Court fends off second eviction of Harare families

Some 250 Zimbabwean families facing forced removal from their makeshift homes for the second time in three months have been granted a last-minute reprieve after a High Court ruling nullified their eviction notice.

The group of families were first evicted from their homes in Mbare township in the capital, Harare, earlier this year when the government embarked on its urban clean-up campaign, Operation Murambatsvina, or Drive out Filth. Two weeks ago they were again instructed by the police to leave their new shelters.

Arnold Tsunga of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights told IRIN: "These people had had enough. Many are without sources of income and the conditions in which they are living are far below standard. Fortunately, they sought legal assistance in time and were granted this reprieve."

The eviction order was made after the arrest of more than 14,000 illegal vendors and dealers in foreign currency and fuel during follow-up operations to the demolition blitz.

Tsunga explained that the provisional order meant that neither the police nor the Harare municipality could effect the eviction without following the law.

"There are a number of key considerations which must be adhered to before any eviction is carried out. Firstly, families facing possible eviction need to be given adequate notice; alternative accommodation should be provided; and the eviction should be carried out in good weather," he pointed out.

Moreover, a government officer had to be present during the eviction and police carrying out the removals should identify themselves.

Tsunga, however, pointed out that should the police decide to go ahead with an eviction without considering the provisional order, "there really isn't anything we can do".

"We can hope that there is some kind of political will to adhere to judicial order, but by and large, we cannot influence the actions of the police," he added.

Chairman of the Combined Harare Residents Association Mike Davies said: "This is indeed a minor victory for those families, but whether or not this is a sea change or an aberration remains to be seen. It is important for the judiciary to reassert its independence from the state."

A United Nations report released in the aftermath of the eviction campaign said the demolitions had left 700,000 people homeless or without sources of income, while a further 2.4 million were affected to varying degrees.