Monday, July 4, 2005

Zimbabwe: Operation Murambasvina

Date: Monday 4 July 2005
Subj: Zimbabwe: urban renewal or social engineering?
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


Is Operation Murambasvina an urban renewal project that has been disastrously mismanaged by an uncaring dictator, OR, an attempt at social engineering by a murderous regime that is prepared to use government-engineered famine to decimate its opposition? One thing is certain, the Church is being drawn into the front-line of this battle, and the cost could be high.


President Robert Mugabe has unleashed a tsunami-like wave of destruction upon Zimbabwe's urban poor, who also happen to be those who generally do not support Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF. The demolitions commenced on 23 May under the auspices of "Operation Murambasvina" (Operation Restore Order). It is estimated that some 300,000 homes and have been demolished, leaving some 1.5 million homeless. So far three children have died after being crushed in their homes. Others have died from exposure. More than 30,000 people have been arrested.

The world was quite oblivious to this tragedy until recently when images of bulldozers, security police, burning homes, and mothers and children sitting amidst rubble were secretly recorded and smuggled out of Zimbabwe and broadcast around the world. (This film and other images and articles can be found at: link 1)

The extent of the devastation is now well known. What is still unclear is what is REALLY happening in Zimbabwe, for other details indicate that this operation is indeed much more than a badly handled urban renewal project, and really is a Mugabe/Zanu-PF war against opponents. It appears that, in the light of the recent Velvet, Rose, Orange and Cedar "revolutions", Mugabe and his Zanu-PF are merely engaging in a little "revolution"-prevention, by shattering, impoverishing, dispersing and possibly even killing-off the opposition before it can get organised.


Three years ago, when Didymus Mutasa was Zanu-PF's Secretary for Administration and in charge of food distribution, he commented regarding food distribution to the opposition, "We would be better off with only 6 million, with our own people who support the liberation struggle. We don’t want all these extra people."

In April 2005, after his election victory, Mugabe appointed Didymus Mutasa to be his Minister for State Security. This role puts Mutasa in charge of the Central Intelligence Organization (Mugabe’s secret police) and in charge of Operation Murambasvina. (Link 2)

On top of this, Mutasa's Ministry for State Security is now in charge of food distribution, although Mutasa claims that there are no food shortages in Zimbabwe. When a journalist recently challenged Mutasa with reports from Zimbabwean Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube that people are starving to death in Bulawayo, Mutasa replied, "The cleric [Ncube] has a psychological disease and he needs to have his head examined because he is a liar." (Link 3)


Christina Lamb reports for Times On Line that those left homeless by Operation Murambasvina are being "herded into re-education camps and told they can have a housing plot only if they swear allegiance to the party of President Robert Mugabe. Those who refuse are loaded into trucks and dumped in remote rural areas, far from their own homes, where food is scarce. Human rights workers say they are being left to die in what they believe is a deliberate strategy by the Mugabe regime to exterminate opponents." (Link 4)

Another Zimbabwean writer comments, "Indeed there are stories coming out of people being trucked out to re-education camps. We saw such camps during the early stages of the farm invasions where farm workers were often exposed to this political re-education. Now it seems the same technique is being used on the urban poor. People are forced to recant and become members of the ruling party before they receive any guarantee of a new home or of food relief. It is almost impossible to credit that this is happening in Zimbabwe in the year 2005 but all the evidence seems to be pointing that way: a Pol Pot type operation to empty the towns and force the poorest of the poor back into the countryside where they will starve to death without government assistance, which we all know they will not get unless they chant the party slogans and sing the party songs." (Link 2)

Harare correspondent Dumisani Muleya said in an opinion piece published in "Business Day" (Johannesburg, 22 June), "The scenario is almost like a theatrical revival of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution or Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge rampage. The political philosophy and motives are similar." (Link 5)

Zim Online reports, "A Zim Online news crew touring Caledonia Farm, converted into a holding camp for thousands of families evicted from their shanty homes in and around Harare, met several agents of the state's dreaded spy Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO). They said they were at the camp to 'monitor the mood' of the families and also to keep a record on who visits them especially non-governmental organizations or members of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, adding that this was being done only as a security precaution." (Link 6)


All church ministries that operate amongst the poor have been deeply impacted. Their clinics, shelters, orphanages and chapels have been bulldozed and torched along with everything else. (for two reports/testimonies: see link 7)

Churches are defying the orders of the regime and providing shelter, food and blankets to the homeless. The National Pastors Conference, representing over 100 Christian pastors, has demanded that President Mugabe "engage in a war against poverty and not against the poor". The immense scale of this humanitarian catastrophe is stretching the churches.

In 1945, Deitrich Bonhoeffer was executed in a German concentration camp for protesting the injustice and evil of Hitler's murderous Nazi regime. His commitment to discipleship compelled him to act, and he paid with his life. It might not be long before Christian leaders in Zimbabwe, in confronting the evil and inhumanity of the ruling powers, find themselves incarcerated or on a death-list on account of their principled Christian words or actions. It is indeed the Church's calling to be "yeast" in society. As Bonheoffer noted, "To flee into invisibility is to deny the call." As such, the Church's call puts it on a collision course with Mugabe and the Zanu-PF.

Bulawyo's courageous Archbishop Pius Ncube is a long-time open critic of the Mugabe regime. In an interview from the Vatican with Britain's Channel 4, he testified that Mugabe keeps him under tight surveillance. "Mugabe goes around intimidating people, anyone who dares talk is followed, next is torture, next is demonisation or humiliation. I'm standing for the truth and I trust in God. I'm under surveillance myself, my phones are tapped, I've been followed by car, I've even been followed by plane. An aeroplane was following me right from town to a mission station about 140km away, for two hours I was being followed through dust roads." (Link 8)

Archbishop Ncube also compares the present situation in Zimbabwe to that of Cambodia under Pol Pot. Archbishop Ncube expects that many of those exiled into rural areas without food will perish. Likewise, Methodist bishops in South Africa have warned that the situation is "a complete recipe for genocide".

Compelled as the Archbishop is by his commitment to discipleship, he says he has no option but to speak out. "I am aware of the dangerous situation of speaking up but that is the only thing I can do -- to speak up for the people. I'll go back there. I am so angry. I am ready to stand before a gun and be shot."

Godfrey Magwenzi, the charge d'affairs and deputy head of the Zimbabwean Consulate in London, told Channel 4 News that nobody in Zimbabwe took Archbishop Ncube seriously. 'The sewage and filth that spills out of that man's mouth should shame and embarrass all men of the cloth,' he said." (Link 9)

- Elizabeth Kendal



2) Should Blair phone Mugabe?
The Zimbabwean, 25 June 2005

3) Zimbabwe officials break ranks over food crisis
By Staff Reporter, 26 April 2005

4) Mugabe policy branded 'new apartheid'
Christina Lamb, 12 June 2005,,2089-1650991,00.html

5) Echoes of Mao, Pol Pot in Mugabe's Clean-Up Blitz
Business Day (Johannesburg) OPINION
By Dumisani Muleya, 22 June 2005

6) Government plants spies among evicted families
Zim Online (SA) 20 June 2005

7) Where is the outside world?
The Harrowing Period in Sakubva

8) Channel 4 Interview with Pius Ncube
Bishop: Mugabe another Pol Pot?
By Jon Snow, 25 June 2005

9) Zimbabwean archbishop says he's ready to die in defense of people
By Simon Caldwell, CNS, 24 June 2005