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UN Envoy to Assess Zimbabwe 'Clean-up' Operation

Anna Kagumulo Tibaijuka (File photo)
A U.N. envoy to Zimbabwe is assessing the scope of evictions of informal traders and those living in unapproved structures. The envoy is to determine the humanitarian impact of the government campaign.

A U.N. statement says the executive director of U.N.-HABITAT, Anna Kagumulo Tibaijuka, is heading an eight-member delegation and is to meet with President Robert Mugabe during the week.

Mrs. Tibaijuka's visit coincides with a report in the state-controlled weekly, The Sunday Mail, which says crackdown called Operation Restore Order is winding down. In its place, the newspaper says, the government is planning a massive reconstruction program, dubbed Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle, which means "Live Well" in the Shona and Sindebele languages.

The crackdown saw the demolition of unapproved residential structures and the closing of informal manufacturers. It stopped vendors from operating in the country's urban centers, whether they were licensed or not. The United Nations estimates that the campaign left 200,000 people homeless.

The Sunday Mail report, quoting an unnamed source, says the reconstruction program will benefit gainfully employed Zimbabweans, including licensed micro, small, and medium enterprises.

The paper says, the reconstruction operation, which has an August 30 deadline, will be implemented with immediate effect in various centers throughout the country. But it says priority will be given to Harare and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's largest urban centers.

The Sunday Mail did not say how many houses or business premises are going to be built.

A spokesperson for the Combined Harare Residents Association Mike Davies, dismissed the reconstruction exercise as a face saving exercise for the benefit of the U.N. envoy. He said, It does not change the fact that the demolitions were illegal," and asked, "...why didnt they build first before making people homeless? “

Mr. Davies said about 800,000 people are on the housing waiting list in Harare and he does not see how the government will manage to do in two months what it has promised and failed to do since independence in 1980.

Despite continued criticism at home and abroad, Mr. Mugabe continues to voice his support for the destruction of homes and livelihoods, saying the crackdown was launched to deal with a potential hazard posed by unregulated and uncontrolled informal traders and illegal urban settlements.

A report in the independent weekly newspaper, The Standard, says Operation Restore Order launched on May 19 has claimed six lives. In addition to two toddlers crushed by falling walls, the paper says a man whose home was demolished committed suicide, and three other people died from cold-induced pneumonia, after being forced to sleep in the open following the demolition of their homes.

The crackdown comes at a time when Zimbabwe is facing its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980, when Mr. Mugabe took office. Unemployment stands at more than 80 percent, and inflation at more than 100 percent.

A crippling fuel shortage has left most cars idle. The government says the erratic fuel supply situation which started in 1999 has been worsened by the high price of crude oil and the chronic shortage of foreign currency Zimbabwe is experiencing.