HARARE, Zimbabwe – Hundreds of homes have been built in Zimbabwe’s capital to replace some of the thousands destroyed in a widely criticized “cleanup” campaign, the government said Saturday ahead of a planned visit by a United Nations envoy.
President Robert Mugabe earlier scorned Western “demonization” of his five-week program called Operation Murambatsvina, or “Drive Out Trash,” which has left between 200,000 and 1.5 million Zimbabweans without homes or livelihoods.
Saturday’s announcement followed the condemnation by 10 U.N. human rights experts of the demolition of tens of thousands of homes in shantytowns and the destruction of street markets and vegetable gardens. More than 200 international human rights and civic groups Thursday demanded an end to the campaign, as have Western governments, including the United States, Britain and Australia.
Mugabe defended the campaign Saturday as helpful for development and fighting crime. Addressing 6,000 members of his ruling Zanu-PF party at their twice-yearly meeting, Mugabe said the demolitions would “weed out hideouts of crime” and encourage small-business growth.
He lashed out at Western media for portraying his government negatively.
“The government is not seeking to dispossess or disempower the people, but simply believes that their structures should conform with local government bylaws,” state radio quoted him saying.
State radio reported Saturday that the first 500 of 5,600 new homes were ready for occupation in the capital, Harare, and 250,000 plots of land was made available countrywide. A special envoy of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is scheduled to visit Zimbabwe next week to assess Mugabe’s campaign. Opposition political groups say it is aimed at punishing those who voted against the ruling party in recent parliamentary elections.
The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp. also reported that Mugabe said he would receive the envoy “so as to enable the secretary-general to understand and appreciate what we are trying to do for our people, who deserve much better that are now being romanticized as fitting habitats for them.”
Mugabe, 81, also pledged $325 million to provide 1.2 million houses and plots of land by 2008. He urged Zimbabweans faced by widespread international condemnation of the campaign “to remain focused and disregard the machinations of the West trying to demonize the country,” according to ZBC.