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ZIMBABWE: Human rights body files for stay of forced evictions

Johannesburg, 1 June 2005 (IRIN) - A leading human rights organisation has filed for a stay of the forced eviction of informal settlers in and around the Zimbabwean capital, Harare.

"About 200,000 people have been affected in the demolition drive - and many of them have papers to prove that they were legal occupants with lease agreements," said Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) director Munyaradzi Bidi.

ZimRights, along with its partner organisation, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, filed the application in the Harare High Court on Tuesday and it is expected to be heard on Thursday.

The eviction campaign began two weeks ago in Harare and has officially been billed as an operation "to rid the capital of illegal structures, businesses and criminal activities", but Bidi said it has now moved outside the capital and is affecting informal businesses in outlying rural areas.

"The operation was not properly planned. Thousands of people's livelihoods and traditional markets, like the Mbare Musika, have been destroyed - which is devastating when people are already facing economic hardships. No one was given time to make alternative arrangements for accommodation," he told IRIN.

Mbare is Harare's oldest township and the Mbare Musika market is a landmark; it is also the largest outlet for indigenous craftwork and traditional medicine in Zimbabwe. Another famous market, the Mupedzanhamo flea market, which sells second-hand clothing in Mbare, has also been destroyed.

Many of the residents in Mbare were originally from Malawi and Mozambique. "They had been brought into Harare as cheap labour during the colonial era," Bidi noted.

"A majority of the 200,000 have sought refuge in the open spaces in Harare and on the farms lying on the periphery of the city. Children and women have been exposed to ... [winter nights]" he said.

The operation has targeted at least six suburbs in Harare - Hatcliff extension, Epworth, Dzivaresekwa, Glenorah, Glenview, Budriro and Mbare. "Three cooperative settlements set up by war veterans outside Harare - Retreat Farms, Nyadzonia and Tongagara Settlements - have also been destroyed. The residents of these settlements had certificates from their cooperatives to show they were legal tenants," said Bidi.

The official newspaper, The Herald, on Wednesday quoted the police as saying that that the total number of arrests since the clampdown began had risen to 22,735 people.

"We have so far arrested a total of 22,735 people and recovered 33.5 kg of gold from 47 illegal gold panners, and 26,000 litres of fuel. We are taking people to Caledonia Farm [outside Harare], where we screen them and send them to their respective rural homes. Please note - Caledonia is not a holding place, it is a transit point for two or three days," said police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena.

Bidi claimed there were only about 40 families at Caledonia Farm.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Tenants and Lodgers Association has claimed that rentals in the city have shot up by almost 250 percent. "We cannot say yet that the operation has affected the rentals - but they have been going up for the past two and a half months," said Nelson Mandizvidza, chairperson the association.

Rental for a room in Mbare was as high as Zim $400,000 (US $43), which "is half the salary that a security guard earns," he pointed out.

Mandizvidza said his organisation had asked the government for a six-month period to allow tenants to make alternative arrangements before the demolition operation began. "We were not given enough time and we are unhappy about that - but the government's doors are open and we are busy negotiating with them."

Theme (s): Human Rights,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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