In May 2005 the Zimbabwean government launched a blitz on informal businesses and unauthorized housing, making thousands homeless when their houses were razed. A year later some are still homeless, despite government promises to build them homes.
Towards the end of the demolition campaign called Operation Drive Out the Filth, the government announced the launch of an ambitious multi-billion-dollar construction project. The project dubbed Operation Live Well was meant to provide homes for thousands of the displaced.
Some of those are residents of The Hatcliffe Extension settlement just outside Harare.
Prior to the demolition it was home to 15,000 people. They had paid for and were allocated stands by the government in 1991. The authorities provided the wooden cabins they lived in. Those who had the means were putting up brick structures.
After their homes were razed, despite showing the police their lease documents, they were taken to a holding camp. After some weeks, and proving they were at Hatcliffe legally, they were taken back to what used to be their homes.
For shelter, the government promised every household four asbestos sheets and poles to make a 3x5 meter shed, regardless of family size. They were told that using plastic sheeting or any other material to wall off the structure was not allowed, because that would create a shantytown.
VOA recently visited the settlement to find that the government has provided only a few incomplete houses to some residents and building stopped at the end of last year. The houses have no doors, no windows and no floors.
Some without houses have benefited from a Catholic Church funded project, which is putting up plastic structures under corrugated steel sheets. The remainder are using whatever they can find to build shelter. Old plastic sheeting is the most used material.
Many of the residents who were employed or involved in the informal sector lost their jobs last year and are struggling to make ends meet. One of them who worked as a builder shares a flimsy structure with his wife and seven children. He expressed despair at the situation.
"We do not expect the government to build homes for us anymore, they have admitted they do not have any more money," he said. "We hear of donor organizations, which want to come and help, but we do not know if that is true."
Hatcliffe residents told VOA that disease is a problem in the settlement, which has no running water, electricity or toilets. Exposure to the elements worsens the situation; first it was the winter, then the hot summer and rainy season, now with a second winter looming the man's wife fears for the worst.
"A lot of the children get colds because of over exposure," she noted.
The World Food Program, through non-governmental organizations, is providing food for some of the displaced.
Leonard Karemba a spokesperson for Christian Care, one of the organizations helping the people, says they are assisting people at 12 centers in Harare.
"All in all, in Harare urban, we are assisting a total of 25,761 people," said Leonard Karemba.
Zimbabwe authorities say the blitz was meant to clean up urban areas. It also ostensibly targeted those it said were involved in criminal activities, black marketing of scarce basic commodities, and illegal dealing in foreign currency. But licensed traders and home industries were also destroyed.
A report by U.N. Special Envoy Anna Tibaijuka, who was sent to assess the impact of the exercise, condemned the government action. Jan Egeland, another U.N. envoy, agreed with the Tibaijuka report, but their findings were met with hostility and dismissed by the Zimbabwean government.
The government spurned offers of assistance, which included providing tents and basic brick and asbestos structures. It said it wanted permanent structures and did not want to give the impression that its citizens are refugees.
The local United Nations office could not confirm recent media reports that an agreement on a shelter design has been reached between the U.N. and the government.