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A Show of Force: Report by Keith Goddard on members of GALZ affected by Murambatsvina
[Note: The dollars mentioned in these testimonies are Zimbabwe Dollars, not US Dollars. The exchange rate is roughly 1 British Pound to 40 000 Zimbabwean Dollars]
HARARE – The Murambatsvina campaign, which has displaced thousands of Zimbabweans, also affected a number of GALZ (Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe) members, ten of whom appealed to GALZ for assistance under the organisation’s Safety Net programme.
GALZ provided some small assistance to eight of these in
the form of:
Many others have also been affected in that they have been forced to take in other GALZ members and family members who have been rendered homeless.
The identities of those who gave testimonies have been withheld given that they face the double fear of reprisal and being evicted from their places of residence because of their homosexuality.
Testimony from GM (24 year-old man) from Zengeza
I was living with MN in Zengeza. On 19th June at around 6:30 in the morning, police armed with AK 47 and FN rifles and batons arrived in Zengeza in 15 new police trucks and 3 bulldozers. The truck in front had a siren blaring. Through the hailer, they were saying: “Tichapinda ukasapaza imba yako isiri paplan. Tichakurova topinza muburudoza todestroya main house kuti tidestroye boy’s khaya.” [We will come in if you do not destroy your house. We will beat you then bring in the bulldozer and destroy the main house so that we can destroy the ‘boys’ khaya’.] We were told that the destruction would begin within 24 hours.
The landlord said it was better to destroy the cottage in order to save the main house and we started to pull down the house together. We removed the property from the house and stored if behind the durawall of a friend of ours in Chitungwiza who is an employee of GALZ. It was extremely cold and rainy that night. MN’s bed and wardrobe were damaged by the rain.
We are no longer staying together. MN is now staying in Warren Park where the rent is double what it was. I am staying with relatives in Chitungwiza in a five-roomed house where there are 15 people living. I am scared that they will learn about my sexual orientation and throw me out.
Testimony from VM (30 year-old man) from Zengeza
I was living near GM and MN. To my mind this was a show of force because the police expected the people of Chitungwiza to resist Murambatsvina. But the people did not resist. They were demanding that people destroy their own houses. People were saying that this was because of the juju that had been found and the deaths that the bulldozers caused elsewhere.
I helped my landlord destroy the cottage I was living in. I took my property and stored it behind the durawall of a friend of mine, the same friend who helped GM and MN. Many household appliances were broken during the move and my wardrobe was damaged by the rain. I was lucky in that, I had proposals to start a tuck shop business but had not yet bought any produce. However, I cannot now start any business to support myself. I observed that those at the business centres were given only about 10 minutes to remove their things before their shops were bulldozed. This is a crisis because around 60% of those in Chitungwiza are not gainfully employed and rely on informal trade to support themselves.
The police did not even show any respect for the dead. In one house there was a funeral and a dead body was inside. The mourners were forced to move the body outside to make way for the destruction of the house.
Testimony from DD (33 year-old man) from Warren Park
I was living with CM [testimony below] in Warren Park D. We now stay together in Warren Park 1. I had heard about the possibility of the Murambatsvina coming to our area. I approached my landlord about the matter who told me not to worry. He showed me a bill for that month from the City Council which stated that $232,000 had been paid for the ‘illegal structure’. It actually stated ‘illegal structure on the bill.
On Sunday 19th June, I went to the shops at around 8:30 or 9:00 in the morning. On returning from there, my landlord told me that a representative from the City Council was going around telling people that their houses would be demolished unless they paid a sum of money to the council. There seemed to be confusion as to whether this was $1,500,00 or $5,000,000.
He asked my friend and me to remove our stuff from our cottage and put it in one of the rooms of the lodgers in the main house. After we did this, the landlord demolished the cottage.
The next day, the bulldozers came with an armed police escort of more than 30 military police.
My rent where I am now staying has more than doubled. I am not employed and was relying on CM to pay for my food and shelter. My property is stored in another place from where I am living.
