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Zimbabwe City Evicts Families Amid Pandemic

Some of the houses demolished in Harare's Budiriro suburb.
Some of the houses demolished in Harare's Budiriro suburb.

Zimbabwe authorities are being criticized for evicting hundreds of families of squatters amid the COVID-19 pandemic and struggling economy. Legal experts say the destruction of their homes in the capital this month, leaving many homeless in a rainy season, is a violation of the constitution.

Fifty-two-year-old Bigboy Mabhande and his family are among hundreds of families of alleged squatters who are now homeless in Zimbabwe’s capital.

Harare city officials demolished the homes they were living in, saying the land is for a school, not residential use.

The father of five is trying to rebuild enough of the demolished home so that his 16-year-old son can move in and continue his studies at a nearby school.

“It (the destruction) really pained me," Mabhande said. "We had to ask for a place to stay from a relative. I am now rebuilding this room so that my son, who is writing exams, can stay in there, since it’s far where we are temporarily staying.”

Wilbert Mandinde, a program manager at Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, says the demolitions by Harare city should not have been done in the middle of a pandemic and during the rainy season.

“In any event, there are demolitions of such a nature the government or local authority has an obligation of ensuring that people are not left in the open," Mandinde said. "But people have alternative places where they will stay, where there is running water, ablution facilities, where there is electricity. Hence, we are pushing to ensure that they get these things. There are diseases — we are in the COVID-19 pandemic, among other things. There are children. All are things that have to be taken care of. We want authorities to be able to provide sufficient and minimum standards for the people affected.”

About 200 families have been affected. The rights group has asked the high court to push the city to ensure the families have a decent place to stay.

Jacob Mafume, mayor of the city of Harare, says he regrets the incident, which happened when he was in prison on allegations of corruption. He vows to act now that he is out on bail.

“We are going to look into how court orders are enforced by the deputy sheriff and other governmental departments that created this humanitarian crisis," Mafume said. "But we need to assist people to get food, to get tents, to get shelter. And also to look at, is it possible to regularize some of these settlements? Once we do that, we will be able to come up with a solution. We do not want to implement any orders in an inhumane manner. But we need to be considerate, because the season, as we know, is the rainy season, when people are most vulnerable.”

But for now, it does not look like it will happen any time soon. And the affected families fear that properties will be destroyed by the rainy season, which ends in March and April of next year.