|June 17, 2005
Demolitions extended to rural areas / Benedict XVI. shares critizism of catholic bishops
Zimbabwe has extended the destruction of informal homes and businesses from the cities to rural areas, as police have announced on state radio. Police spokesperson Austin Chikwavara said his force has started tearing down shacks and kiosks found at major crossroads in Chirumanzu, Umvuma and Lalapanzi in the Midlands area, 200km – 300km south of the capital, Harare. Another police spokesperson told the station that police were also demolishing homes built without permission on some of the thousands of farms seized from their white owners for redistribution to black Zimbabweans. However, Security Minister Didymus Mutasa maintained in the same broadcast that the month-long campaign was aimed only at cleaning out city streets and would not affect the government's rural strongholds.
The government calls the campaign a cleanup effort, but critics at home and abroad say it is a violation of human rights and inspired by politics. President Robert Mugabe's dismissed propaganda chief condemned the evictions as "barbaric." Former information minister Jonathan Moyo, addressing his first public meeting in the capital since he was fired in January, said the blitz was linked to a power struggle within the ruling party over who would succeed the 81-year-old Mugabe. "It seems to be a directionless activity of some mischievous group which imagines it can profit by this in some mysterious way and position itself ahead of the pack in the succession game," he told the gathering at a Harare hotel.
According to opposition leaders, the eviction campaign is aimed at driving their supporters among the urban poor into rural areas, where they can be more easily controlled. "The government wants to depopulate urban areas ahead of the 2008 elections and recreate a rural peasantry in which voters are brought under the control of local chiefs and Mugabe's militias," Sydney Masamvu, an analyst from the International Crisis Group think tank, said.
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Harare has also condemned the government's policy of demolishing thousands of homes and businesses. Archbishop Robert Ndlovu described the move as "inhuman". According to him, both opposition and government supporters were suffering from the demolitions. "Bearing in mind this is the winter season in Zimbabwe, we felt that it was really inconsiderate. Now people are sleeping in the open - there are small children there," he said. The UN has demanded that Mugabe stopped the eviction operation, which it has described as a new form of "apartheid".
In an address delivered on June 16 to the new ambassador of Zimbabwe to the Holy See, David Douglas Hamadziripi, Pope Benedict XVI alingned himself with the critizism expressed by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Zimbabwe regarding “Opertion restore order”. While national reconciliation, he said, demanded that “past injustices be recognized and addressed, every effort must be made in the future to act with justice and respect for the dignity and rights of others.
In this regard, I can only second the observations made by Zimbabwe's Bishops on the eve of the recent elections about the urgent need for "a responsible and accountable leadership" marked by truthfulness, a spirit of service to others, honest management of public goods, commitment to the rule of law and the promotion of the right and duty of all citizens to participate in the life of society. The noble goal of attaining the common good through an ordered social life can only be attained if political leaders are devoted to ensuring the welfare of individuals and groups in a spirit of integrity and fairness. Looking towards Africa's future role in the international community, my predecessor, Pope John Paul II, insisted that "a better world will come about only if it is built on the foundation of sound ethical and spiritual principles".
(The Mail & Guardian Online, Johannesburg; Intouch with Church and Faith, Harare)