Testimony from CM (19-year old man and friend of DD) with whom he shares accommodation
I live with DD and can confirm what he said. I also had my own mobile kitchen on the corner of Nelson Mandela and 9th street and the money I earned from that was used to pay the rent and support us both. I had paid $2,500,00 for my trader’s license.
On a Thursday in the first week of June, the Municipal Police in blue uniform approached me at around 3:00 p.m. They told me to stop my business and to return on Monday. I returned on the Monday morning and at around 11:30 or 12:00, a group of military police numbering about 10 to 12, approached me. I showed them my license but they said that it was not valid and they took it from me. They also took away my mobile kitchen.
They told me I could report to the Central Police Station which I did. I asked for a refund for my $2,500,000 which I had paid for the year. They refused to return it. They also refused to return my mobile kitchen saying that if I wanted to take it I should bring a truck because if I wheeled it into the street they would confiscate it again.
They offered me no assistance or alternatives. They were offensive and dismissive to everyone who was there. I saw them beat up someone, the owner of a flea market between Julius Nyerere and Inez Terrace who was demanding his stuff back.
Testimony from GC (22 year-old man) from Mbare
I was living with my mother but have been now been living in Mbare for about a year and a half. I was staying in a cabin in someone’s back yard. On a Saturday towards the end of May at about 9:30, about 10 to 12 armed military police came to Mbare in Hino trucks.
There were no bulldozers.
They were telling people
“Pwanyai zvimba zvematengwena. Tichakurovai kusvikira mapwanya.” [Destroy the boys’ khayas. We are going to beat you until you do].
They spent about a week in Mbare destroying everything. They called people in the streets and told them to destroy houses. They even gave them picks to destroy with. I had to destroy my own house. The landlord helped me. They said that if property was not removed, it would be taken away. I spent a week outside with my things until I found a friend to stay with. I am now living on a veranda which has been extended to be a room. Previously I was paying $800,000 a month where I was living before and I am now paying $1,200,000.
They were even telling people to remove the rubble. They did not want it known that we had been forced to destroy our houses. They said it was $5,000,000 fine if we did not remove the rubble.
They told us that they don’t want 7 or 8 people living in the same house. They said relatives have to register if they are living there.
Testimony from AM (26 year-old man) previously living in Mbare flats
I was staying in Mbare flats. My landlord was living in Bulawayo. The Operations [sic] said that they don’t need lodgers in the flats; they need the owners. In mid-June, my landlord told me I had to move. He did not tell me who told him; only that I was to be moved from the flats. I have never had problems with my landlord before so I believed him that it was because of Murambatsvina. I was given two-weeks notice to leave. He is now staying there. It is costing $3,000,000 for me to move my stuff.
Testimony from PM (23 year-old man) from Highfield
I am living in Milton Park but I have a house in my name in Highfield where my sister and my two cousin-brothers are staying. It had 4 rooms.
During the time of the Tsunami, my sister phoned me and told me that the police were coming to destroy the houses.
I went home to the house in Highfield after work. In the morning, the police came dressed in riot uniform. They were dropped off and were walking from door to door. They had teargas, batons and handcuffs. One of them was holding a gun.
They were saying:
Pwanyai zvese zvamakavaka zvisiri kubvumirwi nehurumende: izvozvi tisati tatora matanho. Kurumidzai kupaza tisati takurovai [Destroy everything that has been built without permission from the government: do so before we take steps. Hurry up and knock them down before we beat you].
We knocked down two of the rooms. My sister and my two cousin-brothers are now staying in two rooms.
Testimony from MM, a 28 year-old man from Ruware Park, Marondera
I am living with my mother in Ruware Park in Marondera. We were displaying in a flea market. One Friday in June, the police arrested everyone at the flea market. My mother and I were lucky. She had gone to church and I was at home.
The next Monday we were going to display at the flea market. We were alerted that the police would not permit us to display until we had paid a fine of $25,000. We did not display and instead went and paid the $25,000.
As we started to display, the police came and said that everyone must be vetted by the police. So we then stopped. After some time no one was allowed to display and we were told to destroy everything and leave it on the ground.
