Zimbabwe: Operation Restore Order  an assault on human dignity

Zimbabwe: Operation Restore Order an assault on human dignity

Date: January 1, 1970
  • SHARE:

Monalisa is one of the many women and men who have been devastated by the government sanctioned twin operations ?Operation Restore Order? and ?Operation Murambatsvina?. The latter literally translated means ?no to dirt? and is being executed by the local government authorities and the Zimbabwe Republic Police.

“The house I spent my fortune on is gone. My family is homeless. It all happened so quickly. One minute we heard rumours about our houses being demolished, the next we were hurriedly packing our family’s belongings since the riot police were moving in fast. We watched helplessly in the winter cold as bulldozers razed our houses to the ground. The house I had spent four years building was destroyed in the blink of an eye. I had borrowed money and used most of my salary on this house but it is no more.”
Monalisa* narrated her ordeal with despair in her tear-filled eyes.
She is one of the many women and men who have been devastated by the government sanctioned twin operations “Operation Restore Order” and “Operation Murambatsvina”. The latter literally translated means “no to dirt” and is being executed by the local government authorities and the Zimbabwe Republic Police.
Monalisa lived in Tongogara, in a home she bought through one of the many housing cooperatives that emerged during the land reform programme. It is situated a few kilometres outside Harare along the Harare-Bulawayo Highway. The entire settlement was destroyed despite the fact that people have lived there for over four years and even paid rates to the local council.
Observers estimate that over 300 000 families have been affected while about 22 000 informal traders have been arrested for operating without licences among a host of other reasons. Those worst affected – women, children, AIDS patients and the elderly have had to brave the cold as they keep vigil over their property.
It is a complex situation.
While it is appreciated that the sprouting of illegal settlements and informal traders posed a threat to the country’s orderliness and needed to be addressed, it is the manner in which it has been carried out that has raised the ire of Zimbabweans and the international community alike. 
The question is why did the authorities allow the situation to get out of hand in the first place? Their argument centres on the need to return the city of Harare to its former “sunshine status.” Yet what “sunshine” is possible when the devastating impact of the exercise on its citizens’ dignity and humanity is completely ignored? More disturbing is that these are the experiences of Zimbabweans in a time when the country is neither under siege nor at war.
The callousness of the authorities was aptly captured in a statement by Zimbabwe’s Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri’s at a ceremony when he said: "We must clean the country of the crawling mass of maggots…” Whatever the context, his statement was unwarranted and an insult to the dignity of Zimbabweans.
And if this was not enough, approximately 30 members of the Bulawayo-based activist group Women of Zimbabwe Arise were arrested on 18 June for protesting against the state’s ongoing purge against the urban poor. What do these actions say about the attitude of the state towards its most vulnerable citizens?
Displaced families have been put into temporary shelters – vegetable stalls, tents and farms – where there are neither suitable sanitary facilities nor fresh water. And those who are here are lucky – many more are living in the open.
I shudder to think of how women, already traumatised by their forced removal, are managing to maintain their families in this context. And it’s made even worse by the continued mealie meal and other basic commodity shortages.
Zimbabwean media are filled with images of homeless women and children who, like Monalisa have been stripped of their livelihood. A local paper, The Daily Mirror, quoted Shamiso Makamba (23) who, with her three children all under five years old is living on the banks of Mukuvisi River: “Our lives have been destroyed. I was living in the Joburg Lines (in Mbare) with my younger brothers and sister while I made living selling vegetables at the bus terminus. Now that they have destroyed our houses and prohibited us from selling our wares from Mbare Musika, we do not know what to do next.”
Fortunately Monalisa is still employed as a primary school teacher in one of Harare’s high-density suburbs – Warren Park.  While she had managed to maintain her family, all her hard work she says has been “taken away by the stroke of a pen.”
“I have no where to go with my children.  I have since spent four days sleeping in the cold.  Even if I get a place to live I do not have the money to pay rentals and transport to go to work.  My husband is unemployed and I have three children who are all in exam classes. I do not know how they are going to cope with the situation. Accommodation is a problem in the city as several more affordable cottages I could have gone to rent with my family have been destroyed.  Even Education Minister Aeneas Chigwedere has admitted that school children who lived in these illegal homes have been forced to drop out of school. However his ministry is assessing the extent of the problem before they can act on the matter. But how long will it take for them to assess the matter while children miss out on classes?”
Monalisa has to start from scratch. Her children have been deprived of their right to a decent shelter. “I have been made homeless in my country of origin, where can I go for refuge? We hope they are going to do something as this is a disaster.”
She says she can only pray for divine intervention: “May God intervene before we perish.”
*Not her real name.
 Loveness Jambaya is the Zimbabwe country representative of the Gender and Media Southern African Network.

Comment on Zimbabwe: Operation Restore Order an assault on human dignity

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *