A Big Mac or a House?

Residents of an informal settlement in Harare's suburb of Gunhill survey the burnt shells of their homes after police forcibly evicted them and set fire to their shacks in August 2010.

Apparently McDonald’s is eyeing Zimbabwe as a potential new market for its franchise restaurants. While this can be viewed as a positive step in international regard for the stability of Zimbabwe both politically and economically, I don’t think the 250 people rendered homeless last week are as optimistic.

In the early morning hours of August 25th, Zimbabwe police officers entered an informal settlement in the suburbs of Harare and gave residents 10 minutes to gather their possesssions before torching their homes. As if being woken in the middle of the night and told to get out isn’t scary enough, the police came armed with weapons and dogs. Fifty-five people, including 5 children, were detained without access to lawwyers until later that day. This is not the first time police raided this community, exhibiting a clear pattern of harassment by authorities. The families have since returned, but are living in the open, exposed to the elements with no access to shelter.

In 2005, the Zimbabwe government evicted approximately 700,000 people from homes and informal businesses. Very few received any compensation. The government built a few houses in rural areas to resettle those displaced, but the vast majority, including many of those displaced last week, continue to find shelter where they can. On the eve of World Habitat Day next month, this continuing disregard by the Zimbabwe government to respect the right to housing is deplorable. The people of Zimbabwe would like human rights to go with their fries.

Dude, Where's My House?

5 years ago today, the Zimbabwean government set out on a project dubbed “Operation Murambatsvina” (Restore Order). More than 700,000 people were left without a home or livelihood, or both, after the government of Zimbabwe began to destroy informal settlements all across the country. These forced evictions only exacerbated a situation already dire due to Zimbabwe’s economic crisis.

Today, hundreds of thousands of people still struggle to survive in plastic shacks since their eviction from these settlements, while the government does little, if anything, to help them. Efforts to provide some shelters to victims have been complete failures and seem to have been abandoned completely.

It is a scandal that five years on, victims are left o 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 – Cousin Zilala, Director of Amnesty International Zimbabwe

4 years ago, we also began using new technologies to document human rights abuses when we released satellite images of the destruction of Porta Farm, a settlement on the outskirts of Harare which the government destroyed in 2005. This was one of the first times Amnesty used satellite images to provide irrefutable evidence of the destruction of an entire community and was used in litigation for redress efforts.

Satellite images taken of Porta Farm community in Zimbabwe. Copyright DigitalGlobe 2010. CLICK ON IMAGE FOR MORE INFORMATION

Satellite images taken of Porta Farm community in Zimbabwe. Copyright DigitalGlobe 2010. CLICK ON IMAGE FOR MORE INFORMATION

Randall Kindle, Africa Program, contributed to this blog post

Where Do Human Rights Live in Zimbabwe?

This posting is part of our Forced Evictions in Africa Series.

A seven-year-old boy cries after the destruction of his family home at Porta Farm, Harare, Zimbabwe, June 2005. © Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

Seven hundred thousand people. That is the number of people forcibly evicted from their homes and business over a three month period in 2005. This is the equivalent of bulldozing the entire city of Charlotte, North Carolina. Seem incomprehensible? Seem reprehensible? Think something should be done about it?  We think so to.

Between May and July 2005, the government of Zimbabwe orchestrated Operation Murambatsvina; a slum clearance program touted by officials as necessary to decrease rising urban populations by requiring people to return to rural areas. In reality, the purpose was to disperse members of political opposition parties and disrupt their ability to organize. Houses and informal businesses were bulldozed, leaving people with nowhere to live and no way to earn a living.

Currently, thousands of informal traders continue to face forcible eviction as the government targets vendor stalls in Harare for demolition. Unemployment in Zimbabwe remains near 90%. These market stalls provide goods at a price affordable by the populace and generate necessary income for those unable to work in the formal sector. The mayor of Harare defended these actions by claiming the stalls were a health hazard and violated city regulations.

As we continue a week commemorating World Habitat Day, Amnesty International calls upon the government of Zimbabwe to cease the harassment of informal traders, discontinue the egregious practice of forcible evictions which violate Zimbabwe’s obligations under the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and provide restitution to those it has previously displaced. Join Amnesty International in its effort to assure that Human Rights Live Here.