Southern African Regional Poverty Network (SARPN) SARPN thematic photo
Country analysis > Zimbabwe Last update: 2020-11-27  

 Related documents

An analysis of the demolitions in Zimbabwe

Editors: Wole Olaleye & Ozias Tungwarara


August 2005

SARPN acknowledges permission from ActionAid to post this document.
[Download complete version - 864Kb ~ 5 min (78 pages)]     [ Share with a friend  ]

Executive Summary

Massive demolitions of informal housing and informal sector sites, including markets and production areas, were and continue to be carried out at the direction of the government of Zimbabwe in all urban areas of the country under the code names “Operation Murambatsvina” (“throw out the trash”) and “Operation Restore Order” (together, Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order). It is estimated that close to a million people have been seriously affected with many rendered destitute overnight. They are now without shelter and sources of income. The capital city of Harare, perceived by many to have been the real target of this operation, was hardest hit. Thousands of those displaced are presently in a holding camp at Caledonia Farm; some are in overcrowded prisons; others have shifted to rural areas; while still many others are staying out in the open near rivers or streams. A fortunate few have found shelter with friends and relatives or have been squeezed into institutional housing.

Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order which started in May 2005 took place against the background of a 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 homes 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 educational 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 75%, which contributes to an already unfortunate and unacceptable level of poverty, with more than 70% 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.

This report is a collection of articles divided into four sections which discuss and analyze Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order in the context of the political economy of Zimbabwe and emerging challenges of governance; the purpose and spirit of urban planning; the rights effected and legal issues raised; and finally, the impact of this operation on various sectors of Zimbabwean society as well as media response to the government’s actions. In addition, the report provides in Appendix One, certain empirical evidence of how the operation has affected the population on a household and a community level in twenty-six wards of Harare High Density Housing Areas.

The various analyses presented here were commissioned in response to what was increasingly becoming an impressionistic and anecdotal discussion about the reasons behind Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order 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. Although the articles address different perspectives they are all unanimous in concluding that the operations were unjustified and resulted in severe suffering for the ordinary citizen that far outweighs, and is completely disproportionate to, the intended benefits.

The first section provides a background to the crisis by discussing the colonial roots of the government’s attempt to control urban populations, destroy their means of economic support and remove them to rural areas. It also discusses the country’s economic crisis, foreign currency shortages, widespread poverty and inequality, deepening crisis of governance and attack by the ruling ZANU-PF government on the rule of law. The government of Zimbabwe’s stated reasons for the operations are analyzed and assessed from an economic and political perspective and possible alternative reasons for government action are presented. In addition, the article discusses the operations’ negative impact on the political process, workers, vulnerable groups (including women, children and people with HIV-AIDS), family life, poverty and disease. The response of local and international actors is presented and specific recommendations are given to regional bodies, the Zimbabwe government and civil society as to how to react to Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order and its outcomes and proceed in light of the political and economic crisis that continues to unfold in the country.

The second section evaluates Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order in the context of the local urban planning law (the Regional Town and Country Planning (RTCP) Act) used by the government of Zimbabwe as the basis for its mass destruction of informal settlements and businesses. The article discusses the spirit and intent of urban planning law and practice generally and gives a background of informal sector growth in Zimbabwe from pre-independence to the present day. The legal procedure provided for by the RTCP with respect to treatment of noncompliant structures built in urban areas is outlined and government action in Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order is evaluated against such requirements. The article describes the demolition process and how it was carried out as well as the devastating effect it has had on urban communities. In addition, an analysis is made of what really prompted government to demolish and destroy the informal sector and what could have been done to avoid such an outcome. The article concludes that Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order was not carried out in compliance with either the spirit or the letter of the municipal regulations relied upon by the Zimbabwean government as the basis for their actions. Further, the article encourages the displaced to organize themselves into relevant interest groups in order to better voice their concerns, become trained and informed of their rights and continue to be the target of humanitarian assistance. Finally, the article calls for pressure to be placed on local and central government to respect the human rights of the displaced, take a process driven approach to achieving sustainable economic development and amend the RTCP to properly ensure protection of human rights and avoid the occurrence of future en masse government demolitions and destruction.

The third section provides a discussion of the existing international human rights framework and the provisions of conventions to which Zimbabwe is a signatory, such as the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which provide, among other things, for the right to life, housing, freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment and to choose one’s residence. The article also takes a comparative look at international and regional court cases which have interpreted constitutional rights to life as including a right to livelihood and an obligation on the part of government to provide its citizens which it has displaced with provisional housing. Further, the article outlines specific sections of the Zimbabwean constitution which provide for protection of the right to life, freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment, protection of property, entitlement to the protection of the law and freedom of movement and then points out how the Zimbabwean government has systematically failed to uphold such provisions in the context of Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order. The notice and other provisions of the RTCP are discussed in detail and the government’s failure to follow these specific requirements is highlighted. The article concludes that the government’s actions in Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order were not in accord with either international treaties to which it is a party or its own national and local laws. In addition, the article points out that the existing legal framework in Zimbabwe, where the existence of legal rights is unclear and where enforcement machinery and judicial independence are weak, does not facilitate redress through the legal system by victims of government mis-conduct. Finally, the article provides recommendations from a legal perspective of how to address the current situation in Zimbabwe. Such recommendations include that free legal assistance be provided to the poor, the judiciary be made independent from the executive through a system of checks and balances, that there be a return to the rule of law and that constitutional and legislative reform be undertaken to ensure conformity with minimum standards of international conventions.

