Operation Murambatsvina (Variously ‘Move the Rubbish’, ‘Restore Order’, ‘Operation Clean-up’, ‘getting rid of the filth’), was a large-scale, slum clearance operation in Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare, Kariba and Victoria Falls. Launched on 18 May 2005, it resulted in an estimated 700 000 people losing their homes and/or livelihoods, with a further 2.4 million people indirectly affected. [1] An estimated 92 460 homes were destroyed during the blitz.

The operation continued throughout the month of June, and affected virtually every town and rural business centre in the country. From Mount Darwin in the north, to Beitbridge in the south, Mutare in the East and Bulawayo in the west. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many

See History of Zimbabwe Timeline.


Murambatsvina is a combination of two Shona words, 'muramba' and 'tsvina'. The first word can be interpreted to mean "to refuse" and the second one translated means "dirt". [2]

In justification, city council officials claimed they were enforcing municipal by-laws. According to government officials including Sekesai Makwavarara, the evictions and demolitions were “aimed at restoring order and sanity throughout the capital.”

Others, however, questioned the government’s motives. They believed the evictions were an act of retribution against those who voted for the opposition during the recent elections in March 2005.

Following the evictions, thousands of people - more than 100,000 according to the UN -were left with no alternative but to move to the rural areas. [3]

In April 2005, Zimbabwe held general elections which saw the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) emerge as victors again. Despite this win, the ruling party seemed to suffer paranoia, as manifested by the recent Operation Murambatsvina. A view is expressed that this operation was a purge against the people who were suspected to support the opposition parties, particularly the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). [4]

A study in the Journal of Southern African Studies, notes that: Since independence, the state has generally adhered to housing policies that have made it both difficult and expensive for low-income urban residents to comply with legal housing requirements. Forcing many to live in illegal backyard shacks within the plots of formal townships. These shacks were, to some extent, increasingly tolerated during the 1990s and early 2000s as poverty increased. In mid-2005, the Zimbabwean government embarked on a far-reaching and unprecedented campaign within its towns; Operation Murambatsvina (‘Restore Order’), designed to eradicate ‘illegal’ housing and informal jobs, which directly affected hundreds of thousands of poor urban residents. According to the government this drastic policy was necessary to eradicate illegal housing and activities from the cities although such justifications obscure far deeper economic and political causes. The article surveys and analyses the campaign with reference to trends in incomes, employment and housing and shifts, both apparent and real, in government policy towards these. The article emphasises the injustice of enforcing urban ’order’ when the symptoms of poverty thereby tackled have been forced upon the urban poor, and not chosen by them. [5]


The operation was jointly organized by the Minister of Local Government and Urban Housing, Ignatius Chombo, the Minister of Home Affairs, Kembo Mohadi, the Commissioner of Police, Augustine Chihuri, the Chairman of the government-appointed City of Harare Commission, Sekesai Makwavarara and the Governor of Metropolitan Harare, David Karimanzira. The official launch of the operation took place on 19 May 2005 at the Harare Town House when the Chairman of the Harare Commission Sekesai Makwavarara, gave a speech informing the public that the City of Harare was officially launching Operation Murambatsvina in conjunction with the Zimbabwe Republic Police. [3]

On 24 May 2005, the Harare City Council published a notice in the The Herald, of an enforcement order under the Regional Town and Country Planning Act, giving occupants the option to either regularize their houses or demolish them and was to become effective on 20 June 2005. Two days later, Ignatius Chombo speaking on state television said that the government would give the public “June and July” as notice to legalize their structures. However, the next day and into the months of June and July, the government evicted thousands of people and destroyed their homes in high density suburbs such as Epworth, Mbare and Chitungwiza in Harare and in Sakubva, Mutare. The evictions then moved on to other parts of the country such as Gweru and Bulawayo.

The operation began with the police destruction of flea markets and informal trading shops in Harare. Thousands of informal market traders were arrested in the process. It moved onto high density suburbs and informal settlements in Harare and other cities around the country. The criteria used to carry out the evictions were not only extremely broad but poorly defined. The government not only destroyed legal and illegal dwellings but failed to take into account the individual status of the dwellings. Flea market stalls and business structures in the informal sector were also destroyed, and hundreds of licensed informal traders operating in the cities’ markets had their stalls destroyed by the government.

The UN appointed Anna Tibaijuka as UN Special Envoy on Human Settlement Issues in Zimbabwe. She visited and reported that the evictions had taken place in an “indiscriminate and unjustified manner, with indifference to human suffering,” and called for those responsible for the evictions to be brought to justice. The government responded that her report was biased and false and accused her of using “judgmental language.” In a 17 August government report, they claimed that the evictions were carried out in the confines of Zimbabwe’s national laws and were consistent with international provisions

Further Reading







  1. 1.0 1.1 UNICEF Humanitarian Action Zimbabwe - Operation Murambatsvina, UNICEF, Published: 24 November 2005, Retrieved: 30 December 2019 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "UNICEF Humanitarian Action Zimbabwe" defined multiple times with different content
  2. 2.0 2.1 Operation Murambatsvina , Wikipedia, Retrieved: 30 December 2019
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Implementation of Operation Murambatsvina (Clear the Filth), Human Rights Watch, Retrieved: 30 December 2019
  4. 4.0 4.1 Operation Murambatsvina: The Dynamics and Escalation of Zimbabwean Intra-state Conflict, African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), Published: 25 September 2006, Retrieved: 30 December 2019
  5. 5.0 5.1 ‘Restoring Order’? Operation Murambatsvina and the Urban Crisis in Zimbabwe, Journal of Southern African Studies, Published: 4 September 2006, Retrieved: 30 December 2019
  6. [Dorman, Sara Rich, Understanding Zimbabwe: From Liberation to Authoritarianism], Understanding Zimbabwe: From Liberation to Authoritarianism, (C. Hurst and Co, United Kingdom, 2016), Retrieved: 15 October 2019
  7. Zimbabwe: "Operation Murambatsvina" - An overview and summary, Reliefweb, Published: 18 June 2005, Retrieved: 30 December 2019