Operation M victims still homeless

Decade of suffering with no respite

The Daily News – Pindai Dube  

6 April 2014

BULAWAYO - Ten years on, Operation Murambatsvina victims are still homeless countrywide, with government’s promises for better housing still a mirage for the hapless victims.

In 2005, President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF government launched a countrywide house demolition campaign dubbed Operation Murambatsvina which left thousands of Zimbabweans in urban and peri-urban areas homeless under the pretext of clearing unplanned settlements.

The State claimed then it was cleaning up the cities and towns from trash and would provide better houses under Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle.

The United Nations condemned Operation Murambatsvina as inhumane saying 700 000 people were left homeless by the operation.

In Bulawayo, high density suburbs of Makokoba, Njube, Mpopoma and Hyde Park were the most affected in an operation that targeted most urban areas in the country.

But  a decade on, thousands of Operation Murambatsvina victims are still homeless, living miserable lives in squatter camps surrounding cities and towns countrywide, and they believe government has forgotten about them.

“I used to stay in the old suburb of Njube and my home was demolished under Operation Murambatsvina. We were then taken to Arda farm, 40km away in police trucks and dumped without any government support system.

After one year, I decided to move back to Bulawayo with my family and resettled here,” said Sipho Ndlovu (48) a father of four who is now a resident of Ngozi Mine squatter camp located in outskirts of Bulawayo along Victoria Falls road.

Ngozi Mine squatter camp is also Bulawayo City Council’s dumping site and there are over 150 families staying there.

“It seems the government has completely forgotten about us. We have not received any compensation from government as promised since our houses were demolished and we don’t even know who benefited from the so-called Operation Garikai houses,” added Ndlovu who survives through selling scrap metals he picks from the dumping site.

Another Operation Murambatsvina victim, Jerome Tshuma (51), who is also chairperson of Ngozi Mine Squatter Camp Residents

Association said he does not foresee the government fulfilling its promises of providing them with better houses.

“We were just made to fill some forms soon after our homes were demolished 10 years ago and up to now, nothing has happened.  We haven’t been given an explanation on why we did not benefit from Operation Garikai which authorities claimed was meant for us.

“I cannot foresee the government providing us with decent homes now, when they failed to do that in the past ten years,” said Tshuma.

Just over 500 Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle houses units were built in Bulawayo’s Cowdray Park high density suburb and its occupants are mostly civil servants.

In Killarney squatter camp, located in the eastern side of Bulawayo, residents also pilloried government for failing to provide them with descent accommodation 10 years after demolishing their homes.

“Life is hell here. We are living like destitutes in these plastic shacks and we have nowhere to go after our homes were demolished in Makokoba, said Jane Ndebele (43) a widow and Killarney squatter camp resident.

“During Operation Murambatsvina in 2005, we were dumped at Spring Farm, along Harare road but we came back and settled here.

The camp has 117 families living there.

“When we approached the city council for help they openly told us that we were staying here illegally and Operation Murambatsvina, which affected us, was a government programme and we should get help from government,” Ndebele added.

But when contacted, Local Government and National Housing minister Ignatius Chombo said all Operation Murambatsvina victims benefited from Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle housing project.

“Those who are saying have not benefited are lying, otherwise they prefer to stay in those squatter camps while renting out their houses.”

When challenged to produce the list of Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle beneficiaries Chombo said: “I don’t have it for now, but what I know is that everybody benefited.”

Currently, there are over 1,2 million people on the government national housing waiting list.

Bulawayo mayor Martin Moyo said Operation Murambatsvina was purely a government programme which had nothing to do with the city council.

“The government has to deal with the mess it created and make sure Operation Murambatsvina victims are resettled well.

“City council has its own housing projects where people on the waiting list buy stands from council and build their own houses. We used to build low income earners’ houses on behalf of residents under the World Bank programme, but that has since stopped due to lack of funding,” said Moyo.

In the 2014 national budget, there was no allocation of funds to housing sector by government, and this has raised fears of derailment of the National Housing Policy.

The National Housing Policy document launched by President Robert Mugabe last year is a reference point which guides and harmonises the housing delivery sector.

According to the policy document, government will facilitate savings by financial institutions involved in housing delivery, foster exploration of sustainable and broad-based avenues for formal housing finance to complement mortgages and housing micro finance.

The policy would facilitate an audit of all urban land assets and estimate demand in line with urban growth trends and will consolidate policy improvements like parallel and incremental development.

It also empowers housing institutions to approach international development institutions involved in housing finance for recapitalisation.