Skip to main content

Community Demolitions in Zimbabwe

Google Earth Layer

Executive Summary

In response to the government of Zimbabwe’s May 2005 campaign to demolish settlements it claimed to be illegal, Amnesty International asked AAAS to obtain and analyze satellite imagery of four communities where homes were thought to have been removed. Human rights groups suspect these demolitions were ordered in retaliation against communities that supported the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, in Zimbabwe’s recent elections. After analyzing approximately 256 square kilometers, AAAS found that more than 5,000 structures had been removed from the communities of Porta Farm, Hatcliffe, Chitungwiza, and Killarney. Based on these conclusions, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights has submitted the satellite imagery to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, where a case is pending.

I. Introduction

In May 2005, the government of Zimbabwe began a campaign it called Operation Murambatsvina (translated alternately as Operation Restore Order or Drive Out Trash). As part of the effort, government forces demolished homes and businesses in what they claimed to be illegal settlements and black market areas, many of which had been in place for decades. Opposition forces and human rights organizations said that President Robert Mugabe and the ruling Zanu-PF party’s real aim was to retaliate against residents of urban areas, who had been voting for the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), in recent elections. According to U.N. estimates, the homes of around 700,000 people were demolished. Further, the demolitions affected at least 2.4 million people across Zimbabwe through deprivation of housing, work, food, water, and education.

Amnesty International requested assistance from AAAS to document incidents in four communities – Porta Farm, Hatcliffe, Chitungwiza, and Killarney – affected by the campaign. Porta Farm, Hatcliffe, and Chitungwiza are located in close proximity to the capital, Harare, while Killarney is located in the southwestern portion of the country (see Figure 1). AAAS analyzed satellite images of these communities, covering approximately 256 square kilometers, and found that more than 5,000 structures were removed.

Figure 1: Zimbabwe Case Study Locations


II. Methods and Technologies

AAAS obtained images of the areas taken by the QuickBird satellite operated by Digital Globe. Specifically, AAAS acquired ‘before’ (2004) and ‘after’ (after May 2005) images of Hatcliffe, Chitzungwiza, and Killarney from the Digital Globe archives via the MapMart company. In the case of Porta Farm, AAAS acquired one 2002 image from the Digital Globe archives, but no suitable archive image of Porta Farm was available for the period following Operation Murambatsvina. In March, 2006, AAAS specially ordered a current image from MapMart of the area. The QuickBird satellite captured a useable image of Porta Farm for this study in May 2006. Table One below details the imagery used in this study.

Table One: Image Summary
Area of Interest Satellite Image ID Image Date Cost Removed/Destroyed Structures
Porta Farm QuickBird 02JUN22081153-S2AS-005547322010_01_P001 06/22/2002 $325 870
QuickBird 06APR06083637-S2AS_R1C1-005554460010_01_P002 04/06/2006 $1,792
Hatcliffe QuickBird 20300100089E8C00 05/14/2004 $433 875
QuickBird 20300100089E8E00 09/02/2005 $433
Chitungwiza QuickBird 04AUG25081026-S2AS-005547322030_01_P001 08/25/2004 $350 2,470
QuickBird 05JUN22082315-S2AS-05547322040_01_P001 06/22/2005 $350
Killarney QuickBird 10100100047E2701 08/22/2004 $325 486
QuickBird 1010010002EF0202 09/07/2005 $325

The QuickBird satellite carries a multispectral sensor measuring reflected electromagnetic radiation in the red, green, blue, and near-infrared wavelengths. Its spatial resolution is about 0.65 meters for the panchromatic product, making it suitable for assessing individual structures as small as a few meters on a side. It has a nominal overpass frequency of three days, though in practice about one image every two weeks seems to be the most that can be expected. As with any spectral sensor it cannot penetrate clouds, somewhat degrading its availability.

