VI. Fleeing Economic Deprivation

Zimbabwe was once one of the wealthiest countries in sub-Saharan Africa.110 Following independence, the government implemented a range of progressive social and economic policies, resulting in marked improvements in human development indicators. Life expectancy rose sharply from 45 years in 1960 to 59 years in 1987.111

Political Repression, Including those Indirectly Affected by Mass Forced Evictions

Since the late 1990s, the Zimbabwean government has become increasingly more repressive under the long rule of President Robert Mugabe.112 During elections, including those in March and June 2008, large numbers of political activists have been assaulted and displaced.113 The government’s political repression has taken many other forms including policies resulting in the dislocation of hundreds of thousands of citizens, the seizure of commercial farms, and assaults on the informal trading sector. These policies have resulted in severe social and economic disruption for massive numbers of people.114

As noted in the previous section, the Zimbabwean government’s campaign of forced evictions in 2005 destroyed tens of thousands of houses and thousands of informal business structures, leaving an estimated 700,000 people (or 6% of the Zimbabwean population) without homes, livelihood, or both.115 The UN report on the evictions found that a further 1,700,000 people were indirectly affected in a number of ways:

[their] livelihoods are indirectly affected by, for example, loss of rental income and the disruption of highly integrated and complex networks involved in the supply chain of the informal economy [including] for example, transport and distribution services, suppliers of foodstuffs from rural areas and… suppliers of inputs to rural areas, formal and informal micro-credit institutions, and a wide range of part-time and casual labor.116

A government ban on informal trading made the suffering even worse.117

A Zimbabwean NGO community coordinator in Harare told Human Rights Watch about secondary displacement caused by the evictions. She said that she, like thousands of people like her, who lived in cottages that the authorities destroyed, also owned flats that they rented out. After their cottages were destroyed they were forced to return to their original flats and had to ask the people who had been renting to leave. Two-and-a-half years later thousands of these people are unable to find income because of the government’s crackdown on informal trading, and are, therefore, homeless, sleeping in the open on wastelands, and often too weak or sick to even try to find alternative ways of making money.118

Testimony collected from Zimbabweans by Human Rights Watch in South Africa in October and November 2007 includes many stories from people who spoke of how the evictions affected the lives of family members in the rural areas who had been relying on the income from relatives informally trading in the urban areas, and who were made destitute after the evictions. Echoing many almost identical stories, a 25-year-old man from Harare told Human Rights Watch:

Before the tsunami I was working as a salesman. My income was supporting 17 relatives in the rural areas. I sent them food and money for fertilizer and seeds. The building I used to trade in was destroyed and it was impossible to get a trading license and so I had to stop trading. All my relatives suffered. Before the tsunami they ate three times a day. Afterwards they had no money for seeds and fertilizer and soon they ate only sadza119 and sometimes porridge in the morning. They were all hungry and so I came to South Africa.120

Under refugee law (below, Chapter VII), Zimbabweans directly affected by the evictions can claim to have suffered persecution at the hands of the Zimbabwean authorities.

Zimbabweans indirectly affected by the evictions—hundreds of thousands living in the rural areas—cannot make such a claim. However, the suffering they faced as a result of the loss of income received from relatives in the cities was and remains real, causing breadwinners to come to South Africa to help their relatives survive the effect of the evictions.

Deterioration of the Economy Fuelled by Ban on Informal Trading

Zimbabwe has one of the world’s “fastest shrinking economies” and, by far, the world’s highest rate of inflation. The real gross domestic product has shrunk for nine consecutive years,121 and the engine of Zimbabwe’s economy, agriculture, has contracted sharply.122 Between 1999 and 2004, maize production declined by over 60 percent123 and in 2007 alone it fell by a further 40 percent.124

Inflation in Zimbabwe in 2008 has been estimated at over 100,000 percent.125 The proportion of the population living below the poverty line increased from 25 percent in 1990 to an estimated 70 percent in 2003 to 83 percent in 2007.126 Unemployment was estimated at 80 percent in 2007.127

With the collapse of much of Zimbabwe’s formal economy, the informal economy expanded and by 2005 employed three to four times the number of people employed in the formal sector.128 However, as part of its 2005 campaign of forced evictions officially aimed at sanitizing the cities of informal economic activity, the government targeted the informal sector, banning all informal trading. This has resulted in a severe crisis for individuals trying to make their living engaged in small enterprises and vending.

