Environment & Urbanization

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Report of the Fact-Finding Mission to Zimbabwe to Assess the Scope and Impact of Operation Murambatsvina

Anna Kajumulo

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United Nations


THIS IS A comprehensive and detailed report on the sudden and massive eviction and demolition programme undertaken by the government of Zimbabwe that began in May 2005, first in Harare and then in other centres. Concerned by the adverse impact of this programme on the lives of the urban poor, the UN Secretary-General appointed Anna Tibaijuka (Director of the UN Human Settlements Programme in Nairobi) as a special envoy to assess the situation and present recommendations on addressing the conditions of those affected. This report was prepared during the author’s mission to Zimbabwe, between 26 June and 8 July 2005.
The report describes the scale and scope of Operation Murambatsvina (“restore order”) and its devastating impact. First targeted were “shanty towns” in high-density suburbs, and informal vending and manufacturing operations – 20,000 vendors were reported to have been arrested within the first week. Throughout June 2005, homes and businesses were destroyed in more than 52 sites, and no settlement in Zimbabwe designated as urban was spared. Some 700,000 people across the country lost either their homes or their sources of livelihood, or both. Thus, hundreds of thousands of women, men and children were made homeless, without access to food, water, sanitation or health care. Education for thousands of school age children has been disrupted. A further 2.4 million people have been affected to varying degrees, most of them poor.
The report also describes the political context in which this programme was implemented. This includes persistent budget deficits, critical food and fuel shortages and chronic shortages of foreign currency, along with a highly polarized political climate characterized by mistrust, fear and lack of dialogue between central government and local authorities and civil society. The report includes a discussion of the varied motivations behind the operation, including those that had little or nothing to do with addressing the problems of informal settlements. It reviews the ability of the government and other groups to respond to the needs of those affected, and considers the legal aspects. It ends with conclusions and recommendations, including lessons learnt. Annexes include details of households affected, and a media log of the operation and of media reactions to the special envoy’s visit.
The report’s main recommendations include the following:
- The government of Zimbabwe should immediately halt any further demolitions of homes and informal businesses and should create conditions for sustainable relief and reconstruction for those affected. It should also facilitate humanitarian operations within a pro-poor, gender-sensitive policy framework that provides security of tenure, affordable housing, water and sanitation, and the pursuit of small-scale income-generating activities in a regulated and enabling environment.
- There is an immediate need for the government of Zimbabwe to revise the outdated Regional Town and Country Planning Act and other relevant Acts, and to align the substance and the procedures of these Acts with the social, economic and cultural realities facing the majority of the population, namely the poor. There is also an immediate need to revive dialogue and restore trust between different spheres of government and between government and civil society. This process should emerge from a broad-based consultation among all Zimbabwean stakeholders.
- The government of Zimbabwe should set a good example and adhere to the rule of law before it can credibly ask its citizens to do the same. Operation Murambatsvina breached both national and international human rights law provisions guiding evictions, thereby precipitating a humanitarian crisis. The government of Zimbabwe should pay compensation where it is due for those whose property was unlawfully destroyed.
- The wrecking of the informal sector will have detrimental effects at a time when the economy remains in serious diffi

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Available from http://www.unhabitat.org/documents/ZimbabweReport.pdf

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