By Nomalanga Moyo
SW Radio Africa
29 January 2014
Police have arrested and detained leaders of Harare residents organisations for addressing a meeting to discuss the proposed demolition of 14,000 homes in Chitungwiza by the State.
Representatives from two residents’ associations were arrested in Chitungwiza’s Unit L Tuesday evening for addressing more than 800 residents who had gathered to discuss the state-sanctioned destruction of the homes.
Those arrested are Jacob Rukweza and Tinashe Kazuru of the Chitungwiza Residents Trust and Simbarashe Moyo of the Combined Harare Residents Association – who attended under the banner of the newly-formed Harare Metropolitan Residents Forum.
Also being held are George Makoni and Janet Kanavete from civil society groups the Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe and ZimRights respectively.
The police accuse the five of holding an illegal meeting and inciting public unrest. They first detained them at Chitungwiza station before transferring them to Harare Central where they are still being held without charge.
But Marvellous Kumalo, a coordinator at Chitungwiza Residents Trust who organised the event, denies the allegations.
“This was a consultative meeting on the State-sanctioned demolitions, and at no point did residents mention or discuss using violence.
“Residents were clear during the discussions that our resistance to the destruction of our homes should be peaceful. The police allegations are untrue,” Kumalo said.
Kumalo said the arrests and detentions were part of police attempts to thwart residents from showing their discontent at State-sponsored victimisation.
He called on Chitungwiza residents not to give up fighting for their rights.
“As residents’ leaders we are not going to accept any arbitrary evictions and demolitions of our people’s homes and properties without any court order,” Kumalo added.
The demolitions were temporarily halted Friday after Chitungwiza residents formed a human wall to block a bulldozer which had already destroyed one property.
An official at civic group Youth Agenda Trust criticised the police “for arresting the ‘wrong’ people, following the detention of one of their board members, Simbarashe Moyo.
“It is surprising that the police have chosen to arrest the affected people instead of corrupt politicians.
“They should release these people and instead jail those who have brought untold suffering to the people of Chitungwiza,” Lawrence Mashungu, a manager at the youth group said Wednesday.
Thousands of families face homelessness after the State and Chitungwiza council said the homes were built on land allocated illegally, and should be destroyed.
The residents say they are being unfairly punished while the land barons, who include top government and council officials, are not facing censure.
Municipal officials have claimed that the stands were allocated without approval, but some residents dispute this and say they have been paying rates to the council.
Since the recently-elected ZANU PF government gave indications that it will be destroying homes last year, rights campaigners have expressed concern that those affected will be left destitute as the authorities are not offering alternative shelter.
The pending demolitions are reminiscent of the ZANU PF government’s 2005 Operation Murambatsvina, which left 700,000 Harare families homeless.
ZANU PF claimed it was a clean-up exercise but Zimbabweans said it was the ruling party’s way of punishing poor city dwellers for voting for the opposition.
The operation outraged the international community, with United Nations special envoy Anna Tibaijuka calling it “indiscriminate, unjustified” and indifferent to human suffering”.