EVERY morning Father Michael looks out of the window of his Harare parish house and sees an ever larger crowd of homeless families outside. “I feel helpless,” said the Jesuit priest, who was too terrified to give his real name.
“I keep telling them my little homilies, that the violent will not win, they will have to answer for what they have done, but I see a city ringed by fire.
“People who worked to look after their families — carpenters, metalworkers, street vendors and caterers — have been turned into beggars by their own government. This is a crime against humanity and all we can do is give them black plastic sheeting.”
As Operation Murambatsvina or “drive out filth”, moves into its second month, as many as a 1m city-dwellers have been made homeless by government bulldozers and axe-wielding police.
Churches have become the only refuge for people who have lost everything. But priests have now been warned not to help by the government of President Robert Mugabe.
Harare has been turned into a refugee city with marauding bands of families pursued through the smoking rubble by police who move on anyone they find sleeping outside or still retaining a few possessions.
Some have been taken to camps outside the city such as Caledonia Farm, where there is only one lavatory for several thousand people. Those with money have left for villages but many have no family to go to and the country’s fuel shortage means buses are few and far between.
Others have returned to Harare, claiming village chiefs are refusing to accept them because there is not enough food. Zimbabwe is facing its lowest harvest since independence. The United Nations estimates that 6m Zimbabweans are in urgent need of food aid.
With international aid agencies prevented from helping, those who can have sought shelter from the freezing winter nights in church yards and halls.
But confidential minutes of a meeting last Wednesday between community representatives and government officials headed by Ignatius Chombo, the minister of public works, confirm that church leaders have been refused permission to help the homeless.
The Catholic church has called for prayers all over the country today. Bishops will condemn “the injustice done to the poor” in the bravest move yet to stand up to Mugabe.
Sunday, June 19, 2005
Zimbabwe bishops to confront Mugabe
This article in the Times shows further confrontation between Zimbabwe's bishops and Robert Mugabe: