Zimbabwe – Operation Tsunami.

REPORTER: Ginny Stein

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe’s premier tourist attraction is one of the few places a foreigner taking photos or using a video camera is not treated with suspicion.



When people come to Victoria Falls, all they are interested in seeing are the falls, what you are seeing right now, not what is happening down in the residential areas where most of the people reside.

Reverend Lindsay Nleya has agreed to talk to me openly in order to alert the world to what’s happening here.

REVEREND LINDSAY NLEYA: Life is very much difficult for people here now, in the sense that some are now residing outside – people are living in the forest, some are living in the churches, some are living in unfinished houses, some have actually gone back to the rural areas.

This is what the tourists don’t get to see…..the government’s Operation Murambatsvina, or ‘Drive out the Trash’ which started at the end of May this year. It’s a ruthless military-style operation to demolish shanty towns across the country and drive the urban poor into rural oblivion.

REPORTER: For decades, people have been moving from rural areas into the cities in search of work. That exodus has increased in recent years as a crippling drought has ruined any chance of a livelihood. It’s into this environment that tens of thousands of former urban dwellers have now been dumped.

PASTOR ALBERT CHATINDO: It’s evil. The pastors call it evil, it is wicked, it is evil, you know. It is against human lives. Humans are being treated just like animals.

Pastor Albert Chatindo is taking me to see the results of the government’s ruthless onslaught on its own people. For 12 years he ministered in one of the poorer suburbs in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city. Now his parishioners are homeless and afraid.

On this ridge, there were once three villages. Now all that remains of a community of more than 2,000 people are these few homes.

MAN: This one was a 2-roomed house, they vandalised one of them. This was a 3-roomed house. They already vandalised it. They left that one and this one. And this one, they left it.

Two months ago the police arrived and ordered this man and his neighbours to destroy their own homes.

MAN: They just came around and told me to vandalise my house. And just because I was afraid, just because they told us to vandalise before they come, so I come on my own and vandalised my house.

REPORTER: So you knocked half of it down?

MAN: Yeah.

The few families who remain here are praying the police don’t come back.

MAN 2: So these days people, they are suffering. They don’t have the chance to do something to earn their living, because they are they are panicking at the situation, that they come at any time.

MAN 3 (Translation): I keep watch and listen out in case they come back.

Parallels have been drawn with Cambodia’s ‘back to year zero’ past. Large numbers of people have been forced from the city into the countryside where they are expected to fend for themselves.

PASTOR ALBERT CHATINDO: They just said, they just stopped and asked some people, “Who lives inside that hut”. And they said “no, the owner is away”. So they said to our people, “You have got a home, so you can get inside and stay in there until the owner comes back.”

The pastor is trying to find one family he’s heard is desperate for food.

REPORTER: If you are not a farmer, can you suddenly make it out here?

PASTOR ALBERT CHATINDO: You can’t. If you don’t have an oxen, you don’t have a plough, you don’t have any resources and there is no rainfall.

Mrs Madhuku, not her real name, went to work one morning in Bulawayo and came home to find nothing. All around her, homes had been destroyed. She’s now reliant on food handouts to survive.

MRS MADHUKU, (Translation): I had chickens. They just disappeared. I had household belongings – my table, my wardrobe, they’re all gone. They were all destroyed.

She had lived in the same suburb of Bulawayo, with her carpenter husband, for the past seven years. Her three children were all born there. From having her own 2-bedroom home, she’s been reduced to this.

MRS MADHUKU, (Translation): This home is not ours. It belongs to someone else. We just squeeze in.

Mr Madhuku is a shattered man. A carpenter with no tools who has never lived in the bush, he has no idea where to begin.

MR MADHUKU, (Translation): As my wife said, this is a very painful thing. I don’t know what to say as I’m very hurt by this. The pain is just everywhere. I don’t know what to say, or what to do.

PASTOR ALBERT CHATINDO: This is what has happened to all of them, really. I am yet to come across one who can say, “Now I am settled.” Some are temporary, where they are not willing to be, they have been forced to be there. It is very embarrassing to me. It is a very difficult and complicated situation. I also try to find solutions but I can’t, there are so many of them. There are so many of us pastors also trying to do this thing or the other thing but we can not. There are just too many for us. And it is just so embarrassing to see some of them die, to see little children no longer going to school and without hope or future. It is devastating to the mind.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe – appearing on state television last month at a celebration of National Heroes Day.

