On the eve of the first anniversary of Zimbabwe's controversial 2005 slum-clearance campaign, authorities increased pressure on churches and civil society groups not to hold ceremonies commemorating the traumatic Operation Murambatsvina.
One of those visited and briefly detained by police was John Makumbe, an outspoken critic of the government and a political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe. Civil society sources said police picked him up at his office at the university Tuesday ahead of a meeting he was to address Wednesday in Harare's Mbare section. The densely populated area was among the hardest hit by the 2005 operation.
Police in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city, withdrew a permit that had been granted to the Christian Alliance for a May 18 prayer march. The church humanitarian aid umbrella group filed an urgent court request for the decision to be reversed.
Authorities in Harare raided the offices of the faction of the Movement for Democratic Change led by founding MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai, seizing 30,000 CDs and cassettes of a music compilation album called "Tsunami," a popular reference to the demolition campaign, which criticized the government's demolition exercise.
Tsvangirai faction spokesman Nelson Chamisa said the government was unsettled by the popularity of the album, which he said is widely played in "combi" commuter vans, private vehicles and homes. Chamisa said the albums seized by authorities had been earmarked for distribution to supporters of the opposition party faction.
The Crisis Coalition of Zimbabwe, a nongovernmental orgnization, expressed concern about the continuing security sweeps which by the government's own estimation have netted more than 10,000 homeless, street vendors and other categories of people deemed unwelcome in central Harare. Those rounded up have been taken to the Melfort Farm holding camp located about 40 kilometers east of the capital.
Crisis Coalition spokesman Tayi Zimunya told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the human rights community is disturbed by the roundups leading into the Murambatsvina anniversary, and by Makumbe's detention.
Authorities pressed ahead with the roundup Wednesday, arresting scores more, said official and nongovernmental sources. Information Minister Tichaona Jokonya said the government will press ahead with Operation Round-Up, and warned all those without business in the country's cities to avoid them and stay in the rural areas.
One street vendor who has been witnessing the operation at close hand said it looks to him like a replay of Operation Murambatsvina. The vendor, who would only give his first name, Godfrey, told reporter Carole Gombakomba about his experiences.
Sources at the United Nations in New York said the crackdown has exacerbated the country's humanitarian crisis, leading the U.N. Habitat agency to set up a permanent office in the Zimbabwean capital this month. Despite such concerns, Harare and the U.N. have reached an agreement on relaunching a home construction program stalled last year by Harare’s objections to the first model home built for the project.
The program aims to build 5,000 homes for those displaced by the demolition of slum dwellings and other unauthorized structures in May-July 2005. Many of these are still living in the open or in camps where conditions are said to be deteriorating.
Reporter Blessing Zulu asked Information Minister Jokonya about the agreement and housing project. He obtained further details from David Kithakye, senior U.N. settlements officer for Africa and the Middle East.