Porta Farm, disaster

Although it has been described as a temporary camp for the purpose of "screening" squatters, Porta Farm is already established in the annals of Zimbabwe's history as a disaster area.

There is a heavy smell of hasty decisions made with little thought by bureaucrats following some totally outdated concepts of order in urban housing. Why this particular site was chosen is a mystery since it was acquired several years ago to be made into a sewerage farm.

Porta Farm "screening camp" is situated beside the main Harare-Bulawayo road but was out sight, during the mass eviction of Epworth residents, because of a road works detour round the Kintyre Estate.

The estate staff wee seriously worried about the sudden change of use because across the road from the camp they have a large field of potatoes which were almost ready for harvest.

Considerable preparation had been done secretly with piped water laid on, roads constructed and shelters of poles, hessian sacks and black plastic built. So far so good -and it should be reported that this was a massive leap forward from previous evictions where squatters were taken into custody. The trouble was that someone then decided to solve the problems of Epworth by dumping 3 000 to 4 000 evicted residents at the same site.

The Epworth people who were evicted to Porta Farm were in a different category to those from Mbare. Many have permanent brick houses with asbestos sheet roofs and considerable furniture. To see them off-loading their possessions into the open bush was a pathetic sight, particularly when much of the equipment used in the entire operation was from development aid. Notices on the sides of the bulldozers clearly stated that his was a part of the Zimbabwe-Japan Cooperation.

The most extraordinary aspect of the Epworth removals was that right on the edge of Epworth is a massive site and serviced area which had been prepared for over a year and remains unoccupied. Why couldn't the removals have taken place within this already prepared area?

What was also a mystery was the timing. It is quite clear that both the Mbare and Epworth evictions had been on the cards for quite some time. Why, with the approaching rains, choose the middle of October?

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