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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 June 2005, 21:14 GMT 22:14 UK
Desperation on the streets
Zimbabwean cobbler Edwell - not his real name - has been mending shoes on the streets of the capital, Harare, for nearly 20 years. But the 46-year-old tells the BBC News website how police forced him off the pavement as part of a crackdown on the country's huge informal business sector.

Zimbabweans waiting for transport to travel home jostling for space on one of the few buses available due to the acute fuel shortages
Commuter buses are now so rare that people have to push for places
It was just past noon when a Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) pick-up truck drove up to the pavement where I sit and mend shoes.

Two policemen accompanied by two other men got out. As they walked towards me they said: "You need to take your things and go."

I asked them why but they refused to explain.

They were very firm and just kept saying: "We don't want you, we don't want you here, we want you to go from this place."

Even though I was so afraid, I tried arguing with them but I failed.

'Wrong side'

Full of fear, I tried asking again but all they would say was: "We don't want excuses."

Shouting, "Listen, take your things and go" they then started chasing the ladies selling vegetables away and so I put all my tools and customer's shoes into my sack.

I am suffering even more than before now, my family is suffering because I am not doing anything
The ladies were all chased out.

I haven't seen them since. They're not selling vegetables any more and so they must be suffering too.

The men didn't take anything from me but I was so afraid.

I am lucky because the owners of the business near the pavement, where I mended shoes for about 20 years, are letting me work in their yard.

But now only my regulars know where I am. Passers-by cannot see me anymore because now I am on the wrong side of the wall.

There is little fuel now and commuter buses are very scarce and so I walk the 10km to work and then back home again when it is dark.

Driven to tears

I am suffering even more than before now.

A looted supermarket in Harare after hundreds of residents rioted after police destroyed street stalls in an ongoing crackdown on vendors and other illegals in the capital (AFP/Getty Images)
Edwell fears his problems will affect his son's future

My family is suffering because I am not doing anything.

I am not very busy, sure.

I charge Z$15,000 ($0.26) to fix heels and for soles it is about Z$35,000 ($0.60) and now that I am hardly doing anything I am crying.

I recently had to buy my 15-year-old son some things for school. All I could afford was his books, a new pair of shoes and socks and some short trousers and it came to over Z$200,000 ($3.60).

I still have to pay his school fees for this term which come to Z$350,000 ($6.20).

I don't know how I will be able to.

Have you or anyone you know been affected by the "restore order" campaign? What do you think about what is happening in Zimbabwe?

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

All I would like to say about people against the clean up in Harare is what would happen to anyone in London, Canada or the US if they decided to build illegal, sub-standard shacks in backyards to house people for a profit, or decide to set up a box on the road side and start selling sweet and gum etc. These people say they have no means of survival, why don't they live off the land? The government was giving out land to people who wanted to improve their lives by becoming self-reliant.
Justin Jay, Harare, Zimbabwe

I thought my 26 years in Zimbabwe were tough but this month I have seen great suffering amongst Mugabe-led people. Forget about the hunger and transport problems and think about the mental torture every Zimbabwean rich or poor┐ forget about our daily tradition of where am I going to get food but the new tradition of asking will I be alive the next day because of the beatings you get from armed forces.

And in any case the army and the police are suffering more because most of them are shack dwellers and the majority live in the so-called illegal structures. Most of these people, if not all, cannot have three meals a day. They struggle for even one. Please we need your help.
Simba, Harare

Ironically they've done more damage to the people they were supposed to be championing
Mbonisi, Newcastle, Australia

Things have gone from bad to worse and none of it has made any sense. They have destroyed lives on both sides of the fence and ironically they've done more damage to the people they were supposed to be championing. We all knew things had to change in regards to land reform but the most frustrating thing about being Zimbabwean is that despite our leaders being among the most educated in Africa, if not the world, our government is characterised by the most ill-advised and ill-informed decisions any government could possibly make. Mr Mugabe has with a series of blundering, illogical political and economic decisions eroded all that was good about Zimbabwe and unfortunately the ones to pay the price are the people of Zimbabwe.
Mbonisi, Newcastle, Australia

