Police in Zimbabwe fought running battles June 14 with residents of Makhokhoba, one of the oldest townships of the country’s second city, Bulawayo as they demolished illegal structures. One woman stripped naked in protest after police destroyed her shack (a traditional African gesture of shaming men). A police spokesman said that more than 20,000 structures had been destroyed and 30,000 arrested in the three-week nationwide operation.
The opposition say “Operation Murambatsvina” (drive out rubbish) is punishment for urban dwellers who mostly voted against the ruling ZANU-PF party in March elections. President Robert Mugabe said it is needed to “restore sanity” to Zimbabwe’s towns and cities. The BBC’s Themba Nkosi points out that Makhokhoba was ironically a center of resistance to colonial rule.
The BBC correspondent witnessed police removing belongings of those who had fled their dwellings as they were being demolished. The crackdown, which the United Nations says has left some 200,000 people homeless, has been condemned by Zimbabwe’s churches, teachers and doctors. Zimbabwe’s teachers’ association said it had been a “catastrophe.” Doctors said the many HIV-positive Zimbabweans had been especially badly hit by the evictions.
In London, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw echoed these criticisms, and also said that an extra 25 names had been added to the 95 people subject to a European Union travel ban and assets freeze.
But Zimbabwe’s police superintendent Oliver Mandipaka said that the operation would continue “until we have weeded out all criminal elements countrywide,” reports the state-owned Herald newspaper.
BBC’s correspondent says that even the well-respected traditional doctors in Makhokhoba township were not spared as riot police ordered the healers and their patients out of their shacks before setting them on fire. Most of the traditional doctors lost their herbs and supposedly magic charms.
Police also flattened houses in Mzilikazi township next door to Makhokhoba.
“It is a totally chaotic situation with people running in different directions,” said Themba Nkosi. “I witnessed police in Mzilikazi removing belongings of those who had fled their dwellings as they were being demolished. Many told me they are now homeless.” (BBC, June 14)
So once again, the dilemma: Anglo-American imperialism exploits Mugabe’s brutality for its own purposes, but that doesn’t make it any less brutal. And the opposition in Zimbabwe will only to turn to London and Washington for protection if they don’t get a voice and solidarity from the opposition here in the West. Or is it too late?
See our last post on Zimbabwe.