Zimbabwe: Mugabe's "tsunami" haunts victims of 80s army atrocities

BULAWAYO -- Fifty-six year old Mthulisi Dube slowly sips his tea during breakfast in a desperate bid to fend off the biting cold.
The breakfast consists of black tea, and two thin slices of bread.

Dube, who looks much older than his age, appears battered by the ravages of old age and poverty. Life has simply not been kind to him.

But here in this church hall, where he sought refuge after his home was razed to the ground in the government "clean-up" exercise, he appears completely at peace with himself, away from the prying eyes of society.

Dube is part of a large group of people in Bulawayo who sought shelter at churches after their houses were demolished in the government's "clean up" exercise, referred to in street lingo as Mugabe's "tsunami".

Victims of the clean up here say not only did the authorities destroy their houses -- they destroyed their will to live and re-opened old wounds from the Gukurahundi massacres of the early 80s which had almost healed.

President Robert Mugabe in the early eighties dispatched the army's North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade to Matabeleland and Midlands provinces to quell an armed rebellion by bands of former liberation war guerillas loyal to late vice-president and then opposition leader, Joshua Nkomo.

More than 20 000 innocent civilians from the minority Ndebele tribe that backed Nkomo perished during the crackdown referred to as "Gukurahundi" (the early rains that sweep away the chaff), which Mugabe later admitted was "an act of madness".

"Gukurahundi left people dead, people suffered, some were tortured and families were broken up. Now this "Murambatsvina" (government's code name for the clean-up exercise), has left people suffering," said Dube, who says he was tortured during the early 80s disturbances.

After he lost his job in the small Midlands town of Kwekwe some 20 years ago, Dube moved to Killarney squatter camp just outside Bulawayo. This was the place he called home for the past 20 years.

But early last month, the police reinforced by menacing soldiers razed the squatter camp to the ground rendering Dube and many others homeless. The government said the evicted people must go back "where they came from."

"To see your home going up in flames, even if you are not beaten, kuuraya munhu chaiko! (it's as good as killing the man). It's painful to see all your work and sweat go up in smoke just like that. But I am lucky because the church took me in. I could have died from the cold," said Dube.

The stories are the same from his colleagues here and from the others throughout the churches housing these internal refugees in Bulawayo. They are stories of misery and raw pain.

"I saw people being killed in Nkayi in the early 80s so I took my bicycle and cycled all the way to Bulawayo. Now it's war again, the soldiers are after us again with their guns," complained a man who refused to be identified for fear of victimisation.

At least one million people have been rendered homeless after their homes were destroyed in the "clean up" exercise the government says is necessary to restore the beauty of cities and towns.

The government also says the clean up will smash the illegal foreign currency parallel market blamed for Zimbabwe's economic ills.

The campaign has been roundly criticised by Western governments, church and human rights groups as an assault on the rights of the poor. The United Nations which dispatched a special envoy Anna Tibaijuka two weeks ago to probe the evictions has also expressed concern over the exercise.

Tibaijuka who left Harare last weekend after assessing the clean up, is expected to present her report to UN secretary general Koffi Annan soon.

A member of the Bulawayo Agenda pressure group, Gorden Moyo, also criticised the destruction of homes as "political lunacy" by Mugabe and his government.

"The wanton destruction of property and the looting of people's wares by overzealous security agents is the height of political lunacy only preceded by the genocide of the 1980s," said Moyo.

But for Sam Elijah Moyo, who is housed at one of the churches in Bulawayo, Operation Murambatsvina is a "silent war" (hondo ine runyararo).

"Gukurahundi was violent. People we beheaded, women raped, pregnant women disemboweled and homes burnt. This time with Murambatsvina, the police allowed us to take out our belonging before burning the houses.

"They did not openly kill anyone, but people will die quietly from hunger, the cold and diseases," said Moyo shaking his head in despair. - ZimOnline