Zimbabwe: Fighting poverty or the poor?

?People woke up this morning from another chilly night out in the open. Some legal house owners, who are still in their houses, have gone out of their way to assist friends and relatives.? Thus starts a dramatic account written by Oskar Wermter SJ on the impact of ‘Operation Murambatsvina’ (or ‘Operation Restore Order’), initiated on 18 May 2005 by the Zimbabwean Government entailing the demolition of illegal settlements in areas nationwide. ?It was not just wooden shacks and filthy slum dwellings that were destroyed. Perfectly well- built, cosy little cottages came under the sledge hammer, people being forced to destroy their own homes [?]. This is a triumph of inhuman bureaucracy?. While the Zimbabwean government maintains that the operation is aimed at cleaning up cities and curbing the black market in staple goods, many sectors of the local and international civil society have denounced the cruelty of the operation for the hardship it is causing to the affected people. Estimated to be between 200,000 and 500,000, they are among the most vulnerable members of society. Countless people, including the old and the sick, continue to sleep in the open air at freezing winter temperatures. ?What can one do?? asks Fr Brian MacGarry SJ, ?People asked where they were to go. One woman asked me ‘Does this mean we are rubbish?’ a clear reference to the police’s name for this atrocity. [?] It might be possible to feed a few, give them plastic sheets to make some shelter and offer a place to store property, but we can only do this for a few. This raises moral questions for helpers.? The larger moral issue raised by the entire operation is this: poor people are people and need to live with dignity as much as others. Before starting a demolition drive for whatever good reason, is it not incumbent on the government to provide adequate shelter to those whose homes they destroy? [HL50604]