THE government’s “clean up” campaign has left over a million people displaced, refugees in their own country. Around 300,000 kids have dropped out of school as a result of the displacements.
Over 22,000 poor people trying to survive on informal trading have been arrested by the police, with goods worth millions of dollars confiscated or destroyed.
In the township of Mabvuku I witnessed the havoc. First came riot police in trucks, singing and drumming as if they were psyching themselves up for war with some alien invaders. The next day the cops came in their hundreds.
Police senior assistant commissioner Edmore Veterai spoke to over 2,000 of his officers before dispatching them into action following some resistance in the ghettos. He said, “Why are you letting the people toss you around?
“From tomorrow, I need reports on my desk saying that we have shot people. The president has given his full support. You should treat this operation like war.”
After the police left the township, the scene was like a funeral.
Arms folded, people stood looking at the rubble that once had been their dwellings as they tried to comprehend what would drive a government to turn against its people with such violence.
Many did not know where to sleep that night. Parents were at a loss on what to say to their children. Many of these houses, now ruins, had stood for over two decades.
Late into the night one could still see women with kids strapped on their backs behind carts carrying the little they could scavenge out of the rubble. Many just lit fires to warm their kids and slept in the open.
When I got to my brothers’ house, a family had huddled onto his verandah with all they could pick up from the rubble. Husband, wife and kids, they were all there.
Inside, a neighbour’s kids were sleeping. Their house had been destroyed while the mother was away at a funeral, leaving the kids stranded on their own in the middle of a rainy winter night.
In Tafara township a child died when a wall fell on her. In Gweru a man committed suicide from the stress and desperation of the situation.
At the Fife Avenue shopping centre vendors come out to their old places in the night. Against all odds they try to sell something.
They have no choice. They have families to feed. Their kids have to go to school. They must pay rent. It’s their only means of survival.
When I was arrested on the eve of last week’s protests against Mugabe, the cops picked up a vendor on the way to the police station. They took us to one of the police internal security intelligence torture rooms. They made the vendor lie down on the floor and beat him mercilessly with a wooden plank.
After beating the poor guy senseless they told him to go and pay a huge fine.
On the streets the same war on the homeless poor is raging on. The cops are rounding up beggars, the mentally ill and all those who have been living on the streets. These people are dumped onto farms such as Caledonia where they are practically prisoners. People live under 24-hour police guard.
One needs to be prepared for the horrible scene inside the camp. The mentally ill who were roaming the streets are tied onto trees to restrain them. There is no safe drinking water, people are drinking from the same water they use for bathing. People sleep in the open and use the bush for ablution.
People fear they will be used as cheap labour on state farms and those owned by ruling Zanu-PF chiefs.
This is the reality of Mugabe’s war on the poor.