It still feels like last night to Newton Mudzingwa. Seven months ago, Mudzingwa, a security guard in an affluent suburb of Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, had a much-appreciated night off-duty.

He spent the evening in one of the city's burgeoning slums, in the one-room shack he had rented—with him, his wife, and his two young children crammed into a single bed. It was to be their last night at home together.

Around midnight, the blare of loudspeakers jolted them out of sleep. Police and military officers cheered by President Robert Mugabe's political activists swooped down on the slum to demolish "illegal" structures. Operation Murambastvina (meaning "Drive Out Trash") had begun. Mudzingwa quickly threw together whatever goods he could save. His wife bundled blankets around their children. As temperatures plummeted to biting levels, they rushed outside. The family then watched as bulldozers reduced to rubble the only home the children had ever known.

"All I could ask was: 'Why, God? Why?'" recalls Mudzingwa.

The government says that only 700,000 people were relocated and that urban renewal was long overdue. Other reliable estimates put the figure at 1.7 million displaced people. Either way, the Mudzingwas were among tens of thousands of locals suddenly without shelter, proper food, and clean water.

Broken Promise

The "Mugabe tsunami," as African news media have labeled the event, pushed Zimbabwe, a country the size of Montana with a population of 12 million, back onto front pages around the world. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan rushed top envoy Anna Kajimulo Tibaijuka to begin a fact-finding mission to the former Rhodesia.

On the ground, away from the media, churches located in the slums felt the first brunt of the government's ...

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April 2006

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