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Zimbabwe Court Stops Evictions from Harare Shantytown  - 2004-09-03

Residents of a shantytown on the outskirts of Harare have clashed with police and municipal workers who, the residents say, were trying to evict them. The police were acting despite a court ruling Wednesday temporarily barring the government from evicting the residents or destroying their property.

Porta Farm, a shantytown on the edges of Harare, was actually started by the government, which moved homeless people from the streets of Harare to the outskirts of the city ahead of British Queen Elizabeth's visit in 1991. The government did not want the queen to see the homeless on the streets of Harare.

Over the years, the residents created their own infrastructure, including schools and some health services. They also constructed homes.

As poverty gripped the country in the last five years, many people could no longer afford to pay rent in the city and moved to Porta Farm. About 10,000 people live there today, according to government estimates.

Last month, the minister of local government, Ignatius Chombo, issued an ultimatum to them to vacate the area and make way for what he said would be a new sewage works. He gave the families until August 15 to move, and many resisted.

The residents argued the only income they had came from fishing at a large lake nearby, and the area they were due to move to, on the east of Harare, was dry. They also said there were no schools or infrastructure on the land.

This week a group of them went to court, which ordered that they be allowed to stay in their homes.

Police spokesman Wyne Bvudzijena said the settlers had attacked government employees and so tear gas was used against them. Police have stopped all visitors to the informal settlement.