Last week, about a month after the Zimbabwean government demolished people’s houses as part of Operation Murambatsvina, I went back to Harare to see what had become of those displaced by the so-called urban renewal programme. I stood on the ruins of what used to be Joshua Nkomo Heights. This settlement, in Harare’s western Kambuzuma township, had become home to hundreds of former veterans of Zimbabwe’s armed struggle. It had about 400 houses before the demolition. Now, plastic shacks have sprung up from the ruins. In one of these shacks I found Never Nyatwa, whose five-roomed house was demolished. He vowed that he would not leave, even though the government had been withholding food relief in an attempt to force them to move. Nyatwa lives in the shack with his wife and 20-year-old unemployed daughter. He said they had been told that they had to move to a holding camp or relocate to their rural village in order to qualify for humanitarian aid. “Before the demolition, I was a self-employed motor mechanic and sustained my family. Why should I now move to a holding farm for handouts?” asked Nyatwa.
Another victim, Alphios Maseko, said: “We were doing well for ourselves until this government decided to turn us into a humanitarian case. I feel like a child now because I can’t do anything for myself. I still don’t know why houses were demolished, because, as you can see, proper houses have been replaced by plastic shacks. Shacks have mushroomed in every destroyed settlement,” said Maseko. The ailing Maseko, who moved to Harare from Bulawayo two years ago, said his health had deteriorated since he was made homeless because he no longer had access to healthcare due to a lack of income. “As you can see that I am sick, there is nothing I can do for myself and have to be cared for by friends like a child because of a campaign I will never understand. My condition will worsen if I move to a holding camp because there will be no one there to care for me. I will just wait to see if they send bulldozers again,” said Maseko.
I travelled to the next settlement, Whitecliff Farm, about 20km west of Harare. Last month, Whitecliff Farm was a hive of activity, with servicemen clearing the land for what the government called the “start of the massive reconstruction programme for those displaced by the clean-up exercise”. However, last week I counted only 68 two-roomed RDP-type housing units under construction - but there were no servicemen. Construction was at a standstill on this particular day. About 100 prison inmates could be seen clearing more land, helped by hordes of graduates of the National Youth Service. These youngsters form part of the government’s “building brigade”, tasked with delivering on its ambitious programme. One of the youths told me that trucks meant to deliver building material had been grounded by fuel shortages. Even Mashonaland East provincial governor Ray Kaukonde, a Mugabe ally, lamented the slow pace of the reconstruction programme in his province, where 260 units are due to be constructed. He said it would be difficult to cope with a huge influx of thousands of people displaced from Harare.
As ministers and senior gover