The Shona word murambatsvina means “to drive out trash.” This was the word used to describe the Zimbabwean government’s campaign to forcibly clear out the slum areas around the country, under the pretense of combating illegal housing and reducing the spread of infectious disease. Zimbabwe’s current president has described the “urban renewal campaign” as “a vigorous clean-up campaign to restore sanity.” UNHCR has estimated that the forced evictions have directly affected at least 700,000 people, and that approximately 2.4 million more could have been indirectly affected in some way. The campaign was condemned by the UN and was called a crime against humanity.
Five years later, the evicted slum-dwellers still remain homeless. The few houses that were built as part of the re-housing scheme were given to government employees. Obvious human rights abuses aside (like torching people’s houses and belongings) aside, the campaign had serious health consequences for the evicted populations. HIV patients were cut off from clinics and antiretroviral medications. Thousands of IDPs are still living under emergency plastic sheeting with no medical services or clean water, no schools, no sanitation, and no source of income. Amnesty International has reported a shockingly high neonatal mortality rate among babies born to evicted mothers: in five months, there were 21 newborn deaths in Hopley, a settlement 10 km south of Harare. Most of the babies died within 48 hours of birth. The women have said that they were fully aware of the importance of maternal healthcare, and they all wanted to give birth in a hospital or with a trained birth attendant, but many could not afford the $50 required to register for antenatal care. The nearest maternity clinic is 8 km away. Some thought their babies had died because of minimal access to healthcare, while others suspected they had died of cold because they live in plastic shacks.
Amnesty International and other human rights groups have called for an investigation of the newborn deaths, but there seems to be little hope of a serious inquiry. Meanwhile, there are growing concerns of another eviction campaign: residents are again being forced to leave their homes because they cannot afford a(n arbitrarily-imposed) $140 “lease renewal fee.” Zimbabwe’s government of course denies this, but it a bit difficult to argue when the evidence consists of shacks on fire. Several MEPs have called for the Zimbabwean diplomat to the EU to be sent home in response to the evictions – but will it be enough?
This was also posted on Jessica’s Refugee Research Network blog.