During the evictions alone, 32,538 small, micro- and medium-size enterprises were demolished, resulting in 97,614 persons losing their primary source of livelihood.129

Despite the government’s assertion that the demolitions affected only those workplaces operating illegally, vendors, market places, and small business areas across the country were targeted indiscriminately. During the operation, licensed traders were arrested and had their goods confiscated or destroyed, and legal vending sites were demolished.130

After the evictions vendors were told they had to go through a “vetting” process to get new licenses. In order to be licensed (or re-licensed) vendors had to submit applications, be fingerprinted, and pay fees of US$10 in May 2006.131 Reports by both Human Rights Watch132 and Amnesty International133 document that the authorities granted or denied vending licenses based on political affiliation. Officials barred people who were not supporters of the ruling party, ZANU-PF, and gave preference to people with ZANU-PF affiliation.

In February 2008 Human Rights Watch interviewed people in Zimbabwe who continued to speak about the political bias in obtaining permission to work and trade. A 42-year-old woman explained how the destruction of her goods and the ban on informal trading had prevented her from making money to support her 10 children and six grandchildren who all lived with her in one room, but that ZANU-PF supporters were given the opportunities denied to her:

In 2005 I started making brooms. I sold them at a market stall. But then the government came and burned them all. I tried to get another stand from the city council. They said there were none available. I tried to start a co-op with some other people so we could all work together. I went back to the city council and they told us to pay Z$200 million134 but I can’t. Other people get stands, if they are ZANU-PF. I just sit by the road. The police come two or three times a day. If they catch me I have to pay a fine and they take away all of my brooms. There are 17 of us living in one room—myself, my children, and grandchildren. Three of my grandchildren are orphans, and are HIV positive. I cannot afford their school fees and I struggle to pay for their medicine.135

Zimbabweans who fled to South Africa gave similar accounts. A 43-year-old woman from Harare told Human Rights Watch how the lack of a ZANU-PF card made it impossible for her to obtain a trading license and left her without work or income:

They destroyed my cottage in Mabvuko. I tried to feed myself and my daughter and mother by selling cooking oil and soap in the Mabvuko market by the bus station. The police made it impossible, arresting and fining and beating us. Each time they caught us they stole our goods. I tried to sell these things in a friend’s backyard but the police always raided us. They beat me twice, in October 2005 and in January 2006. The first time they beat me with a chambuka (rubber whip) all over my body. The second time they beat me with an iron bar on my back and legs. It was impossible to get a trading license. The council gave out very few licenses. I was told that they were very expensive and that it was impossible to get one without a ZANU-PF card and proof of attending their meetings. After the second beating I knew I could not continue and had to leave, so I came to South Africa.136


The collapse in food production has caused a serious food deficit, affecting 4.1 million Zimbabweans (more than one-third of the population).137 Until June 5, 2008, ongoing food assistance programs by international agencies such as the World Food Program were expected to meet all of the assessed needs in rural areas, though only one-third of the one million urban Zimbabweans estimated to be food insecure were receiving formal food assistance.138 On June 4, 2008, the Zimbabwean authorities announced a complete halt to the work of all aid agencies in Zimbabwe, including those distributing emergency food rations, alleging that agencies had been using their programs to campaign for the opposition party.139 This followed President Mugabe’s announcement on May 29, 2008, that Zimbabwe had had to import 600,000 tons of maize to ease food shortages,140 and warnings that in the coming 12 months Zimbabwe’s cereal production will cover only 28 per cent of the populations’ needs.141

Human Rights Watch heard again and again how hunger compelled Zimbabweans to flee to South Africa. A 42-year-old widow with three children told a story similar to many others:

When they destroyed my cottage and stopped us from working I had no money for food or rent or school fees. We slept under the sky in a riverbed for two weeks and my children all became sick and hungry. We went to live with my mother in the rural areas for three months. There was no work and almost no food. We only ate porridge and a little sadza. Everyone in the village was already hungry and had no food for us. I left my children and tried for three weeks to sell vegetables… but the police stopped me. I was sleeping on the side of the street…. We were always hungry. We lived from day to day. I came to South Africa in July 2006 to find food for my children. I send back groceries and a little money every three months and now they can eat again.142

In March 2008 Human Rights Watch reported on the politicization of agricultural equipment and political interference with food distribution carried out by Zimbabwe’s Grain and Marketing Board. The report documents that the nongovernmental election monitoring  organization Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN), and organizations such as the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), have alleged political interference in the distribution of free agricultural equipment (under the government’s farm mechanization program) and state subsidized maize and seed from the government’s Grain and Marketing Board (GMB).143 Such manipulation is not new to Zimbabwe. Human Rights Watch reports from 2003 and 2004 have documented how food assistance has been denied to suspected supporters of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party and to residents of former commercial farms resettled under the country’s “fast-track” land reform program.144

Health and HIV/AIDS

Zimbabwe’s economic collapse, its repressive political environment, and the mass forced evictions have also had an impact on the health sector generally and more specifically on people living with HIV and NGOs providing services to them.