It's sad to hear that one of the former leading crop harvest countries is bringing such suffering to her people. It's a shame for all African leaders that they have to tackle poverty by whatever means possible.
PK Yones, Asmara, Eritrea

I first visited Zimbabwe in 1980 just after the war and the people - black and white - were full of hope for the future. Mugabe spoke of reconciliation and a place in the sun for all. I have visited this beautiful country every few years since then, the last time in 2004. The plight of the people then was such that I was reduced to tears. I believe that it is very much worse now. Unless you've been there it is impossible to imagine just how serious the situation is.
Mobass, London, UK

The crackdown on illegal vendors and shanty parts of the country is a good way of ameliorating Zimbabwe in the context that our country had been reduced to a generation of beggars and destitutes. It's probably the timing which is regrettable since most people in Zimbabwe are suffering economically. If we are to be balanced in our assessments, we would note that both opposition and leading party supporters are affected in the same way, though urban areas are an opposition stronghold.

What is regrettable is the fact that people are sleeping in streets whilst burning some firewood to try and keep the cold away. These illegal structures which are being burnt had degenerated into a nest of thieves and burglars. We cannot tell whether the evictions are genuine or not but the truth that remains is that people in Zimbabwe seriously need God for the betterment of everyone. My challenge is - what is law and what is lawlessness?
Engineer TM, Harare

The so-called learned president says he is doing this for the tourists - so the tourists can walk on clean streets and see the people starving?
Matombo Max, South Africa

I could not sleep last night after listening to Ignatious Chombo, the minister of local government on SABC Africa trying to justify to the world why his government is making people homeless in Zimbabwe. After switching to Sky News soon afterwards, there was a certain doctor Matsanga -I believe he is Ugandan, who tried to blame the West (and not the Africans themselves) for the social degeneration in Africa including Zimbabwe. My heart just sank.

It was a fact that in Zimbabwe the informal sector was employing the majority of the labour force in Zimbabwe (80%) in a country with 70% unemployment. What this madness has done is to push unemployment to well over 90% all in the name of cleanliness. Cleanliness from what or for what? From the opposition? And the so-called learned president says he is doing this for the tourists - so the tourists can walk on clean streets and see the people starving?

Who wants to visit Zimbabwe anyway? People coming from the east - I suppose who are open. I am just angry and would like to appeal to all caring people in the world to highlight this tragedy whereby perhaps a million people are now homeless, without shelter, income, food medicine, school etc.
Matombo Max, South Africa

I am one of the victims affected by this so-called "operation murambatsvina". Honestly speaking guys, this man called Mugabe doesn't have people at heart because civilians are being harassed by armed forces. I think the best solution is for other countries to intervene as a matter of urgency as people are now crying day and night.
Zvakwana, Harare, Zimbabwe

Where is the African Union?
Binjamin, Amssake, Chad

We from neighbouring countries suffer a lot because of the policies of just one man in the region. What have Zimbabweans done to deserve such treatment? Why is the world quiet?
Kapepa Kapepa, Gaborone, Botswana

The Mugabe government is punishing all urban dwellers for not voting in favour of the ruling party in the election. I was running a very busy informal carpentry business in downtown Harare. All of my wares were destroyed and I do not have anywhere to start. I look after my family of three children, my late brother's family of six children, my widowed mother and I was employing my brothers and sisters who have equally been rendered unemployed abruptly. My hope and only hope now lies in God.
Isaac Thomas, Harare, Zimbabwe

The operation should have a public relations face by coming up with prudent policy alternatives
Chimuti Andrew, Harare

The clean-up operation currently underway in Zimbabwe's cities and towns is necessary to rid the country of crime and vice. However, the operation should have a public relations face by coming up with prudent policy alternatives. Right now the authorities should be working on alternative land to resettle those that have been displaced. The exercise was long overdue.
Chimuti Andrew, Harare, Zimbabwe

