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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 August 2005, 13:12 GMT 14:12 UK
Zimbabwe destruction: One man's story

In the last of our series on housing demolitions in Zimbabwe, a resident of Harare's Hatcliffe Extension township tells his story to our correspondent Justin Pearce.

Hatcliffe extension resident
This resident had lived in his Hatcliffe home for 13 years
"They started breaking houses down on 28 May. They came early, around seven or eight in the morning, to warn us, but by three in the afternoon they started demolishing. Since then we have been living in the open.

It was because we didn't vote for the ruling party. They know we are town people. Once we go to the tribal trust lands [communal farming areas] the chiefs are told how to deal with us - to get us back to the party they wanted us to vote for.

They used police and District Development Fund Vehicles to take us to Caledonia Farm [transit camp].

My family were in Caledonia Farm for four weeks, I was there for three weeks. People were dying daily. They [the authorities] didn't want this to be known - so no ordinary people were allowed in.


The only relief, when they were allowed to work, came from the Catholic church and the United Nations. They helped us - gave us food and medicines, and asked what our problems were. Some people had no blankets and no food.

Child walks past shelters made of roof sheeting
One old man couldn't bear to destroy it. He fell down unconscious and woke up to find his building in rubble

When the UN representative [Anna Tibaijuka] came to Zimbabwe the police were telling people to go to the kumushas [rural ancestral villages]. The government allocated tents to people but then reallocated them to the police. So it was in their interest to go kumusha.

My family had a lease for our stands, so we didn't go kumusha.

When the UN representative came they tried to hide us.

They started bringing us back to Hatcliffe on the third weekend. When we got back to Hatcliffe there was nothing. When they destroyed the houses, people from a neighbouring location came in and took away what was valuable.

The donors are giving us roofing material - but the government says it's them who are giving it to us. No foundations have been dug.

In two or three days time I might sleep under a roof again. That's something I'd forgotten about.

Blood pressure

I have been in Hatcliffe Extension since 1992, 23 December. Before that I was living on [opposition leader] Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole's farm. He split his farm to share between the rest of us.

My wife had a miscarriage at eight months. All of the things that have happened since 28 May are what caused her blood pressure to go very high

The government thought we would end up voting for Reverend Sithole. So they promised to build us decent accommodation [at Hatcliffe Extension]. They allocated us stands - but no buildings. Donors promised us basic two-room houses.

I am originally from Rusape [180km south-east of Harare], and came here to find work in 1971.

I have eight children, including two from my previous marriage who are now grown up. I live with my wife and our six children. I have two children in form four, one in form one, one in grade two and two in kindergarten. They are not going to school now [because of the removals].

Jobs lost

My wife had a miscarriage at eight months. All of the things that have happened since 28 May are what caused her blood pressure to go very high.

Ruined shop in Hatcliffe Extension
Businesses as well as homes were left in ruins

Three or four times a day, the police were telling us to go to the kumushas. But not me. I am supposed to be at work - how could I have gone?

It was difficult to destroy our own property. Some people stood by.

I remember one old man had built a nice two-storey thing - he couldn't bear to destroy it. He fell down unconscious and woke up to find his building in rubble.

Eventually they had AK47s - a group of five had one AK.

Some went to Caledonia - those who weren't used to the threats went to the kumushas.


The other day they found me shaving. There were lorries there 30 of them - you are supposed to go kumusha. I said no, I am going to work.

Around half of the people went to the kumushas.. We at Hatcliffe are less than half the number that we were.

This "tsunami" thing affected us in the workplace and at home. Some people had home industries - once they destroy your house, how can you work? I was lucky - I was affected only in my home, not my workplace.

From Caledonia Farm we had to walk six kilometres to board a bus to work. The police didn't want the emergency taxis [informal public transport] to come there. I don't know why they were punishing us in that way. Maybe they didn't want people to know we were living there."

Below is a selection of readers' comments and questions about this article.

