Zimbabwe: South Africa church leaders visit demolitions

 A group of South African church leaders have arrived in Zimbabwe for a fact-finding mission. They will visiting areas affected by the campaign to demolish homes and market stalls in shantytowns that has left hundreds of thousands homeless. "We are on a pastoral visit to get first-hand information on the clean-up operation and express solidarity with the affected people of Zimbabwe," Bishop Irvine Abrahams, head of the Methodist Church in Southern Africa, said shortly after his arrival yesterday. The delegation, put together by the South African Council of Churches was scheduled to meet today with President Robert Mugabe and with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who estimates that between 1-million and 1,5-million Zimbabweans have been displaced in the blitz. The church leaders will also consult with trade union leaders and Zimbabwean church leaders on the impact of the demolitions, which the UN says has left 200,000 homeless. They are also to visit a transit camp where some 3 000 homeless are staying in makeshift tents on Caledonia Farm, about 25km east of Harare. Police last month said the operation, which has been 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 state radio reported yesterday that the police were planning to target Harare suburbs as of today, demolishing staff quarters, garages and other buildings that have been built without approval. The church leaders are urging President Thabo Mbeki's government to ease restrictions on Zimbabweans seeking refugee status in South Africa. South Africa has refrained from criticising the slum demolitions, saying it will await the findings of UN envoy Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, who ended her 12-day visit to Zimbabwe on Friday. Source: ZW News/Star

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