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S. African Clerics Dismayed by Condition of Displaced Zimbabweans

Erica Nyahunzi, right, prepares a meal for her family outside, after their family home was destroyed at Porta Farm
A group of South African clergymen have expressed unhappiness with the living conditions of people displaced under the Zimbabwe government's blitz on informal businesses and unapproved residential structures.

South African Council of Churches president Russel Botman said the suffering of the displaced they visited is indescribable.

The South African Press Association says Mr. Botman was reading from a report compiled by the clergyman after their two-day visit to Harare. Mr. Botman is quoted as saying, "What we have seen is a small portion of the human suffering playing itself out in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who call the townships of Harare home."

Describing conditions at the Caledonia Farm Transit Camp outside Harare, Mr. Botman said the only shelter people in the camp have are plastic sheets supported by pieces of wood. He said the people at Caledonia Farm told his delegation the authorities told them they would only be at the transit camp for five days. Some of them have been in the camp for one month, the churchman said.

Mr. Botman said the displaced of all ages are living under inhuman conditions and are barely getting by on rations supplied by foreign and local non-governmental organizations and churches. He also said there was a shortage of water in the camp.

Monday, another member of the delegation, Archbishop Njongokulu Ndungane of Cape Town likened the conditions of Zimbabwe's displaced to those he witnessed in Somalia after last December's tsunami hit the East African country. Zimbabweans describe the crackdown as their own tsunami.

On their arrival Sunday, the churchmen said they are prepared to take their findings to their government and to President Thabo Mbeki.

Meanwhile, the demolition of illegal structures continues. On Monday, the focus shifted from the poor areas to high-income residential areas. The authorities urged home owners to destroy all unapproved structures and asked them to have approved plans of their properties ready to show the police.

The crackdown, which the government calls Operation Restore Order, was launched May 19 and has been widely condemned at home and abroad as a gross violation of human rights. The United Nations estimates that about 200,000 poor Zimbabweans have been made homeless and has appealed to the government to halt the forced evictions.

The government, faced with its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980, defends the exercise saying it targets criminal activities and aims to bring glamour back to Zimbabwe's urban centers.