As we caused this mess when the country was signed away in the Lancaster gate hotel, don't you think that we have to sort this out as we caused the whole problem?
Kevin, Windsor

Do you think that Zimbabwe will degenerate to the chaos that Uganda did? What do most Zimbabweans think of Thabo Mbeki's support for the Zimbabwean Government? I can understand Thabo wanting to stand by a fellow member of the Liberation Struggle who stood by him, but a time comes when common sense has to override loyalty.
ADC, London, UK

JP: Zimbabwe at least hasn't experienced the wide-scale disappearances and brutal murders that were one of the most horrific features of the Amin regime in Uganda. On your question about Thabo Mbeki: Those Zimbabweans who oppose the government are disappointed that Mr Mbeki isn't taking a firmer stance in support of change in Zimbabwe - as are many South Africans too.

I thought that South Africa under Thabo Mbeki was supposed to be able to exercise some influence over the Mugabe regime, yet little appears to happen. Why might this be?
Roger, Towcester, UK

JP: I agree with ADC's point above - Mr Mugabe gave some significant support to the liberation of South Africa, and I think this is the main reason why Mr Mbeki is not being openly critical.

On your reporting trip did you unearth any evidence of Chinese people - managers and artisans - being used to operate businesses, farms and mines because most skilled Zimbabweans have left the country on account of the difficulties. In other words - re-colonialisation
Ian, Lusaka, Zambia

JP: I didn't, but then I wasn't looking particularly at businesses, farms and mines - I'm not saying they aren't there. Anecdotally, I did speak to a number of Zimbabweans who resent the spread of Chinese shops with imported goods which they say are of poor quality. That said, there are plenty of Chinese shops in South Africa and Namibia too without it being a huge political issue.

Is anything coming out of the proposed trade agreements between Zim & China? Seems like maybe the Australian gov't, which prides itself on being pro-China & vocal opponents of Mugabe, should maybe try & intervene... Also I heard about a month ago that AirZim flights were being cancelled due to lack of fuel, is this shortage still ongoing or has it been temporarily resolved?
Mark, Melbourne, Oz

JP: See the above. Also, Air Zimbabwe recently took delivery of two Chinese planes. As to fuel, the airline was running normally when I was there, but I have heard of occasional cancellations too.

I sometimes feel very sad when I read about our fellow African leaders treating people in their locality with much cruelty. I feel sorry for the people in the area.Why? Why? When will peace prevail in Africa and it's sorrounding?When will all these trauma in Africa come to an end? I will therefore appeal to the top authorities in and outside Zimbabwe, to come to their aid for peace and harmony to take place. Oh Africa! Africa! We have a long way to go. May God intervain to safeguard mankind.
Kwaku Ofori Addo, Ghana

are there any constitutional safeguards for the protection of human rights there? if they are there how effective are they?
mapitso, lesotho

JP: New constitutional proposals are being debated today. Watch this site for further news.

What are the NGOs or the civil society in light of the forceful removal? Are the churches united or are they divided across political lines?
Bethino, Windhoek

JP: The churches and local NGOs were the first people to offer assistance to those whose homes were destroyed. As a result, they have seen the operation at close range, and the priests I spoke to were very worried about what's going on. That said, the Anglican Archbishop of Harare is known as a supporter of the government.

Your belaboured coverage of the demolitions and the continued negative portrayal of life in Zimbabwe makes one ask what your motives are, surely it is not out of love for the black Zimbabwean. What of the plight of poor people in your own country and indeed elsewhere in the world. There are areas of strife and hunger elsewhere in the world deserving the unwarranted attention you British give to Zimbabwe.
tsitsi topodzi, harare, zimbabwe

JP: Tsitsi, as I've said elsewhere, Zimbabwe is not unique, and the BBC covers a lot of other countries too. Personally I believe that it's a duty of the journalist and the media to expose human suffering and the abuse of power.

I have read all of the comments on this very worrying topic. What is the point of having votes in these countries if the people who vote will be punished for it. Isn't there anything we can do to help the current situation i.e: donations to help get some of these people to safer places. How can anyone say zim is safe when they are being governed in this fashion, I know some people say 'you have to go there to see for yourself' but what about this poor man who has had to watch his home and friends crumble around him? IS THERE ANYTHING WE CAN DO?
Kirsty, Herts, ENG

hi,apart from donating is there any other ways you know of of helping zimbabwe?
zoe antoniadis, nottingham,england

Would you have any ideas as to how I can get involved in peace work of this sort or what I could do to make a difference.
Imogen Sydow, Johannesburg, South Africa

JP: Any suggestions for how people can make a contribution?

