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Zimbabwean High-Income Homeowners Get Temporary Demolition Reprieve

The Zimbabwean government has announced a temporary halt to the demolition of unapproved residential structures and informal business premises.

Homeowners in Zimbabwe's high income residential areas have been given 10 days to regularize illegal structures. That's according to Ignatius Chombo, the minister of local government.

A report in the state-controlled daily newspaper, The Herald, does not say how the structures are to be regularized. But it says the suspension of demolition work is a response to complaints from some homeowners that they could not find plans for their properties, and that the city council, which is meant to have copies, is not availing them in time.

Some residents also say, when they bought their houses, they never got any plans, and that some of the houses are so old, plans do not exist. Harare City Council says it has records only from 1960 onwards.

The minister also says people operating unlicensed businesses must get them registered promptly and pay the relevant taxes.

The temporary suspension of the demolitions may provide some respite for Zimbabweans in up-market areas, but comes too late for the estimated 200,000 poor Zimbabweans made homeless in what the government calls "Operation Restore Order," launched on May 19.

The government says the exercise is meant to clean up Zimbabwe's urban areas, and curb black market trade in scarce basic commodities and foreign currency.

The operation has been widely condemned at home and abroad as a gross violation of human rights. A United Nations special envoy spent 12 days in the country assessing the humanitarian impact of the crackdown, and is expected to present a report of her findings in the next few days.

A delegation of South African churchmen also visited the country recently, and expressed dismay at the conditions under which the homeless are living. They say they plan to launch a relief campaign to help those made destitute by the crackdown. The clerics met with South African President Thabo Mbeki Friday. Mr. Mbeki is reported to have said he would assist their relief efforts.

The South African president has, along with other African leaders, resisted pressure from Western countries to condemn Zimbabwe. Mr. Mbeki says he awaits the report by the U.N. envoy before commenting.