By James Elder
HARARE, Zimbabwe, 28 June 2005 – Thirteen-year-old Rose was at school when government bulldozers came to her house. By the time she got home, they’d flattened it.
“About a kilometre from home I started seeing all these destroyed homes and shops – places I walk past every day,” says Rose. “There were rocks and rubble where houses had been, and then I got to my home. My mother was there, sitting in the garden in tears. She’d planted roses for me in that garden; now they were covered by our broken house.”
Until she discovered her home in ruins, it had been a normal day for Rose. She is a good student, and had achieved 87 per cent for an English essay. That was weeks ago, however, and she hasn’t been back to school since.
Rose is one of an estimated 150,000 children who have been affected by the Zimbabwean government’s Operation Murambatsvina (‘drive out trash’), which began three weeks ago in what the government says is an effort to ‘clean up’ cities and fight a growing black market economy across Zimbabwe.
Since the operation began, tens of thousands of allegedly illegal settlements and business activities – namely homes and market stalls – have been destroyed. As a result, many families have lost both their homes and their primary sources of income.
The government operation strikes at a time when a number of complex, interrelated factors are putting enormous stress on the average Zimbabwean. An HIV/AIDS pandemic, a depressed economy, unfavourable environmental conditions such as drought, and limited donor support for development programmes have led to the world’s fastest rise in child mortality and an HIV prevalence rate of almost 25 per cent.
Working with other UN agencies, UNICEF is calling for funds to expand its activities in Zimbabwe to meet the country’s growing need for relief. It cannot address a problem of this scale without donor support and is seeking $1.5 million to maintain its existing programmes. In addition it plans to provide expanded health packages, a range of non-food items such as blankets and latrines, continued HIV/AIDS prevention and care, and to place social workers in key areas.
Rose, whose father died six years ago, has been homeless since the outbuilding her mother rented was demolished. She has moved to the other side of town and is staying with friends, sleeping outside in almost freezing winter conditions.
“We can stay here, but there are already eight people in the [one-room] outbuilding, so I sleep in the garden. It’s cold, but it’s getting colder.”
UNICEF has provided Rose and her mother with blankets and water containers, and has lobbied the Ministry of Education to assist children who have been removed from their schooling areas. But the evictions have left thousands of families like Rose’s in urgent need of assistance, and UNICEF is calling for the international community to increase its support for Zimbabwe’s displaced children.
Helping homeless victims of forced evictions in Zimbabwe
Press release: UNICEF steps up action in Zimbabwe