Zimbabwe: Mugabe's clean-up victims flock back to squatter camps

BULAWAYO -- About 200 people expelled to rural areas under the government's controversial urban clean-up campaign have flocked back to squatter camps near Bulawayo city because there is no food in the villages.

Church leaders in Zimbabwe's second largest city on Tuesday said dozens of families forcibly evicted by the government from Killarney and Ngozi Mine squatter camps, just outside Bulawayo, were back at the sites rebuilding their destroyed shacks.

A spokesman of Churches in Bulawayo (CIB), grouping together several religious organisations helping the displaced people, predicted many of the people evicted from shantytown homes and city backyard cottages would return to the city in the coming days.

"At the moment, about 200 people are back in these camps (Ngozi and Killarney) but the number is likely to rise as we continue to get reports of people literally struggling to make ends meet in the rural areas," the CIB official Paterson Netha, said.

He added: "Those that we have spoken to say there is no food where they had been resettled. Others say local chiefs met them with a hostile attitude."

The church official urged the government to abandon rhetoric and appeal to the international community for food aid for the displaced people.

According to United Nations envoy Anna Tibaijuka, at least 700 000 people were left homeless and without food or income after the government destroyed thousands of homes and informal business kiosks in a campaign President Robert Mugabe has said was necessary to smash crime and restore the beauty of Zimbabwe's cities and towns.

Tibaijuka said another 2.4 million people were also affected by the clean-up campaign codenamed Operation Murmbatsvina (Operation Drive out Filth) by the state.

The UN envoy, who said the government exercise may have violated international law, said it had also worsened the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe where four million people or a third of the country's population were already facing starvation after a poor harvest last farming season.

The Harare administration has complicated the hunger situation by placing obstacles to outside help for the victims of its clean-up exercise. More than 30 tonnes of food donated by the South African Council of Churches took more than a month before the food could be handed over to hungry people because the authorities would not timeously clear the aid.

Mugabe, who earlier this week criticised the United States for focusing on the Zimbabwe home demolitions while neglecting its own victims of Hurricane Katrina in the US Gulf Coast, has also blocked efforts by the UN to raise US$30 million worth of aid for victims of the clean-up campaign.

But the UN is expected to send a top official to Harare in the coming weeks to negotiate with Mugabe's government to let in humanitarian aid from the world body. - ZimOnline