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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • Operation Murambatsvina - Countrywide evictions of urban poor - Index of articles


  • Purge of the urban poor
    Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
    Weekly Media Update 2005-21
    Monday June 6th – Sunday June 12th 2005

    THE government’s demolition of houses, makeshift industries and market stalls in urban areas ostensibly to clean up the cities continued to dominate the media.

    The broadcast media carried 70 stories on the matter. Fifty-seven were on ZBH (Power FM [17], Radio Zimbabwe [13] and ZTV [27]) while 13 were on Studio 7. The Press featured 59 stories on the subject, 24 of which were in the government-controlled Press and 35 in private papers.

    All the stories carried by the government media however, were largely premised on three main objectives:

    • To legitimise the purge as a noble exercise whose virtues the shack dwellers had also acknowledged by "voluntarily" demolishing their own dwellings
    • To portray government’s compassion for the affected people
    • And to magnify the purported benefits accruing from the exercise as reflected in the numerous "scams" involving illegal dealings in gold, fuel and basic commodities unearthed by the operation.

    For instance, 13 (54%) out of the 24 stories the government Press carried focused on these themes. The rest were mere "technical" updates on the exercise in various urban and residential centres countrywide. Similarly, 28 (49%) reports of the 57 stories ZBH carried were devoted to presenting the authorities as making efforts to provide alternative accommodation and vending stalls to the victims of the operation, while the rest slavishly endorsed it.

    Consequently, the colossal human suffering, mainly characterized by massive internal displacement of hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans, was hardly covered. The official media, for example, did not provide statistics on the exact number of people displaced and its effects on workers and school-going children. Neither did they measure the cost of the exercise to the economy or explain how the cash-strapped government would finance the resettlement of those that it had dislodged.

    Rather, in one of its reports portraying government as caring for the victims, ZTV (6/6, 8pm) passively quoted Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo and Science and Technology Deputy Minister Patrick Zhuwawo saying government had demarcated nearly 10,000 residential stands at Whitecliff farm for allocation to "deserving people".

    There was no attempt to inform viewers about the criteria government intended to use to allocate the stands.

    This disregard for any socially responsible journalistic instinct was also apparent in Power FM’s reports (7/6, 6pm) and again on ZTV (7/6, 8pm) that about 1,000 people who had been successfully vetted as informal traders were to resume operations at legal structures provided by the authorities. Again the stations did not question how these people were "vetted" or the fate of thousands of other informal traders who had lost their only source of income.

    The government Press was equally unquestioning in the six stories they carried on government’s commitment to provide vending and residential stands to the clean-up victims. For instance, the papers did not question whether the authorities had the financial and logistical capability to see out their plans, especially in the midst of crippling, fuel, electricity and food shortages in the country.

    Instead, these papers irrelevantly reported that Britain was conducting a similar operation in an effort to portray murambatsvina as a normal activity. While they did note that Britons had been given two years’ notice, there was no reference to the lack of notice urban Zimbabweans were given.

    The official media’s professional incompetence in handling the issue was reflected in their dependence on the authorities as shown by the voice distribution on ZBH in Fig.1.

    Fig 1 Voice distribution on ZBH

    Station

    Govt

    Alternative

    Ordinary People

    Reader

    Local Govt

    ZANU PF

    Police

    Business

    ZTV

    9

    3

    8

    1

    2

    3

    3

    2

    Power FM

    3

    3

    0

    3

    0

    0

    1

    1

    Radio Zimbabwe

    6

    7

    0

    3

    1

    1

    0

    0

    Total

    18

    13

    8

    7

    3

    4

    4

    3

    Although the voice distribution in the government papers also appeared fairly diverse as illustrated in Fig 2, most of the comments were used in the context of legitimising the exercise.

    Fig. 2 Public Press voice distribution

    ZANU PF

    Ordinary people

    Govt

    Local Govt

    Alternative

    Unnamed

    Judiciary

    Foreign

    14

    13

    5

    3

    5

    2

    2

    3

    But the government media was not alone in endorsing Operation Restore Order. The Financial Gazette (9/6) columnist Denford Magora also simplistically justified the exercise on the basis that "the illegal structures, flea-markets and roadside vendors were nothing but dens of iniquity".

    However, the story was the only variation in the 48 reports that the private media carried on the operation. Thirty-five were in the private Press while the remaining 13 were on Studio 7.

    Even though the private media also failed to provide estimates of material losses, they did carry informative revelations about the extent of the displacement and the inhumane implementation of the operation. For example, the private papers put the figure of those who have been displaced so far at 200 000. In addition, the private media also publicised the local and international criticism of the operation.

    Notably, they recorded the first tragic consequences of the operation that has since resulted in three deaths. For instance, The Standard (12/6) reported that a two-year old was killed by the debris from a collapsing house in Mabvuku, while in another incident, it reported the police ordering mourners to remove a corpse from a makeshift building before they torched it.

    Studio 7 (8/6) also reported the death of the child and that of an elderly man who died of shock following the demolition of his shack. Earlier, The Daily Mirror (7/6) reported that a man made homeless had committed suicide.

    The private media also carried four stories reporting international criticism of murmbatsvina. For example, the Zimbabwe Independent (10/6) carried a report in which the United Nations and the European Union urged the government to stop the blitz, which they said constituted human rights violations. The paper quoted UN special rappoteur on the right to adequate housing, Miloon Kothari, describing government’s exercise as "a form of apartheid". Studio 7 (6/6), The Financial Gazette (9/6) and Sunday Mirror (12/6) also carried Kothari’s comment.

    The analytical manner in which the private media handled the issue was reflected in the private Press’s balanced sourcing pattern. All official voices, including those of the police, were quoted defending the operation while the rest of the voices mostly criticised it. See Fig 3.

    Fig. 3 Voice distribution in the private Press

    Police

    Ordinary People

    Govt

    Local Govt

    Alternative

    ZANU PF

    Unnamed

    Business

    Foreign

    3

    10

    3

    2

    8

    2

    9

    3

    3

    While the private papers sought comment from the authorities in their stories, Studio 7 compromised its coverage by failing to balance independent views with official comment.

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