residents told ZimOnline that the police had warned them they would beat up those who disobeyed orders to pull down "illegal structures".

"I have demolished my tuck-shop in anticipation of the police coming," said Gladys Mucheche, a Waterfalls resident yesterday morning. "Police have been rough in other areas so we want to avoid trouble," said Mucheche, a nursery teacher who for the past five years has used the tuck-shop to supplement her wages.

Residents from the other affluent suburbs of Borrowdale, Mandara, Chisipite, Mount Pleasant, Queensdale, Rhodesville and Highlands were also demolishing cottages and other structures following instructions from the police.

The Member of Parliament for Hatfield, Tapiwa Mashakada, said: "They (police) are moving . . . in fact, residents are already destroying their own property out of fear of the police who are known to beat-up those that do not comply with their orders."

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena could not be reached for comment on the matter last night.

But a Harare police inspector Loveless Rupere at the weekend warned residents of high-income suburbs that the clean-up operation was being extended to their areas and that they should not resist orders to destroy cottages and other structures deemed illegal.

Most of the backyard cottages that the police have ordered demolished were being rented out by owners to families who do not have homes of their own. The Zimbabwe government estimates that about 130 000 families might have been left homeless by its clean-up campaign.

But the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party and non-governmental organisations say between 300 000 to a million people were cast onto the streets without food or water after their homes were demolished.

UN-Habitat head Anna Tibaijuka, sent to Zimbabwe to probe the mass demolition of homes by the world body's chief, Koffi Annan, told journalists before departing Harare that she was leaving with sad memories of poor families struggling for accommodation after the police razed down their houses.

Tibaijuka, who spent two weeks touring Zimbabwe, is expected to submit a report on her findings to Annan in about two weeks time. Annan has deferred UN action until Tibaijuka's report. Continental powerhouse South Africa has also hinted it could act after the UN envoy reports back.

The European Union, Commonwealth, United States, Zimbabwean and international human rights groups have roundly condemned the demolitions as a gross violation of poor people's rights.

Harare says the clean-up drive is meant to smash crime and to restore the beauty of Zimbabwe's cities but the MDC, which has more support in cities, says it is a ploy to punish urban residents for rejecting President Robert Mugabe and his ruling ZANU PF party in last March's disputed election. - ZimOnline