PRESIDENT ROBERT MAGABE: Today, I repeat the war-time slogan which motivated us to share burdens of the struggle.

The destruction of shanty towns and also the stalls of market vendors across the country has directly affected an estimated 700,000 people.

But in his address, President Mugabe proudly describes ‘Operation Clean Up the Trash’ as a form of progressive urban planning.

PRESIDENT ROBERT MAGABE: We could not have allowed such settlements to go on any longer, together with illegal activities which thrived on such environments. We acted decisively, but always mindful that the chief end was to accommodate displaced persons by providing them with better shelter, which is what is happening now.

GORDON MOYO, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, BULAWAYO AGENDA: You know the government would say they’re now constructing some houses for them, that’s a pathological lie.

Gordon Moyo is the director of Bulawayo Agenda, a civic pressure group. He believes the government launched this operation for one reason.

GORDON MOYO: Remaining in power. All that they want is not to emancipate the people. What they want is to remain in power. See they realise that they’ve caused so much challenges to this country. People are angry with this government.

For its part, the government says its simply enforcing the law – tearing down illegal settlements and markets which are a breeding ground for crime. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who for security reasons spoke to ‘Dateline’ from outside the country, finds this argument offensive.

MORGAN TSVANGIRAI: It is not an excuse. This is a reflection of failed economic policies, a reflection of failed social policies, and you are cutting your nose to spite your face, as it were.

I don’t think you can blame the victim, the victim who has no job, who has no income, who has no house, and who is looking for a means of survival, and try to blame them as the problem.

This is the Church of the Ascension at Hillside, an up-market suburb of Bulawayo. The priest here is one of many church leaders brave enough to publicly criticise the government’s actions.

REPORTER: Why do you think the state has acted the way that it has? What’s the reason for it?

REVEREND BARNABAS NQINDI: It’s a desperate state, its a failed government, they’ve lost the plot. You know, they are just going to come into their own end and anyone who is wise can see that. They’ve got no game plan anymore. They’ve got few friends left in the world. And the only thing they can use is repression and oppression which breeds fear to remain in charge.

When a UN representative came to Zimbabwe in June, to assess the impact of the campaign of destruction, Reverend Barnabas Nqindi condemned the government.

REVEREND BARNABAS NQINDI: Why somebody who has five senses would justify what they have done – in saying they want to clean up, when you have 80% unemployment, when you have a falling economy, when you have high inflation. That’s not sensible. They are variables which the government of the day has refused to acknowledge and which is partly of their own making. So I say it is evil, downright evil.

At the time, more than 100 homeless people were sleeping on the grounds of Reverend Barnabas’s church. The same night that he had met with the UN representative, the authorities raided this and other churches throughout Bulawayo and evicted the people sheltering here. Reverend Barnabas remembers the police arriving in full riot gear.

REVEREND BARNABAS NQINDI: We are talking about 10:00 in the evening when everybody was asleep, settled down for the night. The kids not playing around, it’s all becoming quiet and suddenly woomp, you know, it all began, it all began in full riot gear.

He was arrested for attempting to take photos of the security forces at work.

REVEREND BARNABAS NQINDI: Well, apparently the police said I was doing something which needed their permission and that I was basically taking photographs, which were meant to be used to actually go and wake up a high court judge to stop the evictions.

REPORTER: So how many people were here and how many people were moved out?

REVEREND BARNABAS NQINDI: 110 were moved out, gone just like that, vanished.

REPORTER: Have you had any contact with them since?

REVEREND BARNABAS NQINDI: We’re told not to have any contact with them, when the church was banned. I was banned personally. I was not allowed to follow them up where they’ve gone to. If I do that, it’s at my own peril.

These are the victims of the church raids. They were taken on trucks to a transit camp, where they were held until the UN published a damning report. The government responded to that report by clearing out the transit camps, dumping those it made homeless in the countryside to fend for themselves.

It’s time to move on from Bulawayo – but that means finding enough petrol to make it to my next destination about seven hours drive away. Petrol queues like this one are now a predominant feature across the country. The government does not have enough hard currency to import fuel.

REPORTER: So how long do people queue?

HERCULES: Months some of them, some of them queue for a really, really long time.

Luckily, I’m put in touch with a backyard petrol smuggler who goes by the name of Hercules.

HERCULES: 20-litre container, so we have to siphon some fuel into it.

