Last week government embarked on a crackdown against illegal housing in Seke communal lands and Chitungwiza, in a move reminiscent of the 2005 Operation Murambatsvina (Restore Order), which left thousands of people homeless.
Gender Lens with Moses Mugugunyeki
More than 14 000 illegal structures face demolition in Chitungwiza.
The clampdown has met with harsh condemnation from the community, church groups, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the international community.
While the government says the campaign is meant to restore sanity, little has been considered on the aftermath of the exercise and possibly the plight of women and children.
The demolitions infringe on the rights of the residents to decent housing and shelter, freedom from arbitrary evictions as espoused by the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the UN Charter.
Like Operation Murambatsvina — a government campaign which demolished structures across the country and left over 700 000 people homeless — there is a high likelihood that women and children will bear the brunt of these demolitions.
“We were told that government will move in and destroy our houses. This is my only place of residence, and I will have nowhere to go after these demolitions,” said Edith Rusere, a resident of Zengeza 5. “I am a widow and looking after two children. My late husband had saved money to buy this residential stand and now that he is late, I am told to vacate this place with nothing.”
Rusere’s quandary is similar to that of a number of women and children whose homes face demolition.
Homelessness affects every facet of women and children’s lives. The experience of homelessness impedes their emotional, social and behavioural development.
In general, homeless women and children consistently exhibit more health problems. Environmental factors contribute to their poor health and they are vulnerable to infectious diseases.
Women and children without proper homes are at great risk of all forms of harsh weather. We are in the rainy season and demolitions with no alternative accommodation are cruelty in itself.
“Demolitions affect everyone; men, women and children, who overnight find themselves uprooted and in most cases without alternative shelter,” said Virginia Muwanigwa, chairperson of Women Coalition of Zimbabwe.
She said women are the most affected since they are directly responsible for the home, family and welfare — cooking and washing clothes.
Chitungwiza Residents Trust (Chitrest) said the imminent demolitions in the town painted an overwhelmingly bleak picture of women and children’s current and future status.
“It is our main worry that residents are being punished this way by an elected government, the major victims who suffer most are women, children and those people living with disabilities. These disadvantaged groups are the ones who bear the brunt of politics at play with our life,” said Chitrest in a statement.
“Children’s problems range from displacements, dropping out of school and traumatic experiences among others. People living with disabilities and the terminally ill are exposed to injury and in the case of the terminally ill some might actually die. We condemn these illegal actions, more so during this rainy season.”
From the look of things, there are no intervention strategies in place to deal with the many effects of the demolitions.
In the aftermath of Operation Murambatsvina, government embarked on Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle in a bid to address the suffering of victims of the so called clean-up exercise.
The “operation” however, failed to provide better housing for people who lost their homes during Murambatsvina.
Under Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle, government only constructed 3 325 houses compared to the 92 460 homes destroyed during Operation Murambatsvina.
While the idea was meant to ensure priority access for homeless families, a lot of women and children did not benefit since the houses were allocated based on one’s political affiliation.
It looks like the current exercise has no facility that can mitigate the effects of homelessness, such as supportive housing and compensation.
The government says land barons should compensate those whose property is being destroyed but from the look of things, there is no land that has been identified to relocate the affected families.
These land barons have no financial capacity to relocate the affected families considering their high level of corruption in the allocation of residential stands.
Government’s failure to provide alternative land and giving the responsibility of servicing stands to corrupt land barons will have a negative bearing on the lives of women and children. It is a violation of the Constitution.
Section 28 of the Constitution states that: “The State and all institutions and agencies of government at every level must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within the limits of the resources available to them, to enable every person to have access to adequate shelter.”