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Last Updated: Monday, 22 August 2005, 08:25 GMT 09:25 UK
Dumped in Zimbabwe's poor villages
By Justin Pearce
BBC News website, Zimbabwe

In the second of his series following an undercover trip to Zimbabwe, Justin Pearce reports that the government's policy of moving city dwellers to rural areas is worsening the effects of food shortages.

Couple relocated to village
Thomas and Charity have no means of making a living after being taken out of the city

For Thomas and his wife, Charity, it was not a happy homecoming.

In fact, it was not really a homecoming at all. The Zimbabwean government had decided that the young couple belonged in a village deep in the dry bush of Matabeleland North province, in western Zimbabwe.

Thomas was born there, but had not lived there since childhood. His ageing grandmother is his only relative still living in the village.

"They were not pleased to receive us since we came empty-handed," Thomas said. "They are in a difficult situation with drought. It was a difficult moment for them."

The United Nations estimates that up to four million Zimbabweans will need food aid over the coming year - mostly in rural areas.

Thomas, 23, and Charity, 21, had made a living as informal traders in a squatter camp in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city, some 200 km away.

'Filth'

That came to an end in July, when the government's Operation Murambatsvina [Drive Out Rubbish] reached the place where they were living.

Village well and donkeys
The villages are an alien environment to people born and bred in the cities
"We were harassed by police who destroyed our shack - that's why we had to come to this place," Thomas said. "The police said there was too much filth in this city."

The story he tells is typical of the unknown numbers of Zimbabwean city dwellers who have been dumped in country districts where they have few useful survival skills.

Zimbabwean humanitarian staff say that after destroying homes in the cities and moving people into transit camps, the government assigned people to rural areas on the basis of their identity numbers.

On the identity cards carried by all Zimbabwean citizens, the first few digits form a code for the bearer's home area. This, however, reflects one's ancestral home rather than one's own birthplace.

They want total political control - they want to peasantify people like Pol Pot
Archbishop Pius Ncube
"Some don't want to go home because they have nothing there," says a Zimbabwean who is involved in church-based relief efforts.

"Some may be the second or third generation to be born in the cities. There are some Zimbabweans who don't have a rural area."

Strategy

The government's critics believe that the relocations are part of a strategy to reassert control over urban people who have voted overwhelmingly for the opposition in recent elections.

"They want total political control - they want to peasantify people like [former Cambodian leader] Pol Pot - force them into they country so they can control them," says the Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube.

Villagers carry blankets and food
People have become dependent on aid from churches
"In the countryside they have no newspaper or radio except Zanu-PF propaganda, and they are controlled by the chiefs, who support the government."

Thomas and Charity were forced onto a truck which took them out of Bulawayo, then a local bus, and ended up walking for several hours through the bush. They say they received no food during the journey.

Charity says she did not even have a chance to say goodbye to her own family: "Since I came here they don't know I'm here. I want to go and tell them where I am."

Nowhere to go

The relocations from cities to villages have affected thousands throughout Zimbabwe.

At just one church in Harare, charity workers have compiled a list of 700 people who have lost their homes and are looking for food and blankets.

List of names of people awaiting transport
Churches have counted hundreds of people who are to be transported
Madeleine, 29, was born in Harare but is being sent to the district of Murewa, her husband's birthplace, about 70km from the city.

"We are going because we have nowhere to live, no way to survive here," she says.

Asked whether her husband has land to farm there, she shakes her head.

"Sometimes we were helping my husband's family by sending money," Madeleine says.

"My in-laws are having a problem with drought - there's been no rain this year."

With their livelihood as informal traders destroyed, Madeleine, her husband and their three young children will now be a burden on the rural community to which they used to provide financial support.

All names in this piece were changed to protect interviewees.



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