In the winter of 2005 the government uprooted some 700,000 Zimbabweans across the country in Operation Murambatsvina, officially described as a "slum clearance programme", but promises to re-house those who lost their homes and livelihoods five years ago have practically been abandoned, human rights groups say.
Amnesty International (AI), a global rights watchdog, and the Coalition Against Forced Evictions, a local group representing the dispossessed people. said the government's re-housing scheme, Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle ("for a better life"), has failed to deliver.
"Those affected by Operation Murambatsvina rapidly became invisible; forced to relocate to rural areas, absorbed into existing overcrowded urban housing, or pushed into government-designated settlements," the groups said in a joint statement.
"It is a scandal that five years on, victims are left to survive in plastic shacks without basic essential services. The needs of these victims are at risk of being forgotten because their voices are consistently ignored," said Cousin Zilala, Zimbabwe director of AI.
"The few houses that were built under the Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle scheme are completely uninhabitable — they have no floors, windows, water or toilets. Communities living in designated resettlement areas are dependent on humanitarian assistance and self-help initiatives for their survival," he commented.
In Operation Murambatsvina ("drive out the filth") the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) government bulldozed houses, demolished informal traders' stalls and confiscated their goods, leaving them without a livelihood. United Nations Special Envoy Anna Tibaijuka visited Zimbabwe in the wake of Murambatsvina and said the operation had breached both national and international human rights law.
Five weeks later the government launched the rehousing scheme, but the few houses that were built were reportedly given to civil servants, police and soldiers, and there have been no other significant government programmes to assist the hundreds of thousands of victims of Murambatsvina.
The groups condemned Zimbabwe's unity government, formed in February 2009 by the long-ruling ZANU-PF and two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), for their inaction: "The unity government has done nothing to improve the plight of survivors of the forced evictions and their children who have been born in informal settlements."
Fidelis Mhashu, Minister of National Housing and Social Amenities, acknowledged that there was "a huge problem in terms of trying to provide accommodation to the population of Zimbabwe; indeed, there is a housing backlog that we ought to deal with," he noted.
"Currently, there are no substantive figures of how many people are on the housing waiting list. For Harare, the estimates range from 500,000, while the national backlog is estimated at between 1.2 million and 1.5 million for urban areas," he told IRIN."
"The government is working flat out to ensure that the backlog is reduced, and land has been earmarked in urban areas for acquisition," he said, but progress was being hampered "because those who own the land have to be compensated [and] we don't have enough money."
Further reading: Deborah Potts (2006) ' "Restoring Order'? Operation Murambatsvina and the urban crisis in Zimbabwe", Journal of Southern African Studies 32 (2) 273-291, and Maurice Vambe, ed. (2008) The Hidden Dimensions of Operation Murambatsvina, Weaver Press.
Source: IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service, http://www.irinnews.org