As of December 2007 an estimated 1.7 millionout of 13 million Zimbabweans were estimated to be living with HIV, and 20.1 percent of all 15 to 44 year olds were infected with the virus.145 The epidemic has sharply increased the burden on the health care system. Over 70 percent of admissions to medical wards in Zimbabwe’s major hospitals are patients with AIDS-related diseases.146

About 1.7 million people are living with HIV in Zimbabwe, and only 8 percent of adults and 4 percent of pregnant women are receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART). Nearly 200,000 people died of AIDS in 2007.147 Media reports have indicated that some Zimbabweans are turning to unproven herbal remedies and to neighboring countries because of their inability to access ART in the country.148 The Zimbabwean authorities’ decision of June 4, 2008 (see above), to halt the work of all aid agencies, including those providing health services, until further notice may have a devastating effect on those lucky enough to have accessed ART to date.

A 33-year-old HIV infected woman from Bulawayo told Human Rights Watch about the particular impact of the evictions and the economy on PLWHA:

I was diagnosed in July 2004 at Bulawayo Central Hospital. After the tsunami if I tried to sell anything the police harassed me and I couldn’t support myself and five other relatives who all depended on me. We ate a lot less than before and I became weak… I was told I needed ARVs but that the clinics and hospitals in Bulawayo had run out. I was told to go to a private doctor but I did not have enough money. One of my children told me that I could maybe find ART in South Africa. I sold some furniture and in December 2006 I took a bus from Bulawayo to Beitbridge. I paid some guides to take me across the border and I took a bus from Musina to Johannesburg. I was too weak and sick to find work. I lived with another woman in a room who gave me vegetables and fruit and meat to eat and I got a little stronger. In July 2007 I went to Nazareth House and they gave me free ARTs immediately and told me to eat well. I was strong enough to do some domestic work and bought food with the money… I feel a lot better and I can work now. I am afraid of going back to Zimbabwe because there is no food or medication.149

The health sector in general has been plagued with difficulties providing basic services. Shortages of key drugs and surgical supplies are frequent150 and massive emigration of medical personnel has occurred. In March 2008 50 percent of health care positions, including 88 percent of primary health nurses, were vacant.151

The cost of health care has repeatedly increased with regular increases in health user fees and associated direct and indirect costs.152A dramatic drop in a broad range of health indicators reflects reduced access to health care and the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Maternal mortality rose from 283 per 100,000 live births in 1994 to1,100 per 100,000 live births in 2005,153 and the life expectancy of a woman in Zimbabwe has fallen from 56 years in 1978 to 34 years in 2006.154

A 62-year-old woman in Harare told Human Rights Watch:

Before the tsunami I lived in a cottage but it was demolished. There were four of us—me, my daughter and her two children. Now we live under plastic sheets. Without a house the rains destroy your stuff, the sun too. People steal things. I think we’ve been hardened by living outside, so maybe that means our bodies are stronger. But my 12-year- old granddaughter sometimes complains of chest pains. I think she has pneumonia, she has a bad cough. She was tested for HIV and was negative but she hasn’t been tested for TB. I took her to the clinic in September. She had scabies. You pay for the registration but the drugs are not available. You have to go find them in a private pharmacy but no one can afford the prices at private pharmacies. When we first went to the doctor there were only a few scabs, but by the time I got the money, they were all over her body: on her stomach, the backs of her thighs, everywhere.155

The 2007 Global Tuberculosis Control Report from the World Health Organization ranks Zimbabwe among 22 countries with the highest TB burden in the world.156 Zimbabwe has six times more TB cases than it did 20 years ago, and an estimated two-thirds of Zimbabweans with TB are also infected with HIV. Because of the poor health infrastructure in Zimbabwe, little is currently known about the extent of multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) cases, but the effectiveness of TB treatment (using directly observed therapy) is estimated to be less than 60 percent.157 Overcrowded living conditions and malnutrition contribute to the spread of the disease and TB patients often fail to complete treatment because they cannot afford the transport costs to and from health centers.

