Zimbabweans left homeless by a nearly two-month demolition campaign are living in "appalling and shocking" conditions, a group of South African church leaders said yesterday. "We visited one of the transit camps this morning and one of the townships ... people are living in the most appalling and shocking conditions," said Rev Ron Steal. "We saw people living in small plastic shacks. The church leaders are absolutely horrified. It's one of the worst and most inhumane conditions that people can be subjected to." The churchmen arrived in Harare on Sunday on a fact-finding mission to assess the impact of the government clean-up operation that the UN says has left 200 000 people homeless. The delegation, put together by the South African Council of Churches (SACC), visited a transit camp where about 3,000 homeless are staying in makeshift tents on Caledonia farm, 25km east of Harare. The church leaders included Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, Cardinal Wilfrid Napier and Rhema pastor Ray McCauley. They consulted with Zimbabwean church leaders, rights groups and with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who estimated that between 1-million and 1.5-million Zimbabweans were displaced in the blitz. Steele said President Robert Mugabe had declined to meet with them. The church leaders say they plan to speak to the South African government and the rest of the world about the situation in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean government has since May 19 razed shacks and other unauthorised houses in shantytowns, flattening market stalls and detaining tens of thousands of vendors in what it has termed an urban renewal campaign. "This deliberate destruction of the informal economy, meant to cater for the economically vulnerable, is unparalleled in modern day Africa," said SACC president Russel Botman. "The people we have engaged seem to believe that we have seen a humanitarian crisis last experienced in Zimbabwe during the liberation struggle." "Young people who could be agents for change may become catalysts for conflict as they are exposed to the hopelessness of their parents." Police last month said the operation - condemned by the United States and Britain - was in its final stages while the government launched a home- building programme for those who lost their homes. But on Monday police moved around Harare's posh suburbs ordering residents to pull down staff quarters, garages and other outbuildings erected without government approval. The church leaders are urging President Thabo Mbeki to ease restrictions on Zimbabweans seeking refugee status in South Africa. South Africa has refrained from criticising the slum demolitions, saying it will await a report from a UN envoy who visited Zimbabwe earlier this month before taking any action. Source: CISA
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