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Thousands homeless after crackdown on shanty settlements

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has endorsed an ongoing crackdown by the police on illegal settlements and the parallel economy in a controversial campaign to clean-up the country's major towns and cities that has affected thousands of people.

In just one squatter camp, Tongogara Park at White Cliff Farm, a few kilometres outside the capital Harare, thousands were forced to sleep out in the open on Thursday after their homes were destroyed by police.

Tens of thousands of traders, whose backyard kiosks and vending stands were torched over the past two weeks, have been left with no alternative source of income.

The crackdown intensified on Monday in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city, where police set fire to shacks and kiosks in the townships. Running battles between the police and traders erupted in the city centre, but were quickly brought under control, with dozens arrested.

The government embarked on the campaign, code-named "Operation Restore Order", a fortnight ago targeting flea markets and unlicensed foreign exchange dealers, who stand accused of hoarding basic commodities and fuelling the parallel market. Aproximately 20,000 people have reportedly been arrested.

It was extended on Thursday to the shanty settlements that have multiplied on the outskirts of major urban centres, leaving an estimated 20,000 homeless as winter begins to set in.

Endorsing the crackdown, Mugabe said: "Our cities and towns had deteriorated to levels that were a real cause for concern. Apart from failing reticulation systems and broken down roads ... Harare had become a heaven for illicit and criminal practices and activities that could not be allowed to go on."

But his comments attracted a barrage of criticism from civil society groups, with some threatening legal action against the government.

University of Zimbabwe law lecturer Lovemore Madhuku said the destruction of stalls that provided people with a livelihood, in the face of rampant unemployment, was mind-boggling.

"A humanitarian crisis is looming and it is very sad that government can do such a thing without prior warning ... Initially, the motive was to crack down on the black market of fuel, [basic] goods and foreign currency, but it has since gotten out of hand and the motive has since become very unclear," Madhuku alleged.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) claimed at the weekend that the crackdown was politically-motivated as it targeted urban centres, where the MDC enjoys considerable support.

But Madhuku disagreed, saying ruling ZANU-PF supporters had also been affected, especially war veterans who had occupied informal settlements on farms.

Police spokesman Oliver Mandipaka told IRIN: "It's a continuing exercise and there is no other motive beside that we simply want to clean up the cities and end the selling of goods and foreign currency in the black market."

Madhuku said the mushrooming shanty settlements made up of cardboard and scrounged plastic sheeting were a direct consequence of the country's long-running economic crisis, with people unable to afford decent housing.

War veterans' leader Joseph Chinotimba told IRIN his association was dismayed by the destruction of war veterans' homes in registered cooperatives and farms such as the Nehanda and Chenjerai Hunzvi settlements.

Chinotimba said they had sought an audience with Mugabe to discuss why "resettled families", that had been allowed to occupy these farms at the height of the land invasions in 2000, were now being forced out.

"This is very sad indeed. Our father [Mugabe] should explain this because he is the one who said we should occupy those farms. It also disturbs us why the government says it is cleaning the city when in actual fact it is creating suffering and unemployment for people who were self employed in the informal sector," said Chinotimba.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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