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President Mugabe’s Slum Clean-Up Campaign Causes Humanitarian Crisis in Zimbabwe 


The issue of African poverty relief, a central goal of the G8 Summit this week in Gleneagles, Scotland, shared the limelight with another African issue, the growing humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe.

Under the direction of President Robert Mugabe, hundreds of thousands of people have been made homeless during the winter season by his government’s slum clean-up campaign, a police action condemned by human rights organizations and Western governments. President Mugabe says the campaign is necessary to stamp out urban squalor and illegal activity including hoarding, black marketeering and illicit foreign currency dealings.

Children at Caledonia Farm, a transit camp for thousands of people displaced by the clean-up campaign in Zimbabwe
According to Tererai Karimakwenda, a news producer in London for SW Radio Africa, the only independent news source operating in Zimbabwe, the destruction of homes and businesses is indiscriminate, and people are being forced at gunpoint to destroy their own homes. The justification for the mass police action is completely false, Mr. Karimakwenda said. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, he said some of the “illegal” structures bulldozed were built with funds from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Mr. Karimakwenda asserted that, by spreading the population of urban poor into the rural areas, President Mugabe is using the crackdown to consolidate his stranglehold over the country by diffusing an anticipated mass uprising.

Freelance Zimbabwean journalist Tendai Maphosa said the crackdown would only worsen an already dismal economic situation. Zimbabwe has 80-percent unemployment and over 100-percent inflation. With the eradication of the businesses of the so-called “black market” economy in the shadows of the urban slums, poverty will only increase, and the very uprising the crackdown was supposed to prevent may be ignited, Mr. Maphosa said.

While the U.S. and British governments have condemned the uprooting as a violation of human rights, not a single African nation has broken its silence about the crisis, including South African President Thabo Mbeki, according to Delia Robertson, a VOA reporter in Johannesburg. Ms. Robertson said the government’s silence is part of South Africa’s official policy of “quiet diplomacy.”

The silence presents as big a problem as the crisis itself for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in his campaign for African recovery, according to Richard Cockett, Africa editor of the Economist magazine. He said that, by turning a blind eye to the situation in Zimbabwe, African leaders are undermining all their proclaimed commitments to democratic principles. Tererai Karimkwenda of SW Radio Africa believes that behind the silence lies a gentlemen’s agreement among the African heads of state, which he calls a “brotherhood of thugs.”

But Richard Cockett said there are two reasons why African leaders, especially Mr. Mbeke, support Mr. Mugabe. By pitching the West’s criticism of his actions as a part of an ongoing colonial struggle against the British imperialists, Mr. Mugabi turns it into a racial issue and reinforces his popular image as a hero of the black liberation struggle, Mr. Cockett said. It would be political suicide to break from the anti-colonial rhetoric for Mr. Mbeke, who is also keen to keep Zimbabwe’s unrest from spilling over into South Africa, according to Mr. Cockett.

Thus far the African Union has rejected Western calls to put pressure on Zimbabwe to stop the demolition campaign. International journalists say leading industrial powers will probably need support from African leaders if the situation in Zimbabwe is to improve. And British Prime Minister Tony Blair has warned that the Africa-wide silence on the Zimbabwean crisis may make the case for increasing African aid harder to sell to the G8 nations.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.

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