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ActionAid International

Burning down the house to kill a rat!

An Analysis of the Demolitions in Zimbabwe

ActionAid International

July 2005

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Executive Summary

The diversity of views presented in this publication underlines the urgent need for national dialogue and debate about policy formulation and implementation. The various analyses were commissioned in response to what was increasingly becoming an impressionistic and anecdotal discussion about the reasons behind Operation Murambatsvina and its impact, especially on ordinary citizens. Issues examined include the historical and political context, rights and legal perspectives, impact on women and girls, social reproduction and order in relation to urban land and housing, urban planning, the role of the media, economic implications, public health and human security dimensions. The papers confirm the reaction of most Zimbabweans, and members of the regional and international communities – a sense of shock and awe at the magnitude and rapidity of destruction and dislocation. To the numerous issues and questions raised by the operation, mostly speculative answers could be given, again underlining the critical need for policy research capacity that will enable relevant actors to provide analyses based on empirical information. While the authors of these papers have been as objective as possible in dealing with the wide range of complex political, social and economic issue,s they in turn highlight the grey areas that can certainly benefit from more rigorous analysis.

Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order which started in May 2005 took place against the breakdown of the rule of law resulting in many cases of human rights abuse and denial of access to justice for the victims; promotion of the political culture of fear and the negation of democratic values and norms; humanitarian disasters of various kinds such as displacement of more than six thousand people from their rural home during the 2000 election campaign and well over 70 000 during and after the presidential election in 2002; the collapse of the social sector with health and education institutions failing to measure up to the expected standards of service delivery; a chronic shortage of foreign currency, fuel and many other imports necessary for manufacturing, mining, commerce and agriculture; capital flight, withdrawal of official development assistance and the drying up of foreign investment, resulting in the rapid shrinking of the economy; and soaring unemployment currently estimated to be higher than 80%, which contributes to an already unfortunate and unacceptable level of poverty, with some 80% of the population living below the poverty line. It is estimated that over 700 000 people have lost their homes, sources of livelihood and dignity as a result of the operation. Most affected are women and girls, including households with orphans, chronically ill persons, female-headed households, and elderly headed households.

The articles are unanimous that the operation resulted in severe suffering for the ordinary citizen that far outweighs, and is completely disproportionate to, the intended benefits. A key conclusion reached is the ineffective response by the government of Zimbabwe regarding policy formulation and implementation. Basic principles of good policy implementation especially consultation and involvement of key stakeholders particularly those most affected by the problems were completely ignored by those responsible for carrying out the operation. Such glaring omissions have given rise to speculation about the real reasons for the whole operation. The scepticism that has greeted official explanations is understandable in a context in which the government failed to consult its own citizens, give adequate notice, or comply with the laws of the land.

The current political environment is characterised by polarisation due to the contested legitimacy of the incumbent government and is not conducive to effective policy dialogue. Government’s priority appears to be to retain political power and it has resorted to manifestly undemocratic processes to respond to the growing number of social and economic problems that continue to confront the nation. The repressed political environment has impacted negatively on fundamental freedoms such as assembly, expression, and access to information. While the analyses acknowledge that issues of housing, urban planning and land use are long-standing problems emanating from the inequalities of Zimbabwe’s colonial past, the government’s response through Operation Murambatsvina is woefully inadequate. The use of force and the obvious disregard of citizens’ rights appears consistent with the ZANU-PF’s style of governance that is driven by political expedience as opposed to addressing issues of national interest.

While the government purports to have acted within the confines of the law, a close examination of the relevant legislation and international human rights provisions establishes a case of noncompliance at both municipal and international levels. Fundamental principles of administrative justice such the right to be heard and to appeal were not respected. The situation is further compromised by a judiciary that is perceived as lacking in impartiality. the Basic rights such as the right to life, housing, education, decent and humane treatment were disregarded in contravention of the many international human rights treaties to which the Zimbabwean government is signatory.

The overall picture that emerges from the analysis is that of an unplanned process. The government of Zimbabwe failed to articulate any justifiable reasons why the operation had to be undertaken in the manner that it was. Responses to both government’s conduct and the emerging impacts of the operation have largely been inadequate; the reasons for this range from the current political environment that restricts civic engagement to limited capacity to carry out policy analysis. There is agreement that the most urgent need is resource mobilization to address the immediate hardships caused by the operation as well as to start tackling the urban question and attendant social problems. Pressure should be put onto the Zimbabwean government to review its approaches to policy formulation and implementation and pay serious attention to the need to involve and take into account the expectations, needs and aspirations of ordinary citizens. The current “go it alone” attitude that underlies the government’s approach to governance and policy implementation in response to the myriad of problems that the country has to deal with is neither sustainable nor productive. The Zimbabwe government is encouraged to start addressing the political, social and economic fundamentals in an accountable way that will respect the basic rights of its citizens, and which will recognise the practical realities of managing modern-day nation states and economies.

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