Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Zimbabwe driving out the "rubbish"

The NY Times describes "Operation Murambatsvina" in Zimbabwe, which is not getting nearly enough attention in the west:

HARARE, Zimbabwe, June 10 - The government abruptly began demolishing shanties and roadside markets here three weeks ago, evicting thousands of people and bulldozing homes or burning them to the ground, in what officials call a cleanup of illegal slums and black-market vendors.

But as the campaign, directed at as many as 1.5 million members of Zimbabwe's vast underclass, spreads beyond Harare, it is quickly evolving into a sweeping recasting of society, a forced uprooting of the very poorest city dwellers, who have become President Robert G. Mugabe's most hardened opponents.

By scattering them to rural areas, Mr. Mugabe, re-elected to another five-year term in 2002, seems intent on dispersing the biggest threat to his 25-year autocratic rule as poverty and unemployment approach record levels and mass hunger and the potential for unrest loom.

The United Nations estimates that the campaign, Operation Murambatsvina, using a Shona word meaning "drive out the rubbish," has so far left 200,000 people homeless and 30,000 vendors jobless. Human rights and civic leaders say the numbers could be several times that, a view that seemed plausible during a four-day visit to Harare and Bulawayo, the nation's second-largest city, and points between.

No matter the precise numbers, the campaign is clearly one of the most aggressive steps yet taken against the Zimbabwe population by a government that has in recent years met rising international condemnation for stifling its opponents.
Related stories on this from IPS, Al Jazeera, and the Glasgow Sunday Herald.