The official Herald newspaper on Wednesday quoted police spokesman Inspector Whisper Bondai as saying criminal activity in Harare fell by 16% in May compared to the same month last year, citing the campaign dubbed “Operation Restore Order”.
“Cases such as theft, theft from motor vehicles and housebreaking among others have gone down by half compared to those we recorded during the same period last year,” Bondai was quoted as saying.
“We are pleased to announce that the general crime figures have gone down. This shows that the operation, despite being condemned, has started bearing fruit.”
Police were not immediately available for comment.
Thousands of self-employed people have seen their informal shops demolished and goods confiscated in the six-week campaign, which has also left an estimated 200,000 homeless.
An estimated 200,000 were left
President Robert Mugabe’s government says illegal structures in cities were a haven for illegal trade in foreign currency and scarce food items and other banned activities.
The campaign has sparked angry criticism from Zimbabwe‘s main opposition party as well as human rights and religious groups, who say it is unfairly targeting the urban poor.
The United Nations said it planned to send a special envoy to Zimbabwe to investigate the crackdown.
Local authorities in Harare have also warned they will enforce an existing ban on growing crops like the staple maize in open areas including along stream-banks, which they say have caused environmental degradation in urban centres.
City councils in previous years slashed crops planted in banned areas, but this has not been consistent.
“We are pleased to announce that the general crime figures have gone down”
Zimbabwe has suffered serious food shortages for the past five years following Mugabe’s land redistribution move, in which white-owned commercial farms were handed over to the landless.
The World Food Programme has estimated that between three and four million of Zimbabwe‘s 12 million people may need food aid this year.
Critics say the current crackdown has worsened the country’s economic crisis, which has already led to chronic shortages of foreign currency for key imports like fuel, high inflation and unemployment of over 70%.
Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, denies responsibility for the crisis.
He says opponents of the land redistribution – which he says is meant to restore land taken from blacks during colonialism – have sabotaged Zimbabwe‘s economy.