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Mugabe Shifts Housing Reconstruction Burden to Localities

President Robert Mugabe has handed to local authorities the responsibility for building homes for those whose dwellings were destroyed by state agents in Operation Murambatsvina. He said that the government reconstruction program called Operation Garikai or Hlalani Kuhle should bring “joy” to those without lodgings, the state-controlled Herald newspaper reported. The paper said Mr. Mugabe told an audience in Victoria Falls that 2 million homes would be built by 2010.

President Mugabe expressed some second thoughts about Operation Murambatsvina (“Drive Out Rubbish”), to the extent of acknowledging “we did not emphasize that reconstruction aspect of it.” But he rejected criticisms that it was “a callous exercise to destroy homes,” the Herald reported.

Since the beginning of the “cleanup” campaign it is estimated that anywhere from 250,000 to 750,000 people have been left homeless. Thousands are living in transit camps near Harare and Bulawayo, the country’s second-largest city. Several children have died in home demolition operations, and others have been killed in road accidents during chaotic resettlement operations.

President Mugabe’s promise of a massive reconstruction drive follows international criticism of his government’s slum clearance operation. Before last week’s Group of Eight summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, U.S. President George Bush re-asserted that Mr. Mugabe was a “tyrant” and that other African nations should not have to suffer because of it. At the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to Mugabe as a “dictator” and said Harare should receive no aid at all.

Addressing a meeting of the Association of Rural District Councils of Zimbabwe in Victoria Falls, the President appeared to be shifting the burden of reconstruction from the central government to local authorities. He announced that he was “challenging all councils to play a definitive and active role in spearheading the reconstruction program,” the Herald reported.

Mr. Mugabe has announced a budget of Z$3 trillion, or about $ 30 million, for the reconstruction effort. But economists say it is unclear where the strapped Harare government will find the funds.

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