The QuickBird images were obtained in GeoTIFF format and imported into ERDAS Imagine for viewing. Following importation into ERDAS, subsets showing just the four study areas were extracted. Project staff visually analyzed the ‘before’ images to determine the approximate number of structures removed from each community. The ‘before’ images were loaded in the GIS software ArcView and individual visible structures were counted. Dimensions of the settlements and their structures were also measured.

All the satellite imagery used by AAAS to analyze Zimbabwe is available via the following Google Earth KML layer. Project staff produced these visualization layers using the regionator code made available through Google.

III. Results

AAAS analyzed eight satellite images, covering approximately 256 square kilometers, and found that more than 5,000 structures were removed from Porta Farm, Hatcliffe, Chitungwiza and Killarney. Specific images and results for the four communities are as follows.

A. Porta Farm

Porta Farm, Zimbabwe lay to the west of Harare, between Lake McIlwane and Lake Chivero and off the main Harare-Bulawayo road. Before its destruction in late June 2005, the settlement was about 1000 meters long and 250 meters wide and comprised of about 850 structures, three main roads, and numerous side streets. The 2002 image of Porta Farm was loaded in ArcView GIS and project staff counted 870 individual visible structures. The size of structures varied quite widely, with small structures measuring 4 meters on a side and larger structures measuring up to 40 square meters or more. Figure 2 shows the destruction of the Porta Farm settlement. This image set was published on 31 May 2006, as central evidence in an Amnesty International report, “Shattered Lives: The Case of Porta Farm.” Figure 3 provides detail of the structure count.

Figure 2: Porta Farm Before and After Operation Murambatsvina

Porta Farm Zimbabwe (before image)



Detail of Porta Farm, Zimbabwe, a settlement of more than 850 buildings and as many as 10,000 people when the satellite photo (left) was taken on 22 June 2002. The second image (right), taken 6 April 2006, shows the settlement has been leveled. The significant difference in color between the images is due to seasonality. Images DigitalGlobe.

Figure 3: Porta Farm Structure Count

The Porta Farm settlement on 6 April 2006 with center points of 870 destroyed structures in red. Image DigitalGlobe.

B. Hatcliffe

Hatcliffe was and is an informal settlement to the north of Harare, lying west of a formal town with the same name. According to Amnesty International, Hatcliffe was destroyed in June 2005 as part of Operation Murambatsvina. Prior to June 2005, the settlement was about 1637 meters long and 1036 meters wide and comprised of about 700 structures and numerous streets. The satellite imagery in Figure 4 clearly shows the settlement in 2004 while the 2005 image shows most homes removed. AAAS analysis found that approximately 764 structures were apparently removed. Fuller before and after images of Hatcliffe are shown in Figure 5 and Figure 6. In addition, an undetermined number of so called ‘backyard’ structures were also possibly removed from throughout the formal town of Hatcliffe. [For an illustration of the removal of backyard structures, see the imagery from Chitungwiza, below.]

Figure 4: Hatcliffe Before and After Operation Murambatsvina

A subset of the high-resolution satellite imagery of the Hatcliffe settlement in Zimbabwe. The left-hand image is from 14 May 2004 and the right-hand image is from 2 September 2005. Images DigitalGlobe.

Figure 5: Hatcliffe, 14 May 2004

Hatcliffe Before Destruction
Image DigitalGlobe

Figure 6: Hatcliffe, 2 September 2005.

Hatcliffe After Destruction

Image DigitalGlobe

In addition to the structures destroyed in Hatcliffe, 875 homes were destroyed in North Hatcliffe, a suburb two kilometers north of the main area of Hatcliffe. Before the destruction, North Hatcliffe was about 1110 meters long and 350 meters wide, containing about 900 structures. Figure 7 illustrates the structure count in North Hatcliffe.

Figure 7: North Hatcliffe Structure Count


Image of North Hatcliffe settlement on 2 September 2005 with center points of 875 destroyed structures. Image DigitalGlobe.