Everything happening in Zimbabwe marks the last kick of a dead regime. Optimistically looking at the situation, I can safely say Mugabe is gone. It's not going to be long before we celebrate.
Joel C, Keswick

Do you know that in towns like Chegutu vendors are given two days or more to vacate their illegal businesses because Chegutu was worn by Zanu-PF? Right now there is no harassment n Chegutu.
Wadzanai Mutandwa, Kwekwe

Sunshine City... my foot! Honestly how can a caring government play with people's livelihoods? Zimbabweans it's high time we fight!
Cheryl Zvakwana, Johannesburg, RSA

We have suffered and suffered. My family used to rely on assistance from my sister who is in the USA. Every month she could transfer some money at Western Union and we could receive forex from Western Union to change at the black market to pay rent, school fees, pay transport and food.

We were then living in a flat in the Avenues. She sent US$400 last April and the bank gave us Z$2,400,000 while we could get Z$8,000,000 from the black market. We were not able to pay our rent of Z$1,700,000 that month and the landlord threw us out. My father, my mother and two younger brothers are now living in a two bed roomed house in Chitungwiza where accommodation is Z$1,000,000 per month.

We are not sure what will happen to us next term when two of my brothers have to pay school fees. Mr Mugabe, please resign before all Zimbabweans starve and die.
John Kapito, Zimbabwe

The situation in Zimbabwe is appalling, so many people suffering for one man's ruthless greed and desperation to remain in power. Mugabe is only cracking down on Harare and the other cities as a means of intimidation - the cities are MDC strongholds and policies such as cleaning-up Harare are only smoke screens disguising attempts to break them - his vindictiveness and lack of rationality know no bounds.
Anonymous, ex-Zimbabwe

I remember those days in the 1990s when I was involved in running battles with the police at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare. Now my father tells me he is doing the same thing in our neighbourhood. It is high time the people of Zimbabwe stood up to this bullying. What is next for these suffering people?
Bingo Xola, Chicago, USA

I remember such a sanitation program which went on a couple of years ago in Lagos. It was horrible. I don't know why they don't try to relocate the people first before destroying their homes. It only made the problem worse because the people only moved. And they came back after a year anyway. Someone really forgot or was too lazy to do his homework in Zimbabwe. This is another decision-taker being plain irresponsible.
DD, Lagos, Nigeria

The time is rapidly approaching when we will demand that it is about time all this nonsense stopped
Kwabena EA, USA
It is becoming increasingly clear that the younger African generation are really getting fed up with the inability of African leaders to prevent our various states from continuing on the socio-economic downslides. I believe the time is rapidly approaching when we will demand that it is about time all this nonsense stopped!
Kwabena EA, USA

The indignant umbrage at the recent evictions is being taken out of context. Harare was insidiously degenerating into a shanty town. Sadly, Mugabe is being upbraided for issues that have nothing to do with politics. Here in the UK, gypsies have been evicted for illegal occupation of designated land; you cannot have public order if everyone did what they liked, when they liked. Please let your criticism be informed, otherwise you are not helping Zimbabwe.
Zvina Mutandiro, London, UK

I spent 1993-94 teaching in Zimbabwe and had street tailors repair clothing. It is so sad to think of what Mugabe has done to hard working students and their parents who struggled to give them an opportunity. The USA share much of the blame for allowing this to happen.
P Hawxhurst, Houston, TX, USA

We have just been waiting in vain to see what the west is going to do about this kind of situation in Zimbabwe. Our main fear is that people are being deported back to this lawless country from Britain as we speak. It is my understanding that urbanites are suffering this much because most urban seats went to the main opposition MDC party.
Anonymous UK resident

