Zimbabwe's anguish hit the headlines again last year with the government's controversial 'Operation Murambatsvina,' ('clean up all trash'). In May 2005, the government began destroying all 'illegal'1 structures in a purported effort to clean up the country and to stamp out all 'illegal' trading2 on the black market. Various interpretations and theories have been advanced by critics who, among other things, see the 'cleaning up' as part of the government's move to destroy the urban stronghold of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Others have argued that the government took this step as a way of diverting people's attention from the deteriorating socio-economic situation in the country. Some estimates suggest that while the rate of unemployment in Zimbabwe (putting aside state employees) was 80% before the operation commenced, the destruction of the informal sector, which used to employ 20% of the workforce, has left the rate of unemployment at close to100%!
The African Union (AU) dispatched Commissioner Bahame Tom Nyanduga, a member of the African Commission on Human and People's Rights on a fact-finding mission.3 Meanwhile the European Union, the United Nations, and various church organizations in South Africa, made attempts to halt the destruction of property without proper alternatives being put into place. While the government promised to embark on a massive project to provide proper housing for the needy, there were no funds to carry this project through. The budget for 2004-2005 had no allocation for a massive housing project. In addition to this, the government was (and is) struggling with a serious shortage of foreign currency. A good indication of this was the fuel and food shortages last year, perhaps the most acute since 2000.
This paper discusses the situation in Zimbabwe and draws insights from Catholic Social Teaching. It argues that 'Operation Murambatsvina' must not be looked at as an isolated incident in the socio-political dynamics of Zimbabwe. 'Murambatsvina' must be seen as part of the ruling party's consolidation of power. Consequently, we trace some significant developments in Zimbabwe since 2000 in highlighting the manner in which the government has dealt with opposition over the past five years. Perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is, after 'Murambatsvina' what next? No one knows, but indications are that the government might just pull out another surprise. This paper works with the underlying assumption that since 2000, the government has undertaken various actions aimed at consolidating its power in the wake of the rise of a potentially powerful opposition party, the MDC. Circumstances at each given juncture have called for particular action from the government, so it is difficult to conclude that the events from 2000 till today are part of a grand plan. Various 'enemies' of the state have been identified and dealt with accordingly.
The rich young man asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbour?" The parable of the Good Samaritan throws light on the manner in which Catholic Social Teaching might apply to the plight of the victims of the ruling party's consolidation of power in Zimbabwe. The fundamental lesson for the ruling party in Zimbabwe is to realise that responsible good governance incorporates tolerating others, especially those whose political affiliations are different. This paper makes no distinction between the government and the ruling party, ZANU PF, for the simple reason that the ruling party completely controls the government in Zimbabwe.
Some people who had been settled by the government in Hatcliff Extension woke up one morning to be told that they were illegal settlers; backyard shelters which had for a long time offered some shelter for people struggling to find accommodation in the cities were also declared illegal.
The government has included all tuckshops owners (Spazas shops, as they are known in South African Townships). Most informal sector traders have been wiped out by this clean up operation because they do not have trading licences.
African Union Press Release, Addis Ababa, 29 June 2005.