African Churches Spring to Action Over Zimbabwe Demolitions

South African churches have sent relief aid to Zimbabwe this week to help more than 700,000 people affected by the government's controversial urban renewal drive, Operation Murambatsvina, which has left many homeless.

The government project began in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare in May and quickly became a demolition and eviction campaign carried out by the police and the army in urban centers across the country. Many have called it 'Operation Tsunami' because of how fast homes, businesses and markets were destroyed, according to a report by the United Nations. The project has also been called Operation Restore Order.

"Everybody should join the churches in building the campaign and making it a beacon of hope to our neighbours in Zimbabwe," said South African Council of Churches Secretary General Molefe Tsele at a news conference held in the South African financial center of Johannesburg Monday, according to Inter Press Service

A convoy of trucks with supplies is being sent to Zimbabwe, which includes 4,500 blankets and 37 tonnes of maize, beans and oil.

"We haven't received information from Zimbabwe whether the aid has arrived yet," a spokesperson for the South African Council of Churches (SACC) said on Tuesday. "But the convoy is on its way to help the people displaced in Zimbabwe."

Methodist Bishop Ivan Abrahams, who was also present, added that the response may include partner churches in the United Kingdom and Germany in the future.

Despite the political turmoil within the country, Bishop Abrahams, who was in Zimbabwe last week with other church leaders, said the clerics were simply concerned.

"We are responding to what we have seen, and we are responding to the request of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, the Evangelical Fellowship and the Catholic Bishops' Conference. We are not imposing ourselves on Zimbabwe," he observed.

Already, the urban demolition campaign is being felt in other areas of society beyond housing and employment. The U.N. report noted that education for thousands of children has been disrupted. In addition, many HIV and AIDS patients no longer have access to care.

The majority of those directly and indirectly affected have been poor people, who "have been rendered more vulnerable," the reports stated.