Many of my friends and classmates in Zimbabwe have had to resort to selling goods on the street corners, or in informal tuck shops. Most work three or four different jobs, and hold degrees and diplomas in various fields of education. However, they barely have enough money to buy food for their families, never mind pay the rent and fulfil their other financial responsibilities. My belief is this, if the government is going to destroy the little bit of income these people were getting, then it is their responsibility to either feed and house them, or find them new jobs.
Katherine, Manitoba, Canada

Cleaning up Zimbabwe's streets is analogous to beating a child for being dirty after you have deprived her of every means to ever clean herself. Zimbabweans are desperately trying to make ends meet under a regime that continues to destroy the economy that once sustained its citizens. Of course, Mugabe will blame the failing economy on Blair and his allies, but all but a few here in Zimbabwe know who the real culprit is.
David Rousseau, Harare, Zimbabwe

They are denying people a means of livelihood and not giving them an alternative
Ngqwele Sangalas, Bulawayo
I think the government's move is irrational because they are denying people a means of livelihood and not giving them an alternative. Destroying illegal structures but when there are no legal ones. This is very inconsiderate and will leave many people opting for theft robbery as means of survival. First they run down the economy and then want to remove people trying hard to make life hopeful.
Ngqwele Sangalas, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

The people of Zimbabwe were given a chance to vote violence free. On the day I moved round and there was absolute calm. You could vote anything you wanted and there was no threat of violence even though we all knew we would be beaten up after if the opposition were doing well. The country voted for more of the same and now we are suffering as anyone with a brain cell could have predicted.

The amount of beatings we would have received is a lot less than what we are receiving now. We must learn if we are being taught. For 26 years we have refused to learn the same lesson taught us over and over again. We almost have no right to complain.
Benson Magaba, Harare, Zimbabwe

The clean up process is justified, right, purposeful and correct. The problem in Zimbabwe is the way things are done (implemented). You can not just come from nowhere and destroy houses like the riot police are doing. This is betraying your own people. It is inhuman. It is irresponsible.

In my opinion, they were supposed first to find a suitable place for relocation, prepare well planned resettlement, and then resettle the people phase by phase until finally the places are empty, after which it is safe to destroy (clean) them. Unfortunately, Zimbabwean politicians are getting more and more crazy by implementing noble ideas irresponsibly and wrongly.
JJ, Zimbabwe

I'm out of the country in the UK now. Because of him my family starve so I would like to see him down as soon as possible before my temper reaches its limit.
Amkela, Plumtree

I don't see anything wrong in trying to restore Harare to its "Sunshine City" status.
Ethel, Manitoba, Canada

My heart goes out to the people of Harare, Bulawayo, and the rest of Zimbabwe. It is difficult to imagine the beautiful cities I saw destroyed by the police at the whim of Mr Mugabe. His rule is doing nothing but harming the people he pretends to rule benevolently. The purposeful destruction of this country and the wonderful people I met during my trip in 2001 is extremely tough to watch from abroad.
Steve Stratton, Camarillo, California

This is absolutely infuriating and leaves me feeling completely helpless because I nor the international community can do anything. I'm not even sure what help the military could provide to restore some sort of democracy. Now the government is not only harming the white-man, the so-called enemy, but is literally destroying the homes and livelihoods of their own people. Not just Ndebele people but Shonas too. Every year, we have told ourselves that it can't get any worse. At what point will we hit rock bottom? And at what cost?
G, USA (ex- Zimbabwe)

A strong and stable Zimbabwe is a threat to South Africa's economy
Zimbabwe Warrior, Missouri
I have relatives back home in Zimbabwe and I am in college in USA. The news from home is very disturbing. Most of my friends and relatives have no jobs. What will they do? I do not know why the world is watching whilst Zimbabweans are suffering. The truth is that as long as things stay bad in Zimbabwe, South Africa benefits as investors go to SA instead of Zimbabwe. So Mbeki is smiling all the way and his diplomacy makes things go well in South Africa. A strong and stable Zimbabwe is a threat to South Africa's economy.
Zimbabwe Warrior, Missouri, USA

Major Zimbabwe police crackdown
23 May 05 |  Africa

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