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Helping homeless victims of forced evictions in Zimbabwe

© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2005/Kobayshi
Women from the Zimbabwe Womens and Orphans Trust receive blankets from UNICEF.

By James Elder

HARARE, 20 June 2005 – Mbuya (Granny) Mushambi is everything you could ask for in a grandmother. For the past six years she has been raising four grandchildren left in her care after her own children died from AIDS-related causes. But today eighty-year-old Mushambi does not know how she can continue to support her family.

Two weeks ago she watched helplessly as government bulldozers demolished the outbuildings which she rented to lodgers on her small lot – her main source of income – as part of a government operation to ‘clean up’ cities. “I am broken,” she said, tears falling from her eyes. “This was everything I had; more importantly, this was everything these children had. What will we do?”

The United Nations estimates that more than 200,000 people have been made homeless by the Zimbabwean government’s Operation Murambatsvina (‘drive out trash’). The operation began three weeks ago in an effort, according to government, to clean up urban centres and to fight a growing black market economy across Zimbabwe. Tens of thousands of legal and illegal settlements as well as both authorised and unauthorised business activities - including homes and market stalls - have been destroyed. The operation has hit those already living on the margins particularly hard - those burdened by the effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and an economy in serious decline.

In Mbuya’s case, she was initially able to support her grandchildren through her modest pension, but as the Zimbabwean economy unravelled and the number of grandchildren she cared for grew to four, it became clear to her that she needed additional income. In 1999 the CEO of a leading Zimbabwe bank advised her to build and lease out small outbuildings on her property. It was sound advice; for over six years Mbuya was able to keep her grandchildren well nourished and in school.

That has all changed now.

In a partial response to her needs, UNICEF began this week working with the Zimbabwe Widows and Orphans Trust (ZWOT) and 1000 individual women like Mbuya, offering educational support and delivering thousands of blankets and cooking materials.

“It all helps and I am very grateful,” says Mbuya, “but I preferred it when I could look after my own.”

“We’re working overtime with key government ministries and a range of NGOs to deliver thousands of litres of water daily; cooking pots, blankets, plastic sheeting, and latrines for as many people as humanly possible,” said UNICEF’s Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr. Festo Kavishe. “We are currently reaching thousands of people affected by the operations, though the demand grows each day.”

UNICEF also plans to have mobile medical clinics operational within days, together with a range of equipment for children, such as balls, games and crayons. “We are accessing those most at need,” said Dr. Kavishe. “Though when asked ‘is it enough’, I have to say, in this situation, it’s never enough.”



Related links

Learn more on the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights position on the Right to Adequate Housing:


Press release: Alledged mass forced evictions in Zimbabwe could constitute gross rights violation

Learn more about the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Zimbabwe:

Giving hope to children orphaned by AIDS

Zimbabwe AIDS orphans struggle to get back to school

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