A Big Mac or a House?

September 2, 2010

Residents of an informal settlement in Harare's suburb of Gunhill survey the burnt shells of their homes after police forcibly evicted them and set fire to their shacks in August 2010.

Apparently McDonald’s is eyeing Zimbabwe as a potential new market for its franchise restaurants. While this can be viewed as a positive step in international regard for the stability of Zimbabwe both politically and¬†economically, I don’t think the 250 people rendered homeless last week are as optimistic.

In the early morning hours of August 25th, Zimbabwe police officers entered an informal settlement in the suburbs of Harare and gave residents 10 minutes to gather their possesssions before torching their homes. As if being woken in the middle of the night and told to get out isn’t scary enough, the police came armed with weapons and dogs. Fifty-five people, including 5 children, were detained without access to lawwyers until later that day. This is not the first time police raided this community, exhibiting a clear pattern of harassment by authorities. The families have since returned, but are living in the open, exposed to the elements with no access to shelter.

In 2005, the Zimbabwe government evicted approximately 700,000 people from homes and informal businesses. Very few received any compensation. The government built a few houses in rural areas to resettle those displaced, but the vast majority, including many of those displaced last week, continue to find shelter where they can. On the eve of World Habitat Day next month, this continuing disregard by the Zimbabwe government to respect the right to housing is deplorable. The people of Zimbabwe would like human rights to go with their fries.