Police say they have razed more than 20,000 shacks and other structures in what President Robert Mugabe calls an urban cleanup campaign -- but what critics at home and abroad have decried as an assault on the poor.
Police Superintendent Oliver Mandipaka, quoted Tuesday in a government newspaper, said that 21,194 "illegal structures" had been demolished nationwide, and 32,435 people arrested since Operation "Murambatsvina" -- which means "drive out trash" -- began May 19.
"The operation continues until we have weeded out all criminal elements countrywide," Mandipaka told the Herald.
Zimbabwean clerics, doctors, teachers and human rights lawyers have called the mass evictions and arrests of street traders a crime against the poor. The human rights group Amnesty International has condemned the government's actions and the UN has called them a clear violation of human rights.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change has compared Operation Murambatsvina to the Cambodian Pol Pot regime's efforts to drive urban people to rural areas for political "re-education." The opposition has its support base among the urban poor, and says Operation Murambatsvina is aimed at forcing them to rural areas where the government can more easily control them.
Education Minister Aeneas Chigwedere said in Johannesburg on Monday that people would be moved on to an "appropriate place," adding that there is "nobody in Zimbabwe who does not have a rural home."
But thousands of people who apparently have nowhere else to go are living amid the ruins of their bulldozed homes in the winter chill.
In a statement Tuesday, the Zimbabwe Teachers' Association, representing most of the country's 80,000 school and college professionals, described the evictions as "a catastrophe."
For students and teachers alike "their trauma, mental and physical anguish, social humiliation, psychological stress, and extent of material deprivation are too excessive to imagine," the association said.
Even those whose homes escaped "seem so traumatized they cannot concentrate on their learning."
Many displaced teachers and pupils were unable to get transport to former schools. Those sleeping in the open, with no prospect of getting shelter, were "seriously disoriented," it said.