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Last Updated: Friday, 24 June 2005, 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK
Zimbabwe's human tragedy
By Alastair Leithead
BBC News, Zimbabwe

Lavender Nyika, whose daughter Charmaine died
Lavender Nyika's daughter was one of at least three to have died
Lavender and Herbert Nyika tidied a small earth grave of their two-year-old daughter Charmaine.

Her mother adjusted the small cross next to the scrap metal headstone and remembered the day that police came with bulldozers and destroyed their home.

"I didn't even have time to bring Charmaine to safety," she told me.

"She was killed when the walls collapsed on top of her."

It is like a scene from a natural disaster
Alastair Leithead

A piece of red plastic flaps in the wind outside the Nyika's home - a symbol of loss in the family.

All that remains of the house itself is the foundations and a pile of rubble.

At least two other children have also been killed.

'Destitute and desperate'

Charmaine's family blame the government, saying it is they who tell the police to continue the destruction.

A conservative estimate from the UN puts the number of displaced people at 275,000, but it appears to be a lot more than that on the ground.

Vendors salvage goods from fire started by police
Officials blame street vendors for wrecking the economy
Riot police are systematically going from suburb to suburb in the towns and cities, destroying the homes of the poorest Zimbabweans and leaving them destitute and desperate.

But these are not all illegal or makeshift settlements - many are brick and concrete houses and business that were built during Zimbabwe's colonial days.

In Bulawayo, the church halls are full of the newly homeless.

"They came to my home and they burned it down," one man told me as he stirred a pot of bubbling maize meal.

"They say they have a strategy, they say they are clearing up the towns."

Those who made it to refuge in church grounds are the lucky ones.

The destruction is now taking place on such a scale that the police cannot keep up.

In some cases they are forcing people to demolish their own homes, or charging them a fee to do it.

Those who choose to do it themselves at least have one last opportunity to salvage some meagre possessions or a piece of roofing to take with them as they are displaced.

Displacement camps

Outside Harare, thousands of people have been dumped on a farm by the government and left to fend for themselves without clean water, food or sanitation.

Camp Caledonia, outside Harare
Thousands are in camps with no sanitation, water or food
At one of the camps, Caledonia Farm, intelligence agents mingled among the dispossessed.

The entrance was blocked by police, forcing us to sneak in through the bush to see the conditions there.

People arranged what was left of their possessions around them as though they still had a home, taking shelter under a few sheets and blankets.

Elsewhere, others sleep in the open or try to go out to their extended families in rural areas.

But a lack of fuel in some places makes that increasingly difficult; buses stand in petrol queues while the people sleep in the bitter cold of Zimbabwe's winter.

It is like a scene from a natural disaster, but the Zimbabwean government is doing this to its own people. But for what purpose?

Some believe the campaign is meant as punishment to the urban voters who sided with the opposition; others say it is to disperse an angry poor population before thoughts of revolution can surface from within it.

Others see a longer term purpose of creating a new class of rural poor, dependent on government aid and ultimately prepared to support the government because of that aid.

Whatever the government's motivation, this is a human tragedy - and it gets worse by the day.


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