South African churches support Zimbabwe homeless
A delegation of South African church leaders has been in Zimbabwe this week to examine an aid package for people hit by the Mugabe government's demolition of illegal houses and market stalls - an action that has left hundreds of thousands homeless.
The visit follows a recent fact-finding mission by the South African Council of Churches (SACC)in the wake of international protests. This was designed to discover the impact of the Zimbabwean government's clearance campaign, which the United Nations says has left nearly a quarter of a million people destitute.
The Zimbabwean government says that the clearance is part of a massive rebuilding programme. But the style and timing of their removals has caused anger across the world, and it is not clear that resources exist for replacement.
Bishop Ivan Abrahams, the South African church group's spokesperson, told reporters in Harare: 'We are here to ascertain what the needs are from our partners. President Mbeki has also asked us to be part of discussions on the [upcoming] United Nations envoy's report.'
SACC say that President Mugabe's action against 'crime and grime' is 'unparalleled in modern-day Africa.' They also say that conditions in transit camps for displaced people are 'appalling'.
The church leaders have asked the South African government to ease restrictions on Zimbabweans seeking refugee status in their country. They have sought meetings with both Mr Mugabe's cabinet and with the main opposition leaders, but were denied access to the President.
The state-owned media in Zimbabwe has accused the South African church delegation of being paid stooges of Britain, which they say is spreading lies in an effort to re-colonise their country.
The South African Council of Churches, which took a leading role in galvanising opposition to apartheid, vigorously denies these charges. Bishop Abrahams said that the costs of his group were being paid by SACC member bodies only.
Despite pressure from the world community, the South African government has declined to criticise the Zimbabwean slum demolitions. President Mbeki has said that it is important to wait for the detailed findings of a UN special envoy's fact-finding mission earlier this month.
However he recently promised support for church relief efforts for people displaced in the clean-up campaign, following a meeting with South African Council of Churches representatives in Pretoria.
Zimbabwe's economy is in a dire state, with many people facing hunger. The situation could get worse if the International Monetary Fund calls in the country's debt, as expected.
Mr Mugabe has denied the crisis, but at the same time he has made representations to the South African government for food aid because of 'special circumstances'.