At least 6 million people in Zimbabwe—about half the population—do not have access to clean water or sanitation.158 Cholera outbreaks have repeatedly occurred in recent years, as the country’s water and sanitation systems have broken down. In 2007 the collapse of Harare’s largest sewage treatment plant resulted in the discharge of 72 megaliters of raw sewage into Mukuvisi River, a tributary of the Manyame River, which flows into Lake Chivero, Harare's chief source of drinking water.159 In December 459 cases of cholera were reported in two high-density suburbs of Harare.160 In Bulawayo 11 people died from cholera and more than 300 were hospitalized in 2007.161 Electric power outages and shortages of chemicals to treat water have interrupted water supplies and forced individuals to drink untreated, fecally contaminated water.

A young Zimbabwean woman in South Africa told Human Rights Watch that two people in her family had died in the past two years of TB. They died after they stopped taking medication because the family could not find enough food for them to help their bodies cope with the effect of the treatment. When a third relative fell sick with TB in 2006 she decided to try to save his life by leaving for South Africa to make money so she would be able to send food home.162

110 United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Human Development Report 1990: Concept and Measurement of Human Development. (New York, UNDP, 1990).

111 World Bank, World Development Report, 1999, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

112 See reports referred to in footnote 22.

113 Human Rights Watch, ‘Bullets for Each if You’; Bashing Dissent; All Over Again, Human Rights Abuses and Flawed Electoral Conditions in Zimbabwe’s Coming Elections.

114 Human Rights Watch, Fast Track Land Reform in Zimbabwe, vol. 14, no. 1(A), March 2002,; ‘Clear the Filth’: Mass Evictions and Demolitions in Zimbabwe; Zimbabwe: Evicted and Forsaken: Internally Displaced Persons in the Aftermath of Operation Murambatsvina; No Bright Future: Government Failures, Human Rights Abuses, and Squandered Progress in the Fight Against AIDS in Zimbabwe.

115 UN, “Report of the Fact-Finding Mission to Zimbabwe.”

116 UN, “Report of the Fact-Finding Mission to Zimbabwe,” pp. 33-34.

117 See below pp. 52-55.

118 Human Rights Watch interview, Harare, February 16, 2008.

119 “Sadza” is the Shona name for a cooked pulverized grain meal that is Zimbabwe’s staple food.

120 Human Rights Watch interview, Pretoria, November 1, 2007.

121 World Bank, “Zimbabwe: Country Brief,” April 2006, (accessed March 28, 2008). According to the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), Zimbabwe’s Real Gross Domestic Product has declined by over 35 percent in the last six years. DFID, “Zimbabwe Country Profile,” (accessed April 9, 2008).

122 According to DFID, agricultural production has plummeted in the last six years. DFID, “Zimbabwe Country Profile.”

123 World Bank, “Interim Strategy note for Zimbabwe,” Country Department, August 31, 2005, (accessed March 26, 2008).

124 Maize production in early 2008 was down 40 percent on the previous year. “Heavy rains reduce seed hectarage in Zimbabwe,” African Agriculture, February 5, 2008, (accessed April 9, 2008).

125 Angus Shaw, “Zimbabwe inflation passes 100,000%, officials say,” The Guardian, February 22, 2008, (accessed April 7, 2008).

126 World Bank, “Interim Strategy note for Zimbabwe”; Agence France-Presse, “Zimbabwe inflation over 100,000 per cent,” February 21, 2008, (accessed April 8, 2008). UNAIDS, “Zimbabwe Country Profile,” December 2007, (accessed April 5, 2008).

127 The Economist, “How to stay alive when it all runs out”, July 12 2007, (accessed April 5, 2008).

128 Action Aid International, “Sectoral Impact of Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order. An Analysis of Operation Murambatsvina,”, p. 45 (accessed April 7, 2008).

129 Amnesty International, “Zimbabwe: No justice for the victims of forced evictions,” September 6, 2006, (accessed March 22, 2008).

130 Human Rights Watch, No Bright Future; Amnesty International, “Zimbabwe: No justice for the victims of forced evictions,” ( accessed April 6, 2008), which refers to an August 2, 2005 Bulawayo High Court ruling that found that street vendors’ stalls had been destroyed indiscriminately and that many street vendors had permits to trade.

