Zimbabwe Government Uproots Shanty Dwellers

Melissa Block talks to news photographer Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, who is in Harare, Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe police are destroying thousands of shanty homes that they say are illegal. Mukwazhi has taken pictures of people waiting to relocate after their homes were demolished.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

In Zimbabwe, in Southern Africa, it's said as many as one million people have been forced from their homes and tens of thousands arrested in a government campaign. Police and paramilitary squads have been torching and bulldozing shantytowns and roadside shops in Zimbabwe's main cities. President Robert Mugabe calls it Operation Drive Out Trash. He claims the cities have become havens for criminal activity. But the opposition says it's part of a campaign to punish opposition supporters and drive them back to the countryside. Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi is a free-lance photographer in the capital Harare.

Mr. Mukwazhi, what have you seen, as you've driven around Harare, in the aftermath of this week?

Mr. TSVANGIRAYI MUKWAZHI (Photographer): Well, basically I have seen, you know, houses which were demolished by police and also by their residents because police officers have said, `This structure is illegal, and you have to put it down.' And they're actually now forced to destroy their own houses, you know. So it's been like a tear of destruction. It's the kind of picture that you want to associate with like if there's been a tsunami, you know, bricks flying all over the place. And their homes have been destroyed. Their workplaces have been destroyed, where they get their income to provide for their families. It's actually a hopeless situation, you know--people waiting with their furniture, you know, just waiting to go. But God knows where, you know, 'cause they're just homeless.

BLOCK: It's wintertime there now in Zimbabwe, cold at night. Where are these homeless people finding shelter, or are they?

Mr. MUKWAZHI: I'm afraid they don't have any shelter. You know, they're just sleeping outside, you know, with the few blankets that they have. And, you know, considering it's really cold--it's winter here. It's really extremely chilly, and it's really--so it's ...(unintelligible) you know, 'cause you have a situation whereby you have a family, and they have really young children; some mothers still breast-feeding. And, you know, they have these babies, and, you know, they're just left out in the cold. And it's really sad.

BLOCK: Is there any form of aid, international aid, Red Cross aid maybe, getting to these homeless people who've been evicted, had their homes destroyed?

Mr. MUKWAZHI: I haven't seen any form of aid, you know, in terms of--but, you know, it's interesting that you ask this question, you know, 'cause as I was taking pictures this afternoon, they were all crying for help. They were like, `Help us.' You know, `We need--can you find accommodation for us?' You know, `Can you at least, you know, find some shelter?' And, you know, you see the families just appealing for help. But I haven't been able to see any kind of assistance, you know, from Red Cross or from any NGOs.

BLOCK: Does the Zimbabwean government allow NGOs to operate in the country?

Mr. MUKWAZHI: What they've done, they've made it very difficult for NGOs to operate in the country. You know, they've put up an NGO bill, which has ended actually, driving out NGOs. And, of course, they feel that they've been too sympathetic to the general people, and they feel that they're working with the opposition.

BLOCK: There is a lot of concern about a pending humanitarian crisis on top of this. There's been a severe drought. There are a lot of worries about famine right now. I know President Mugabe has denied in the past that there is a food crisis in Zimbabwe, but yesterday he did accept an offer of food aid from the UN's World Food Programme. What do you make of that?

Mr. MUKWAZHI: Well, I think it's ironical, you know, that you're saying that there isn't any food crisis. I mean, there is food crisis, you know, coupled with the drought that the country has--experiencing, particularly the whole region, not just focusing on Zimbabwe, you know. Millions of people are in need of food aid. It's just, I mean, virtually impossible to live without the food aid, you know.

BLOCK: Mr. Mukwazhi, thanks very much for talking with us.

Mr. MUKWAZHI: Thank you.

BLOCK: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi is a free-lance photographer in Harare, Zimbabwe.

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