Then after about two weeks, we were told to go to the Ward Councillor, the ZANU-PF Women’s League chairperson and then the ZANU-PF cell chairperson so that we could be politically vetted.
After we got letters from these people, the municipality built a structure made of bricks, cement, asbestos and steel poles. We were told to build, using our own money, our own flea market using the municipality structure as a model.
About a week after we had built the new structure, the municipality told us to remove our things. We removed the asbestos and part of the poles but we could not remove the bricks and concrete. We wasted our money on the materials and the labour we had paid for. They have not yet told us where we can put our market place.
I also had a chicken project at my house. On a Thursday morning, the police came from Dombotombo in a Nissan UD 8-tonne truck. There must have been about 20 of them. They were standing and peering into the properties looking for zvitangwena (temporary cabins). There was a group of four, two military policemen from the branch known as blackboots or gondoharishayi [the eagle never lacks for food, it always gets what it wants] and two ordinary policemen, one of whom was carrying a gun. When they saw an illegal structure, they jumped down and told people to destroy their property themselves.
They were saying:
“Makaramba zvamakataurirwa nehurumende yaMugabe. Tiri kuda kuti mupwanya chikebeni chenyu ichi mega. Mozoziva pekuvotera mangwana.” [You refused what you were told by the government of Mugabe. We want you to destroy your cabin by yourself. You will then know whom to vote for tomorrow].
When they got to my place they saw my chicken runs which are made of steel. I had covered them in black plastic. I knew they were coming so I locked the gate and hid in the house. Two of the policemen jumped off the vehicle and knocked at my gate with their shambocks. I did not answer so they left a letter saying they were coming back at 4:30 in the afternoon to make sure that the chicken runs had been taken out.
I asked a friend of mine with a vehicle to help me move two of the three cages to my aunt’s farm where I was offered about 5 hectares for my project. But I had to slaughter all 600 of my chickens. The third cage I am still taking down because it is large.
The police talk to you in a way which makes you fear them. In another incident, a group of about 6 to 8 policemen (gondoharishayi and ordinary police) were walking along. They saw a man drinking tea while others were busy destroying their houses. One of the police asked the man why he was drinking tea. He said he was hungry. He was told to pour the tea on the policeman’s shoe. After he had done this, he was told to remove his shirt and wipe the policeman’s shoe. He was then told to jump on his bread. After that the policemen called the others from their work and told the man to go and destroy the houses alone. He was kicked about two times.
Testimony of SS (28 year-old woman) from Dangamvura Area B, Mutare
I was living with my brothers in Dangamvura Area B. There were 8 of us living on the property. I was staying in the two-roomed house and my brothers were sleeping in the cabins. In June, a group of policemen came and told us that we had to remove the illegal structures. When they were removed I had nowhere to sleep because my brothers, their wives and children were occupying the house. I slept outside for two days.
I managed to find somewhere to stay but I had no money to pay for rent and the house was also occupied by others because of Murambatsvina. Even the lady there was having to sleep in the small kitchen.
The Council City Rangers went to the markets and said they did not want to see us working there. They did not suggest anywhere else where we might go.
Two weeks ago the police came back and checked that we had not rebuilt our shelters. The City Rangers also re-destroyed all the remaining structures at the market places. They were saying that they wanted to see licenses and other documents. They came in a landrover and they took everything that was there. There is nowhere to work, not even to sell tomatoes.
■ GALZ was formed in 1989 to provide gay men and lesbians in Zimbabwe with a network to facilitate communication within the gay community. By default the network also provided a space for bisexuals and other alternative people who sought more broad-minded company. Primarily concerned with providing the community with social events, the organisation kept a low profile at its onset. However, with the growing awareness of the needs of the gay community as a whole within the country, GALZ initiated a programme of outreach which inevitably led to the organisation's "outing". Presently GALZ' aim is to network broadly with other human rights organisations, the womens' movement, AIDS initiatives and regional associates. The objective is to increase awareness of gay rights in as broad a forum as possible thereby integrating these rights with the other basic human rights for which civil society is currently battling.
GALZ won the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission's 2005 Felipa de Souza Award.
25 August 2005