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Harare's homeless hunker down for another winter

Written by: Staff
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HARARE, May 16 (Reuters) Remia Sangano has no illusions about the three-roomed brick house she used to live in, but it was home and she misses it.

''It was tiny, we had no electricity, but it was the nicest house I have ever lived in. Certainly a lot better than this,'' she says, pointing to the house Zimbabwe's authorities are building for her -- as yet just a roofless little room.

Sangano's home in the Porta Farm settlement on the outskirts of Zimbabwe's capital Harare was knocked down as part of President Robert Mugabe's fiercely criticised operation to clear urban slums and shantytowns, launched last May.

Zimbabwean police ordered her grandson to demolish their home and he did, smashing the walls with a pick as Sangano looked on in horror.

A year later, Sangano and her four grandchildren, whose parents died of AIDS, live under a plastic tent, still waiting to move into the replacement house promised under a state rebuilding exercise that critics say has taken too long.

''We don't know when the new house will be complete, but it looks like we will be spending a second winter out in the cold,'' Sangano told Reuters.

She was speaking on Hopley Estate, where the Zimbabwean army is building houses for those left homeless by last year's operation, which the government dubbed ''Operation Murambatsvina'', the local Shona word for ''reject filth''.

The United Nations says some 700,000 people lost their homes or their livelihoods when police bulldozed slums and what it called illegal structures in Harare and other towns. Sometimes, residents were ordered to knock down their own homes.

A U.N. report said another 2.4 million were affected by what it called a ''disastrous venture.'' Mugabe said the aim was to root out illegal trade in scant basic commodities, but critics said the demolitions were part of a political campaign against the largely urban supporters of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

''LIVE WELL'' Zimbabwe, once one of Africa's most promising economies, is sinking ever deeper into economic crisis with inflation above 1,000 percent, food and fuel shortages and rising unemployment.

The crisis has hobbled the rebuilding exercise -- known as Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle, or Live Well -- as bricks and other construction materials have become scarce and expensive.

Rights groups say the bulk of those left homeless last year are still without permanent housing.

More Reuters MIR BST0911

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