I manage to get enough petrol to make it to Mutare, on the border with Mozambique. Zimbabwe’s third largest city has been hard hit by ‘Operation Clean up the Trash’.

MISHECK KAGURABADZA, FORMER MAYOR OF MUTARE: Well, I’d be safe to say about, you know, 30-40% of the residents of Mutare were affected. We had over 32,000 shacks and multiply that by an average of four people per family and you can come up with a ballpark figure to see how many people were effected.

This is Sakuva, a poor suburb that is one of the worst-effected in Mutare. Each house here used to have a number of shacks out the back, rented from the owner of the house. These have all been torn down. It’s only at night that it’s safe for me to visit the people who are now forced to sleep outside on verandahs or crammed into houses.

MAN: Wooden outside structures, they were all demolished during this Operation Murambatsvina, which means we used to have 19 families back here.

This man is from the neighbourhood, he’s agreed to introduce me to families he knows. These are all survivors of what they call ‘Operation Tsunami’.

MAN (Translation): How are you? We’re following up about the tsunami. Don’t change anything.

In this 2-bedroom house, where one family once lived, five families are now squeezed.

WOMAN (Translation): It’s a very crowded place. The children are coughing and they don’t sleep well.

Families have taken in relatives, landlords, their tenants. This man has moved the families of three of his nine tenants into his house. They’d been living on the same block of land for a long time.

LANDLORD: Almost nine years.

REPORTER: Everyone here was living here for almost nine years?

LANDLORD: Yes. Only to be separated, just a sudden separation.

A new word has entered the language here – ‘plastics’. It describes improvised housing, like this man’s flimsy shelter.

MAN (Translation): Our lives are very difficult now. We don’t have any money. That’s why we live here.

While tens of thousands of people have lost their homes, the government’s campaign also targeted livelihoods. Street sellers and stall-holders were hit hard. And the UN says up to a further 2.5 million people have been indirectly affected.

Until recently, opposition member Mishek Kagurabadza was mayor of Mutare. Today, he’s taking me on a tour of the city’s main market. We are not able to film here openly.

MISHECK KAGURABADZA (Translation): It’s tight, things are difficult. We were struck by the tsunami, water is very expensive, so it’s difficult.

Although the market is still operating, most traders are gone, their stalls destroyed. The former mayor says many of the traders who were targeted had permits.

MISHECK KAGURABADZA: All these people are informal traders. They are licensed and they pay to council. So there is no point in calling them illegal traders. They are legal traders because they are paying money to council every month.

In June, the Mayor also took the UN on this tour when it sent a delegation to assess the damage.

REPORTER: So you took her there, you showed her around.


REPORTER: What’s been the outcome for you because of that.

MISHECK KAGURABADZA: One of the reasons, one of the results is that there was a paper that came out…the following week, and this headline, which read, ‘Mutare mayor misled UN envoy’.

Like the priests of Bulawayo, the mayor of Mutare was punished for telling the truth to an outsider. The same day the UN published its scathing report, he was sacked. The mayor says he tried to take action the day the demolitions began, but to no avail.

MISHECK KAGURABADZA: I tried to minimise it by having some council officials to try and go around with these soldiers, or the army, to tell them, “This is legal, this is legal, this is legal, this is legal. Don’t break this. These people are paying rents to council for doing business or for having their homes around that place.”

However, that had very, very little impact because they didn’t want to take any instructions from the local authority.

He says can find no rational explanation for the government campaign.

MISHECK KAGURABADZA: Well your guess is as good as mine. No-one, up to this moment there’s no way you can really tell why the government did it. His reasons of saying, “We’re cleaning town, we’re driving away criminals,” to me, it’s a small truth in a big lie.

In Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, the housing problem is the same as the rest of the country, but the scale is much greater.

What’s become obvious from this short drive around Harare is the extent of the destruction. You don’t have to go far to see rubble strewn absolutely everywhere. These were people’s homes that have been destroyed. We found this man pushing his belongings in a cart. He told us he’s given up finding somewhere for his family to live. He’s sending them back to his home village.

MAN: Tomorrow I will be at work, on Friday I am going to be paid and my wife will go home. I start to live in a nomadic way of life.

REPORTER: You are just going to travel around.

MAN: Yes.

REPORTER: When you say you are going to be nomadic, will you sleep out here, where?

MAN: Yes because I have no option. I just wherever I think I can sleep.