Are there any parallels or similarities between the Zimbabwean government, Chinese and Mayyamar junta? Does the Venezualian gvt and ZanuPf have anything in common, in relation to the land question? What effect, in the long run, does Mugabe`s actions going to have in the world scale? Is the land reform going to be reversed, in the event that Mugabe ceases to be in power? What do other guys say?
Elias Matinde, Sendai, Japan

JP: I won't try to make comparisons with other countries. But on land reform: I don't think it will be reversed. I think there's a broad agreement in Zimbabwe that land reform was necessary - critics of the process object more to the manner in which it was carried out.

There have been relatively few comments regarding any deaths caused by Operation Murambatsvina, yet given the number of people displaced, I find it difficult to believe that there are not many more victims dying. Are large numbers of dead being hidden, or are people somehow getting along with minimal support?
Kevin D. Engle, Lancaster, USA

JP: It's difficult to know precisely, given the mass movement of people at the same time of the demolitions, and also given the fact that many of the deaths would have been the indirect rather than the direct result of evictions - people who became ill from being outdoors or drinking contaminated water, for example.

How a great country , prosper country became in a devastating country ? Are N. Mandela , D. Tutu nobel prizes not seeing this? What they defend? violence, misery??? I don't understand why the african governements are quiet(including mine -ANGOLA) ; what principle they defend? if they are quiet is because they are cumplices.
Filomena Coelho, Luanda - Angola

JP: I was in Luanda in 2001 and witnessed the destruction of Boavista - what I saw in Zimbabwe was very similar.

My question is to do with the effect on the other relatively affluent areas of Harare - do they carry on as if nothing is wrong or are they similarly affected/troubled by the actions of the Government?
Andy Thorley, Liverpool, UK

JP: It is strange how life appears to go on as normal in the wealthier suburbs of Harare, when you compare it with the effects on a poorer area like Chitungwiza, for example. Of course, better-off people also have reason to complain about shortages of fuel and other commodities, but they're better able to shell out and pay black market prices when necessary. At one point the government announced that it was taking the "clean-up" to affluent areas, and I did hear that some well-off people who'd built garages or outbuildings without permission had them demolished. But the operation wasn't nearly as widespread as it was in the poorer areas. Some Zimbabweans I spoke to resented the fact that the wealthy were apparently getting preferential treatment.

It's a pity to hear that our fellow africans are been tortured in that way.But I fail to understand on policies that Mugabe is following?why is it that MUGABE is enjoying support from the rural areas only and not from the urban areas?I wanted to know how people from villages are feeling?further to that,what can be done to help those affected by this demolision policy?
moses Tapani, zomba,malawi

JP: Very broadly speaking, rural people believe Mr Mugabe represents their interests when it comes to land reform, while urban people are more concerned about the economic decline over the last few years. At the moment, the victims of demolitions are in need of very basic help: food, blankets, medical care, help with building new houses. But it's hard to see how anyone can start to reverse the economic hardships caused by the destruction of small businesses.

What effect is the New Zealand cricket tour having on those for and those against Magabe? For example, does either side perceive the tour as a direct or indirect support of the Mugabe regime?
Doug Norris, Lower Hutt, New Zealand

Doug, I'm afraid I never put that question to anyone. I guess that was because most of the people I was interviewing were too concerned with their basic survival to have time to think about the politics of sport, but it would be interesting to hear from Zimbabweans on this topic.

Does the general population of Zim still support Mugabe against 'white colonialists'? Or has that fight, white farmers etc. now been replaced with something else? And do people in Zim feel they need outside assistance? Despite claims they are better than ruled by Britain until 1980?
Frazer Sloan, Nadap, Hungary

JP: Both the recent election results and the varying comments from Zimbabweans in this discussion demonstrate that there is a wide difference of opinion on this matter.

The general feeling on the ground is that the government is punishing these people for not voting for ZANU PF . what i would like to find out is , has any of the affected peolpe say they will now vote for ZANU PF, now that they are in their kumushas? or they will keep supporting the MDC.
justin jay , harare zimbabwe

JP: I think it's too soon to predict. The movement of people happened very recently - it will be a while before one can say it had this or that consequence in terms of politics. I don't think it's true to say, though, that just because people have had problems with the present government, they will necessarily vote for the MDC.