131 Amnesty International, “Zimbabwe: No justice for victims of forced evictions.”

132 Human Rights Watch, No Bright Future.

133 Amnesty International, “Zimbabwe: No justice for victims of forced evictions.”

134 About US$26 in mid-February 2008.

135 Human Rights Watch interview, Harare, February 16, 2008.

136 Human Rights Watch interview, Johannesburg, November 3, 2007.

137 World Food Program (WFP), “More than one-third of Zimbabweans face food shortages,” June 5, 2007, (accessed April 9, 2008).

138 “Zimbabwe Food Security Alert - Urban food insecurity likely to worsen,” Famine Early Warning System (FEWS), January 17, 2008, (accessed March 29, 2008).

139 Letter from Zimbabwean Minister of Public Service, Labor and Social Welfare to all private voluntary organizations and nongovernmental organizations, June 4, 2008. On file with Human Rights Watch.

140 Nelson Banya, “Mugabe says government imports maize to stave off hunger,” Reuters Africa, May 29, 2008, (accessed May 31, 2008).

141 “FEWS Zimbabwe Food Security Alert 05 Jun 2008 - Zimbabwe faces major cereal deficits in year ahead,” Famine Early Warning System, June 5, 2008, (accessed June 5, 2008).

142 Human Rights Watch interview, Pretoria, November 1, 2007.

143 Human Rights Watch, All Over Again, which documents that on January 10, 2008, ZESN reported political interference in the government’s farm mechanization program (funded by the Reserve Bank) to distribute free plows, donkey carts, seeds, and other equipment to farmers. ZESN also reported that in a number of provinces Zimbabwean farmers were forced to show loyalty to the ruling party by producing party cards to receive the equipment and seeds.

144 Human Rights Watch, Not Eligible: The Politicization of Food in Zimbabwe; The Politics of Food Assistance in Zimbabwe; Amnesty International, “Power and Hunger - violations of the right to food,” October 2004, (accessed April 7, 2008).

145 UNAIDS, “Zimbabwe Country Profile.”

146 UNAIDS, “Zimbabwe HIV Data, 2006,” (accessed March 27, 2008).

147 UNAIDS, “Country Profile of Zimbabwe, 2007,” (accessed 27 March 2008).

148 Joseph Amon, “Dangerous Medicines: Unproven AIDS cures and counterfeit antiretroviral drugs,” Globalization and Health 2008, 4:5doi:10.1186/1744-8603-4-5, (accessed April 28, 2007); Florence Panoussian, “Zimbabweans get life-saving AIDS drugs in neighbouring state,” Agence France Presse, March 2, 2008, (accessed April 29, 2008).

149 Human Rights Watch interview, Johannesburg, November 8, 2007.

150 Tererai Karimakwenda, “Zimbabwe: No Surgery at Parirenyatwa as Health Sector Continues to Deteriorate,” SW Radio Africa, February 25, 2008, (accessed May 31, 2008).

151 UNICEF, “Zimbabwe in 2008,” Unicef Humanitarian Action, (accessed March 26, 2008).

152 Human Rights Watch, No Bright Future.

153 Government of Zimbabwe, “Zimbabwe Millennium Development Goals, 2004 Progress Report,” (accessed March 28, 2008); World Bank, “Millennium Development Goals: Eradicating poverty and improving lives: 2006 World Development Indicators, 2006,” (accessed March 28, 2008).

154 World Health Organization, “The World Health Report 1999 -making a difference, 1999,” (accessed March 27, 2008); UNAIDS, “Zimbabwe Country Profile.”

155 Human Rights Watch interview, Harare, February 16, 2008.

156 World Health Organization, “Global Tuberculosis Control Report, Surveillance, Planning, Financing,” 2007, (accessed April 7, 2008).

157 According to the WHO, countries should attain a 70 percent case detection rate and 85 percent treatment success. WHO found that Zimbabwe had a 41 percent case detection rate and a 54 percent treatment success rate.

“Zimbabwe: WHO Calls for Increased TB Testing, Counselling Services,” The Herald (Harare), March 31, 2008, (accessed April 28, 2008).

158 “Cholera claims more lives in Harare,” Independent on-line, March 6, 2008, (accessed April 7, 2008).

159 “Zimbabwe: Cholera strikes the capital,” IRIN Africa, January 30, 2007, (accessed March 27, 2008).

160 “Zimbabwe Food Security Alert 17 January 2008: Urban food insecurity likely to worsen,” Famine Early Warning System Network, January 17, 2008, (accessed April 28, 2008).

161 “Zimbabwe: Engulfed By Sewage,” UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, March 14, 2008, (accessed March 6, 2008).

162 Human Rights Watch interview, Johannesburg, November 7, 2007.