Image: Zimbabwe family
After returning from a transit camp, a family sits on property where their house was before the Zimbabwe government destroyed it.
updated 7/28/2005 2:54:01 PM ET 2005-07-28T18:54:01

Zimbabwe's government on Thursday announced the completion of a crackdown on slums and street traders that left some 700,000 people without homes or livelihoods. But the opposition said demolitions continued.

The campaign has sparked domestic and international criticism, with a U.N. envoy last week presenting a report condemning the crackdown and calling for urgent assistance to help those who have lost their homes and jobs. The envoy said another 2.4 million people have been affected by the crackdown.

On Thursday, state radio broadcast statements from Vice President Joyce Mujuru that "Operation Murambatsvina (Drive Out Trash) is now complete," and from Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga, promising compensation for those affected by the crackdown who "followed legal channels."

But Paul Themba Nyathi, spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said: "As Mujuru was making that announcement, one of our offices, in a building that had been approved, was razed to the ground."

Movement for Democratic Change officials were examining countrywide reports of further sporadic demolitions Wednesday and trying to trace 5,000 people forcibly removed over the weekend from a Caledonia farm "transit camp" 20 miles east of Harare.

"What has been downplayed is the culture of the police beating people, and that is accepted as standard practice," said Themba Nyathi.

The Movement for Democratic Change claims the campaign is aimed at breaking up its strongholds among the urban poor and driving its supporters to famine-ridden rural areas for political "re-education" by ruling ZANU-PF party militias.

An attempt to reduce crime
Zimbabwe's government argues the campaign is aimed at reducing crime and restoring order in overcrowded slums and illegal markets, and has pledged to build new homes for those uprooted. But independent economists argue the government cannot afford the $300 million it has promised for reconstruction.

Even if the money is found, churches have estimated that $300 million will provide no more than a tenth of the 30,000 to 50,000 houses, outbuildings, cabins and shacks that were destroyed.

Radio bulletins Thursday repeatedly broadcast recordings of Mujuru saying: "Now we have embarked on the final stage of Operation Garikai (let us be settled and live at peace). Government has set aside resources for this, they are substantial and underline our determination to improve the quality of life, especially housing, for all our people."

It was unclear whether President Robert Mugabe would honor the pledges to end the demolitions upon his return from a state visit to China.

In the past, Mugabe has repeatedly countermanded his deputies' attempts in his absence to soften policy. In 2000, Vice President Joseph Msika, acting as head of state, ordered militants to vacate 5,000 white-owned farms only to have Mugabe, on return from a foreign trip, insist on forcing through the "fast-track land reform."

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