One million were already on the waiting list for housing prior to the government’s demolition campaign. That list is now very much out of date. The government claims Operation Clean Up the Trash has been wound up. But, as I discovered, the victims are still being punished.

This is Hopley Farm, a heavily guarded transit camp for the newly-homeless. There are two entrances – one guarded by the military, close to the man road, and the one we came in on.

REPORTER: How long have you been at this place?

HOMELESS MAN: Three weeks.

REPORTER: Is there water? Do you get regular water, do you get food.

HOMELESS MAN: There is no regular water supplies as such. We got to spend roughly two or three hours waiting for the treated water to be water.

REPORTER: And is there, who’s this gentleman behind you, is this OK? Is there, what food? Has anyone brought you food?

HOMELESS MAN: No-one so far.

A concerned diplomat brought me to this camp after hearing reports of the conditions inside. He’s asked not to be identified out of fear of retaliation against the more than 2,000 people who’ve been dumped here. For most, this is their third camp in as many months.

REPORTER: Where are you living right now?

DIPLOMAT: I’m here, but down there. There are plenty of us just the…

REPORTER: How many people here all up? How many people?

DIPLOMAT: Roughly 2,000 families, excluding children.

From house, to tent and now nothing, people here are struggling to build somewhere to live with few, if any, resources. We are told conditions deeper inside the camp are worse but before we can get there, word reaches authorities that foreigners have entered the camp. Police first ask us to leave then block our departure after an informer told them he’d seen me filming.

The diplomat is taken away for questioning, allowing me time to hide both my camera and this tape. We’re allowed to leave after authorities are somehow convinced no filming took place.

In Harare, the streets are much quieter now than they were a few months ago. Petrol shortages and wholesale evictions have that impact. In a side street, a queue for sugar has formed. All basic commodities – sugar, bread, cooking oil and soap, to name a few – are in short supply.

The police are here, not to keep watch over the queue but to make sure they don’t miss out. Sugar is a prized currency on Zimbabwe’s black market – it’s bought and re-sold for profit.

MAN: Right here I was buying sugar and Ill go back to my tuck shop and sell if for cash. I’m going to get some sugar and sell it in my tuck shop.

Few tuckshops – small stalls in front of people’s homes – have survived the destruction. By tearing down the tuckshops, the government has robbed tens of thousands of people of their livelihoods.

TUCKSHOP BOY: Now we have no way to get any sort of income. We’re just sitting here. We just sit here, nothing to do. At the end of the day, just go home. We just sleep on an empty stomach.

These men are just two of Zimbabwe’s new army of unemployed. Their only source of income came from their, now destroyed, tuckshops.

REPORTER: When they say ‘clean up the dirt’, they are talking about you?

TUCKSHOP BOY: That’s what they are trying to say. We’ve just become the dirt ourselves.

REPORTER: If you could say something to Robert Mugabe what would you say?

TUCKSHOP BOY: Ahh. At the moment, I would tell him that he is actually the dirt now. We are going to run by him now, from any moment, as of now. We make sure we do that.

REPORTER: They say that this was about payback because people here supported…

TUCKSHOP BOY: It must be true.

There is no doubt that Zimbabwe’s opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, enjoys strong support in the face of such a brutal campaign against the urban poor. But the MDC appears cowed. There have been no opposition-organised public demonstrations since ‘Operation Clean Up the Trash’ began. No marches, no strikes, no rallies. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangarai won’t admit defeat, but his words suggest otherwise.

MORGAN TSVANGIRAI: We are victims of a government strategy to suppress us. And, of course, it is very difficult to mobilise people under those circumstances where they have no homes and they don’t know where their families are.

So, yes, the response of the MDC has been rather difficult because of the nature in which it has been operated. It has been a violent, militarised, state-sponsored operation which I think found the MDC in a very helpless situation.

REPORTER: But that’s like playing victim though, isn’t it? It means, you know, you can excuse the fact that you have lost a great opportunity to seize a chance.

MORGAN TSVANGIRAI: I dispute that. What chance? The chance to mobilise the people? How do you mobilise people who have no homes, who are out looking for when their next… ..their family is going to have their next meal?

The victims of this operation have nowhere to turn. Priests and mayors who speak out on their behalf are punished. The Opposition says it’s helpless. The international community wrings its hands from the sidelines. Meanwhile, some of the weakest, and most vulnerable, of Zimbabwe’s citizens have been abandoned to their fate.