Discarded People

ZIMBABWE (Source withheld) - seems a rubbish dump. Piles of rubbish are burning, and a thick cloud of acrid smoke hangs over the area. But this is where people from “Joburg lines” in Mbare live, camping out during these cold nights. Among them is a terminally ill woman. She put up a few bits of plastic and cardboard to protect herself from the cold wind. She used to live with her two small children at her sister’s place until the little cottage she was allowed to use was demolished. Her sister’s husband, unlike many other homeowners who have received displaced relatives in their houses, refuses to let her or her children stay in his house so his wife could look after them.

Three little children, a boy of eight and his two younger sisters of five and three, were brought by concerned members of our parish to the church. They had been staying in the open at a very dirty place in the middle of puddles of sewage. Their mother abandoned them for reasons we don’t quite know, the father, a Mozambiquan, was picked up by police and taken to the holding camp at Caledonia Farm. He escaped and came back, only to be taken forcibly to that place a second time.

Mr and Mrs Chibango are both unemployed, but they managed to earn a living by being self-employed traders and caterers. All this has been destroyed. They ask for food relief to feed their family of three.

We are trying to feed the displaced people staying in the open and give them blankets and plastic sheeting. Are we to feed all the others rendered destitute as well? How long can we do this? What is going to be the outcome?

What has to happen for the African Union and the rest of the world to sit up and take notice of how a government is torturing the common people?

This week we start to transport people to their rural homes. Only those who really want to go. Some people say we should not do this, we were doing the dirty work for government. I think we have to do what the people ask us to do. Those who have no longer strong roots at home should not attempt to go. They might be turned back, different arms of government playing football with them. Many others, aliens and children of aliens, have no rural home anyway. They have been written off as no longer deserving a place in this country. They are told to go away, vanish into nothingness. Discarded people, no longer wanted. Do they now need government permission to exist, to breathe the air God gives for free to all humans, to move and go about their business? Is this government almighty and its people powerless?

Those who do go home may at least find shelter with parents or brothers and sisters. But how will they make a living? The rural areas are drought-stricken and without sufficient food. Many children will have their education interrupted.

I was chatting to a mechanic on a repair job at my place, apparently quite a smart young man. “Oh, he is being misled by bad advisers surrounding him,” he said. Propaganda is having its effect on the people. How can intelligent people be content with such stupidities? I think the old women who whisper something about the high and mighty being posessed by an evil spirit are closer to the truth.

The following letter appeared in the Independent (24 June) and Standard (26 June) weekly papers, Harare, Zimbabwe:

Many people in Mbare have lost their livelihood. Their home industries have been destroyed, the lodgers removed. On top of all this, home owners are now receiving massive back-dated bills charging them for water, rates, refuse collection, sewerage, and millions in penalties.

Many will not be able to pay these bills. Why are they being penalised? On what legal grounds?

The city administration must not put unbearable burdens on people who have been hit very hard already by the destruction of housing.

Many lodgers left homeless are now sleeping outside in the cold, including pregnant women, mothers with small children and extremely sick people. They have nowhere to go.

Shelter is a basic human right. “Every human being is entitled to respect for his/her life and to safety” (The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, article 4).
Officials must refrain from harsh and inhuman treatment of defenceless people.

It cannot be in the interest of responsible government to drive its citizens into unemployment, homelessness and general destitution.
“Judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2: 13).