Condemnation Within Zimbabwe

Roger Bate, Richard Tren & Archbishop Pius Ncube | 27 Jul 2005
Embassy Magazine
Years of brutal repression of human rights and basic freedoms and a general climate of fear means that many Zimbabweans have been afraid to speak out and condemn Operation Murambatsvina.

Despite this, however, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference (ZCBC) stated that "a grave crime has been committed against the poor and helpless people[...] We warn the perpetrators, history will hold you accountable." The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) has also deplored in the "strongest possible terms" the ongoing operation that has displaced thousands of families.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has issued numerous statements condemning the action and calling for its immediate halt. According to Shari Eppel, a human rights activist, "This is like Pol Pot, corralling people into the countryside where they can be controlled and indoctrinated. We're heading into the dark ages... we're going to see selective starvation. Mugabe wants the people hungry and compliant." But, as The Independent (UK) points out, "Mugabe shows no sign of following Pol Pot's personal example and moving into a rural mud hut. He continues to live in majesty in Harare."

Even Zimbabwe's former Information Minister and spin-doctor, Jonathan Moyo, strident defender of Mugabe and Zanu-PF until his sacking earlier this year, said that Operation Murambatsvina constituted "an inhumane, barbaric demolition of properties belonging to the weak and poor in our society."

Yet in spite of local opposition, the Operation has grown in strength and viciousness. In some bizarre cases, the police are charging a demolition fee to those unable to dismantle their own homes in time. It is also worth noting that prior to the rigged elections in March it was reported that the government had drafted 20,000 youth militia into the police force, thereby doubling the number of policemen and women. Presumably these extra recruits are assisting in the demolitions.

The Roots of Operation Murambatsvina

Initially, we felt that that the real motivation behind Operation Murambatsvina was to punish those citizens that supported the MDC during the March 2005 elections. However, the motivation may go deeper than this. The failed land reform process has driven many former farm workers and rural folk into towns where they are exposed to news and political opinions counter to those of traditional leaders and political councils in rural areas that have over the years been under the influence and favour of the Mugabe regime.

The effect of moving hundreds of thousands of people into the countryside is to make them utterly reliant on government-controlled food aid for survival. Agricultural production has slumped as largely white-owned commercial farms have been taken over or rendered inoperable since 2000. Emergency imports of the staple, maize, amount to almost the entire annual requirement. Food distribution is controlled by the government along political lines. In addition, in rural areas people will be less able to communicate and organize themselves against the government. Zimbabwe's deputy Minister of Local Government, Public Works and Urban Development, Morris Sakabuya, has, in a truly Orwellian moment, described Operation Murambatsvina as an attempt to "resuscitate rural areas."

Jonathan Moyo considers that the Operation is linked to an internal ZANU-PF power struggle as to who will succeed the 81-year-old Mugabe in 2008. The appointment of Joyce Majuru as second of Vice-President in December 2004 worsened in-fighting in Zanu-PF, effectively pitting the Zezuru faction, a powerful sub-group within the majority Shona tribe -- which comprises 70 per cent of the population -- against the Karanga sub-group. Ms. Majuru is married to Solomon Majuru, a former army commander and highly influential Zanu-PF politician, without whose active support Mugabe would not have achieved the leadership of Zanu-PF.

Emmerson Mnangagwa, who heads the Karanga faction, was long considered to be Mugabe's favoured heir. His fall from grace was linked to a secret meeting convened last year by Mr. Moyo to promote him for the post. The Karangas are reportedly bitter about the ascendancy of Zezurus to top positions within Zanu-PF and political observers believe the tensions could split Zanu-PF into two camps, severely weakening them politically. If Mugabe intentionally created tension between the two ethnic groups that form the Zanu-PF backbone, he risks much since his capacity to manage and heal these tensions in the future is open to question. The International Crisis Group (ICG) reported on June 7, 2005 that powerful party figures were squaring up for what could be a vicious fight for power.

Archbishop Pius Ncube is the Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe; Dr. Roger Batem is a Resident Fellow at American Enterprise Institute, Washington DC and Richard Tren is the Director of Africa Fighting Malaria, Johannesburg, South Africa