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Churches say Mugabe’s strong-arm tactics not cricket

Christian World Service (CWS) threw its weight behind efforts to stop the New Zealand cricket team’s tour to Zimbabwe and launched an appeal to provide urgently needed relief in the wake of the Mugabe government’s neighbourhood clearance drives that have left more than half a million people homeless.

CWS hosted former Zimbabwe test cricketer Heny Olonga and Zimbabwean human rights campaigner Judith Todd who were in New Zealand last month to oppose the Black Caps’ tour. New Zealand Catholic and Anglican bishops also spoke out against the tour.

The crisis affecting Zimbabwe sharpened in May with the launch of Operation Murambatsvina, variously defined as Operation Restore Order or Discard the Filth. Police descended on informal traders operating in the central business district of Harare. It later spread to Bulawayo and Mutare.

Police gave little warning before they demolished homes, backyard add-on structures, and small cottages. In some areas they used bulldozers, in others they made people break down their own homes. Families were able to salvage few if any belongings.

People were told to go back to their rural homes but many have lived in urban areas for generations or have been displaced from farming areas. They have nowhere to go and many are sheltering in transit camps and churches. Harsh wintry conditions are forcing some to dig small holes in the ground to sleep in at night in an attempt to stay warm.

The demolitions come amid a political and economic collapse that has seen inflation of more than 600% (now ‘down’ to 144%), 80% of the population now living below the poverty line, and a drop in life expectancy from 52 years in 1995 to 38 in 2002, due in large part to HIV/AIDS.

CWS partners Christian Care and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches have been providing relief since May and are requesting urgent funding through ACT (Action by Churches Together) International. CWS has launched an appeal in response to these requests.

Donations will assist with food, shelter, sanitation and water services. It will provide blankets, cooking equipment and other household goods. Relief efforts also include trauma counselling, HIV/AIDS awareness, schools and cr?ches, and the provision of seed so displaced people going to rural areas can grow their own food.

For many Zimbabweans, knowing the world is not ignoring their plight is of great importance. To donate: contact CWS: 0800 74 73 72, www.cws.org.nz or send a cheque to PO Box 22652, Christchurch.