Zimbabwe: SA church leaders want Mugabe to call off clean up drive

JOHANNESBURG - South African church leaders yesterday called on the Zimbabwe government to stop its urban clean-up campaign and said they will visit Harare again in four days time as they mobilise pressure on President Robert Mugabe to call off the controversial campaign.

The South African Council of Churches (SACC) made the call after a two-day meeting in Johannesburg to review the findings of a fact-finding mission that returned from Zimbabwe earlier this week.

The mission that was headed by Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane said it was shocked by living conditions at Caledonia farm holding camp for thousands of families displaced by the government campaign.

SACC president Russel Botman told the Press the council felt "pain and shock" as it reviewed a report prepared by Ndungane's mission on its findings in Zimbabwe.

"They (the government) have no idea what to do with the people (evicted from their homes), and this is the sadness of it," Botman said.

Botman, who estimated that between 800 000 and a million poor Zimbabweans may have been cast onto the streets by Mugabe's urban renewal campaign, said the new mission that leaves Johannesburg for Harare on Monday will attempt to engage all political, business civic and religious leaders in a bid to find a common solution to the crisis created by the mass evictions.

The SACC will also organise vigils in South Africa to raise awareness of the suffering poor Zimbabwean families are enduring in the open after their homes were destroyed by the government. The council will also attempt to mobilise international relief for the families.

The international community has roundly condemned Mugabe's urban clean-up drive as a gross violation of poor people's rights. Zimbabwe's main opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, which is most supported in urban areas, says the campaign is meant to punish city residents for voting for the opposition party in a disputed election last March.

But Mugabe says the destruction of city backyard cottages and shantytowns is vital to smash crime and restore the beauty of Zimbabwe's cities and towns. - ZimOnline