C. Chitungwiza

Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe is south of Harare, and covers an area approximately 3 km long by 2 km wide. In June 2005, as part of Operation Murambatsvina, the city witnessed widespread demolition of homes. Figure 8 compares an image from August 25, 2004 with one from June 22, 2005. In total, analysis of the satellite imagery indicates that 2470 structures were removed during Operation Murambatsvina. Figure 9 and Figure 10 are larger scale before and after images. Unlike in the cases of Hatcliffe and Porta Farm, the majority of destroyed structures were ‘backyard’ homes, homes built on small patches of land leased to renters by owners of larger, permitted structures. While the overwhelming majority of removed structures were backyard homes, at least a dozen larger structures were removed from marketplaces as well. Figure 11 illustrates the structure count.

Figure 8: Chitungwiza Before and After Operation Murambatsvina

A subset of the high-resolution satellite imagery of the Chitungwiza settlement in Zimbabwe. Backyard homes are visible in the left-hand image from 25 August 2004 and are the smaller structures found on the periphery and in the alleys of larger structures, which are absent from the right-hand image taken 22 June 2005. The possible marketplace seen in the before image is absent from the after image. Images DigitalGlobe.

Figure 9: Chitungwiza, 25 August 2004

Image DigitalGlobe.

Figure 10: Chitungwiza, 22 June 2005


Image DigitalGlobe

Figure 11: Chitungwiza Structure Count

Chitungwiza on 22 June 2005 with center points of the 2470 removed structures. Image DigitalGlobe.

D. Killarney

According to Amnesty International the informal settlement at Killarney, a suburb East of Bulawayo, laying also to the east of a formal town with the same name, was destroyed in June 2005. Prior to June 2005, the settlement was about 3000 meters north to south and 1600 meters east to west. It was comprised of about 486 structures, numerous streets, and agricultural plots. Figure 12 depicts the settlement in August 2004 and in September 2005, clearly showing most homes removed. Based on analysis approximately all 486 homes were apparently removed. Figure 13 illustrates the structure count.

Figure 12: Killarney Before and After Operation Murambatsvina


A subset of the high resolution satellite imagery of Killarney settlement. The left hand image was taken 22 August 2004, the right hand image taken 7 September 2005. 486 structures were removed. Images DigitalGlobe.

Figure 13: Killarney Structure Count

After image of Killarney on 7 September 2005 with center points of 486 removed structures. Images DigitalGlobe.

IV. Challenges

One of the biggest challenges project staff faced was to find the precise geographic coordinates of locations in question. A large city such as Chitungwiza is not difficult to find, but smaller settlements may not appear on any known map or may be named the same as another formal settlement that does appear on a map of the area. Project staff overcame this by making custom maps, overlaid with grids, and emailed these to Zimbabweans who then provided specific locations based on the maps. In the case of Porta Farm, locals provided driving directions which staff translated into map coordinates. Much of this information gathering work was performed before project staff had satellite imagery to work with as the coordinates were necessary in order to obtain commercial satellite images. In addition, there are several challenges inherent in using commercial satellite imagery for an analysis such as this one. Imagery may not exist in archives, thus a new image will need to be ordered, as in the Porta Farm case, which is more costly. Obtaining a useable new image may also take time due to weather in the targeted area. QuickBird captured a Porta Farm image on April 6, 2006, but cloud cover obscured the geographic features. The satellite captured a clearer image for AAAS on May 12, 2006. Also, acquired imagery may not cover an entire area that you might wish to study. In the case of Killarney, the images obtained may not cover the entire southern portion of the informal settlement there. Further, the small size of some of the structures, particularly small backyard homes measuring four meters on a side, can make counting of structures a labor intensive process.

V. Conclusion

Examination of satellite imagery over four communities in Zimbabwe revealed the removal or destruction of over 5,000 structures. Amnesty International is using the images and analysis from this study for reporting purposes and as supporting documentation for lawsuits being filed by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), based in Harare. The imagery was submitted by ZLHR during litigation to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The case is still pending.

VI. Further Resources