An international advocacy group has identified the government of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe as one of the world’s worst offenders of housing rights. In its annual announcement highlighting violations around the world, the Geneva-based Center on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) named the Harare government, along with China and the Indian state of Maharashtra, as the top offenders. COHRE has been monitoring conditions in Zimbabwe since 2000, and in its latest report, it says the Mugabe government evicted more than 200,000 people from poor urban areas in a massive campaign called Operation Murambatsvina, or “Restore Order.” Zimbabwean officials explained the move as necessary to rid the country of its criminal elements. Other measures include eradicating illegal and hazardous housing and eliminating black-market dealings in scarce commodities such as maize and petrol. Critics have linked the crackdown to a power struggle within the ruling party, ZANU-PF, over who will succeed the 81-year-old President Mugabe. They suggest that by transplanting people living in non-ZANU-PF urban communities into rural areas, the ruling party stands a better chance of containing the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, whose supporters tend to live in the cities.
Attorney Tinashe Mundawarara is communications officer for Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, a group opposed to the evictions. He tells English to Africa reporter Howard Lesser the government is not meeting its target for providing shelter to keep the displaced off the streets. Mr. Mundawarara says instead of cleaning up the slums, the evictions have led to an all-time high in starvation and susceptibility to disease. He says transit camps, initially set up by the government, have outlived their intended purpose. And he said the government is routinely dismantling squatters settlements that sprang up for victims trickling back to the outskirts of cities from earlier relocation in rural areas. Mr. Mundawarara says current policies leave little room for optimism, but he says close monitoring and demands for accountability from the international community are welcome efforts to keep the government in check.