How safe is it to travel in Zimbabwe and how bad is the poverty in Bulawayo? How are tourists treated? Is what we hear or read exaggerated or not?
Estrella MacIsaac, Edmonton, Canada

JP: There are many poor people in Bulawayo as in most other African cities. As a foreign visitor, there would be no particular danger in travelling in Zimbabwe. But read the next two comments in which two Zimbabweans give differing views on this topic.

Thanks for the coverage about Zimbabwe. I have read most of the comments and some people are claiming Zimbabwe is a safe place. I do say NO. So many people have made to suffer. How can you say its safe when Mugabe is destroying houses? What makes Mugabe not to resign? ZANU PF supporters tend to blame Britain on anything about Zimbabwe, Okay what Britain has got to do with destroying of houses, shortage of foreign currency, 75%unemployement, shortage of fuel, Noczim scandal, corruption, Shortage of all necessary commodities. You don't bite the hand that feed you. What Britain is doing is just reporting the current situation in Zimbabwe. Actually you should thank brits for that. If Zimbabwe has something good then fine, it should report its good side. Why do you expert Britain to do everything, what is Zimbabwe doing for its self. Mugabe closed all the markets and the trading of foreign currency and to my surprise petrol is being sold on foreign currency. I am Zimbabwean and I have been to Zimbabwe recently and to tell you the truth people are really suffering. Mugabe is running the country like a tomato market. Most of the people are trapped in Zimbabwe and they don't have the means to go out of the country. For example if Britain or USA are to say "those who want UK or USA citizenship queue for the forms." To tell you the truth the whole country will go for it and himself Mugabe will join the queue. Lets not try to hide the truth. If you haven't been involved with Mugabe regime it doesn't mean everything is fine, it's either you are luck or you are part of them. If I go to Zimbabwe I can't dress the way I dress when I am in UK or USA, I can't talk the way the I do when I am in other countries. I can't write a comment like this when I am in Zimbabwe. It's putting yourself on danger to talk bad things about Zimbabwe when you are in Zimbabwe. By this I mean I should try by all means to look like a local person who is always suffering. Failure to do that you put yourself in danger of being questioned by police or CIO. ZIMBABWE WILL NEVER CHANGE FOR BETTER AS LONG AS MUGABE IS IN POWER RULING PEOPLE. If you say its safe in Zimbabwe, its only you who is safe, the rest are not safe including Mugabe. The fact that he is not safe makes him want to stay in power forever. Safe people resign and start a new live like MR MANDELA.
Alfred, UK, Birm

JP: I said Zimbabwe was safe for tourists because someone asked a specific question about tourism. I agree with you that the situation for many Zimbabweans is very different.

Justin should not be the one person alone to give thumbs up whether Zimbawe is safe or not. People should visit and make their own judgement about Zim. My recent visit to Zimbabwe was not easy, but worthy the trouble of visiting loved ones.
Mabhuza, Zimbabwean / USA

Justin,do you believe that the Z.A.N.U.-P.F. regime of Robert Mugabe will be overthrown anytime soon? why? by who? for what reason?, for who to gain and to lose, "Zvimwe siya zvakadaro we" ( sleeping dogs lie)
tawanda, usa

JP: No - I don't think there will be any change of government soon.

Why haven't the oppressed people of Zimbabwe revolted? I have seen other revolutions started with less provocation. Don't they realize that their living standards and freedoms are being taken away?
Joe East, Madison, Alabama

JP: On the other hand, there are also plenty of other repressive governments in the world that have not been overthrown. And you'll see from these discussions that not all Zimbabweans are against the current government.

When is the British Government going to do something about this tyrant? We are so busy in other parts of the World (Iraq) and there is no concern or obligation towards it's former colony.WAKE UP BRITAIN the rest of the World is watching and waiting for your first move!!
Peter, Kenilworth, United Kingdom

JP: Britain has already been very vocal on the subject of Zimbabwe, with little effect. At the same time, as I've mentioned already in the course of this discussion, Zimbabwe is not unique. Is it the job of western countries to interfere in the affairs of other countries? And, if so, what should the criteria be? I'm not suggesting any easy answers for these questions.

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