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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 June 2005, 13:56 GMT 14:56 UK
Hard times for Zimbabwe's new homeless
Man watches police demolish his house
Some were made to knock down their own homes
The UN says some 200, 000 Zimbabweans have been made homeless in a two-week police operation to demolish houses and markets, which the authorities say are illegal.

The opposition says it is punishment for areas which voted against President Robert Mugabe in elections but the government says the operation is needed to rid Zimbabwe's cities of criminal elements.

A Catholic priest, who did not want to be identified, described the scenes of devastation in the capital, Harare, to the BBC News website:

Open areas are full of people living rough. Whole families are huddled together around a pile of possessions, surrounded by the wreckage of their homes.

They are just waiting. Many have nowhere to go.

Those living rough are afraid that the police might come back and 'discipline' them

They are being encouraged to go to their rural homes. Some are going back - you can see a lot of trucks leaving Harare loaded up with what people have managed to save.

But many have not been there for a long time. They don't have houses there anymore and are squatting with relatives for the moment.

June is one of the coldest months of the year - it can get down to 0C - and I know of four people who have died after spending two weeks sleeping in the open.

Some are burning their possessions to keep warm and because they cannot afford to pay to transport them to rural areas.

Some people are starting to show signs of malnutrition, as they cannot cook, or they have no money to buy food.

Churches invaded

There is also nowhere to wash and I am worried about an outbreak of disease.

Some children have had to be pulled out of school.

In some parts of Harare, people have gone to spend the nights in their local churches.

But in my area, there are too many people to fit in our church.

We are assisting people by giving them food and blankets and bus fares to those who have somewhere to go.

Just this morning, I have paid out 10m Zimbabwe dollars (US$500) in bus fares.

Those living rough are afraid that the police might come back and "discipline" them.

Crammed

In many parts of Harare, such as where I grew up, the houses were initially "matchbox" houses, with four rooms, surrounded by gardens.

But as the population grew, people built extensions without planning permission. With all the extensions, you could have as many as 14 rooms, housing up to 30 people, in what was originally a four-room house.

So now, all these extensions have been demolished. In some cases, this means three-quarters of the living space.

Some families were ordered to knock down their own homes.

People are trying to cram into the four, original rooms but it is impossible.

Still going on

Those areas of Harare which have not been directly affected by the demolitions are now becoming overcrowded, as people go to stay with their friends and relatives.

The demolitions and evictions started in Mbare in the city centre, then they moved to the western townships such as Kambazuma, and then Tafara in the east.

And they are still going on. Houses are being knocked down as we speak.

The whole city has been hit, as well as cities across the country.

But outside Harare, only illegal market stalls have been affected, not houses.

There is a holding camp on the outskirts of Harare, with maybe 200 people.

The police are guarding them but no-one knows what to do with the people.

They have nowhere to wash, except for local streams.



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