The last section discusses in a series of articles the negative impact of the operations on public health, women and girls, urban land and housing and on the Zimbabwean economy as well as the media’s response to mass destruction and dislocation of people.

Health: With respect to health, this article presents the public health impact that Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order has had in the form of death, the spread of infectious disease and epidemic disease due to lack of proper sanitation for the thousands displaced, exacerbation of the HIV/AIDS epidemic as people are forced away from their customary treatment center and made more vulnerable by being left homeless and exposed to the elements. Recommendations are made for addressing these health concerns, including providing immediate shelter to the homeless, counseling to the vulnerable and forcing the government to take full responsibility for its actions and the results thereof.

Women and Girls: This article discusses the disproportionate effect that Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order has had on the lives of women and girls in Zimbabwe. The status of women in Zimbabwe, the economic context of the informal sector and the economic contribution of women are discussed in detail. The impact of Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order on women including, destitution and displacement, health and safety concerns, the disruption of family units, increased vulnerability and insecurity and women’s status and dignity and access to economic opportunity are outlined. Issues and challenges are analyzed with respect to the Beijing Platform Action and Gender Empowerment, HIV/AIDS, managing the complexities of economic informalisation, transparency and consistency in the policymaking process and changing the political environment in order to reinstitute a culture of tolerance.

Urban Land and Housing: In this article it is argued that the government of Zimbabwe, faced with critical problems of economic sustainability, social reproduction in the urban areas and in its domestic and international relations sought to address them through Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order. However, the article concludes that the objectives set by the government were inadequate and/or inappropriate to deal with the country’s fundamental urban socio-economic problems and the government’s methods of executing its plan were inhumane and have in fact compounded the very social challenges it sought to address, creating new ones. The article discusses the official rationalization given by the government for carrying out the operations which are primarily focused on the need to restore legality and regulate towns and the economy but neglect to coherently critique the underlying economic problems or the efficacy of current government policies to deal with such problems. It presents analyses by different members of civil society of imperatives underlying Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order and outlines limits in the civil society discourse with respect to government actions. In order to assess the validity of the Zimbabwean government’s justification for Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order its sources are placed in the context of relevant political and economic challenges, urban planning technocracy and ‘clean’ town imperatives, historical urban conditions, the order of infrastructure and service provision, urban aesthetics and cleanliness technocracy culture, and the weakening of local state urban authority and urban politics. The outcomes of Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order, including the nature, scope and extent of the social, economic and political outcomes as well as implications for the future and urban and national security are outlined. The article also discusses the main impact of Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order in the form of state and civil society reactions and programmes and international reactions; interventions and programmes. Finally, recommendations are made for the reorientation of economic policy based on a new deal consensus and the development of a comprehensive urban renewal plan.

Economic Impacts: This article discusses how the Zimbabwean government’s historically benign treatment of the strong informal sector abruptly changed with Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order and resulted in a host of problems, including homelessness, starvation, exposure to disease and cold weather, loss of assets, transport woes and increased and urgent demand for accommodation. Government’s promises of relocation for the displaced came after the mass removals had taken place and were inadequately supported financially or otherwise. The article provides a detailed discussion of the significance and impact of Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order on the Zimbabwean economy.

The Media: This article discusses the role played by and response of the media in the context of Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order. The article provides a background discussion of the difficult conditions for independent media in Zimbabwe and how government control and clamp downs have made it difficult for the media to play a true investigative role in Zimbabwe generally and with respect to Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order in particular. The article provides recommendations as to how the media in Zimbabwe could have a more effective and independent voice through the promotion of public ownership of the media, the transformation of the main state owned broadcaster into a public institution governed by a board independent of government, the expansion of community ownership of local media (local radio stations and newspapers, for example) and training of media professionals to investigate underlying causes of events and take a peoplecentered approach to the presentation of information.

The overall picture that emerges from the articles in this report is that of an unplanned process. The government of Zimbabwe failed to articulate any justifiable reasons why Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order had to be undertaken in the manner that it was. Responses to both the government’s conduct and the emerging impacts of the operation have largely been inadequate. The reasons for this inadequacy range from the current political environment in the country that restricts civic engagement to a 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 on 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 Zimbabwean 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.

Octoplus Information Solutions Top of page | Home | Contact SARPN | Disclaimer