June 2, 2006
Zimbabwe’s Drive Out the Trash Campaign
Amnesty International released today satellite images of a community that has been uprooted as a part of the Zimbabwean government’s policy of demolishing houses. The first picture of the community Porta Farm on June 22, 2002. The second one is of Porta Farm on April 6, 2006 after the government had the community razed (photo copyright: Digital Globe, Inc.)
The satellite images were commissioned to demonstrate the complete destruction of Porta Farm — a large, informal settlement that was established 16 years ago and had schools, a children’s centre and a mosque. The organization also released graphic video footage showing the forced evictions taking place prior to the demolitions.
“The images and footage are a graphic indictment of the Zimbabwean government’s policies. They show the horrifying transition of an area from a vibrant community to rubble and shrubs — in the space of just ten months,” said Kolawole Olaniyan, Director of Amnesty International’s Africa programme.
In May 2005 the government of Zimbabwe set up Operation Murambatsvina. The UN claims it translates into Restore Order, but others say “Drive out the Trash” is more apt. This was done under the guise of being a beautification program by cleaning up urban areas and preventing big cities like Harare from having too many slums.
Instead it has demolished homes and small, informal businesses, evicting thousands of people in the process. The operation, which was carried out in winter and against a backdrop of severe food shortages, targeted poor urban areas around the country.
On 27 June 2005, one month after this program started, police officers came to Porta Farm and distributed fliers telling residents to pack up their property and leave their homes. The police told the residents they would be back the following morning, giving them less than 24 hours to comply. Early in the morning of 28 June, a convoy of vehicles and police re-entered the area.
Residents watched as bulldozers reduced their homes to rubble. Police officers reportedly threatened the residents, saying anyone who resisted eviction would be beaten. The destruction of Porta Farm went on all day. Thousands of people slept outside in the rubble in mid-winter. The next day, the police returned to continue with the demolitions. They also began to forcibly remove people on the back of trucks.
The communities affected by this operation were amongst the poorest and most vulnerable in Zimbabwe. In several cases, such as Porta Farm, they had been the victims of previous forced evictions carried out by the authorities. They were given almost no notice before their homes were demolished and no alternative accommodation was provided. The government stated publicly that those evicted should return to the rural areas.
In a report released 22 July 2005 the United Nations (UN) estimated that in six weeks time, 2.4 million people were affected, of which 700,000 lost their homes or livelihoods in Zimbabwe. The Guardian (UK) ran a story last year saying the UN report condemned President Robert Mugabe’s actions and that it disregarded national and international legal frameworks.
John Vidal, the Guardian’s environment editor also offers this editorial. Although Mugabe’s actions are no different than the policies carried out by the white minority government of Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), other African leaders will not condemn him because of the legacy of colonial land ownership:
But there may be another reason why African leaders have not condemned the evictions. Urbanisation is overwhelming most African cities, which have been flooded by impoverished people forced off the land. According to the UN’s 2003 study of urbanisation and slums, the driving force behind the slums of Africa and Asia is not bad governance or tyrants, but laissez-faire globalisation, the tearing down of trade barriers, the privatisation of national economies, structural adjustment programmes imposed on indebted countries by the IMF, and the lowering of tariffs promoted by the World Trade Organisation.