City beautification, Mugabe style

By Michael Wines in the NYTimes: link

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe – President Robert G. Mugabe has one word for reports that Operation Drive Out Trash, the urban-demolition campaign aimed at slum dwellers that his government describes as a civic beautification program, has rendered thousands of his impoverished citizens homeless.

Nokuthula Dube’s home was demolished in June. Pregnant, she walked for a week to find the two bare rooms she and four children now live in.

Thousands of displaced poor in Bulawayo have simply moved.

“Nonsense,” he told ABC News in an interview broadcast on Nov. 3. “Thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands. Where are the thousands? You go there now and see whether those thousands are there. Where are they? A figment of their imagination.”

Clearly, Mr. Mugabe has not been to Bulawayo.

And yet this oversells the facts that this reporter has at his disposal.

So where are the homeless?

“This remains what I’d call an invisible humanitarian crisis – invisible to international eyes, the reason being that those who were displaced have been dispersed,” said David Mwaniki, who oversees ActionAid’s work in Zimbabwe.

Dispersal to the countryside worked for Mao during the Cultural Revolution and seems to be working for Mugabe now.

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