Africa, Development & Aid, Headlines, Human Rights, Poverty & SDGs

POLITICS-ZIMBABWE: Operation ”Living Well” Also A Disaster

Davison Makanga

HARARE, Mar 29 2007 (IPS) - ”It is appalling how our government has simply discarded its own people,” exclaims civic activist Max Mkandla. He is referring to the ruling ZANU-PF’s Operation Murambatsvina (”drive out filth”) and its follow-up, Operation Garikai (”living well”).

Informal traders have been battling to survive since the government’s infamous Operation Murambatsvina destroyed homes and stalls almost two years ago in May 2005. About 700,000 traders were chased from urban areas known to support the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

The attacks happened shortly after the controversial parliamentary elections of that year in which the ruling ZANU-PF drew two-thirds of the electoral support amid indications of vote rigging. The ”operation” aggravated the economic meltdown in Zimbabwe for ordinary residents.

Traders are still constantly subjected to police harassment. The police conduct sporadic raids and confiscate merchandise. Traders are forced to pay fines for trading ”illegally”.

They have had to devise innovative plans to avoid police interference. Some display only a small sample of goods with the rest hidden in a safe place. Others sell fruit, clothing and basic commodities such as soap and cooking oil from car boots. But sometimes their luck runs out.

”We have to do something to earn a living, even if it is risky. Hide and seek with the police is the name of the game. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. It all depends on the moods of the police officers,” says Maxwell Tumbare, an informal trader in Zimbabwe’s capital of Harare.

Little has come of the government’s Operation Garikai which was launched to address the criticism by United Nations Special Envoy Anna Tibaijuka about Operation Murambatsvina. Her report confirmed that over 2.4 million Zimbabweans’ livelihoods were detrimentally affected by Operation Murambatsvina.

The government is on record as saying that Garikai as a ”follow-up programme” to Murambatsvina was to be completed by August 2005.

Operation Garikai was to involve the construction of housing units and ”legitimate” stalls and flea markets.

Regarding the markets little has happened apart from a centre for small and medium enterprises built in Harare’s Glen View suburb. The centre accommodates carpenters and metalworkers. ”We are now working from here but the place is too small for our operations,” Isaac Makanga, a carpenter, complains.

Construction arrested at foundation level is testimony to an ambitious project that never was. In Chiredzi in the south eastern part of the country traders are selling their goods wherever they can. It is the same story in other provinces.

”The government embarked on an unplanned project and is now failing to deliver because of a combination of factors, especially inflation and corruption,” explains Heneri Dzinotyiwei, a professor in political science at the University of Zimbabwe.

The hyperinflationary environment strangled Operation Garikai as operational costs increased by the day. Inflation is currently at 1,729 percent. Most contractors and suppliers withdrew their services after the government failed to honour its financial obligations.

Building at housing projects around the country has been abandoned after the government rushed into construction without consultation with local authorities. Those that have been completed are without proper sanitation and electricity.

At one such project in Chiredzi, inhabitants use a common lavatory at a nearby school while in provinces like Matebeleland South and Mashonaland West people use the bush.

”We have no choice but to live here. It is better than staying in open air,” Solomon Mhere from the Chiredzi project laments.

Operation Garikai houses have been criticised because of their size. ”Match boxes” is the term commonly used to describe them. A typical bedroom cannot accommodate a double bed, let alone a wardrobe or other furniture. Mkandla describes the living conditions as ”inhumane. The houses are not fit for human habitation”.

Jan Egeland, the United Nations’ special envoy on humanitarian issues, became the government’s enemy overnight after condemning Garikai houses at Whitecliff farm on the outskirts of Harare. Egeland described the situation as ”puzzling” and ”disastrous” during his follow-up visit in December 2005.

Corruption in government circles has contributed to the fiasco. Government officials have been accused of milking the national treasury by inflating supplier quotations and taking the extra cash. Suppliers oblige as long they are guaranteed of being awarded tenders.

”There is no accountability by our government. Therefore it is unsurprising that all these cases pass unnoticed,” explains Dzinotyiwei.

The government went on to defy logic when it spurned the assistance offered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). ”People are suffering because of political expedience,” says Itai Zimunya, programmes officer with the Crisis In Zimbabwe Coalition.

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