Genocide - behind closed doors

Hitler knew what he was doing when he gave instructions in 1942, after the decisions were made to exterminate the entire Jewish population of Europe, that all news about the programme and its execution was to be strictly curtailed. The programme agreed to by a special conference of Nazi leaders called for thousands of people every day to be sent to their deaths in a deliberate, planned genocidal campaign.

In Rwanda, Hutu radicals killed up to 10 000 people a day, in a carefully planned and executed attempt to destroy the capacity of the Tutsi to control the levers of power in the central African region. In the Congo, up to 3 million people have lost their lives in the current conflict in the eastern Congo - many the victims of local genocidal conflicts.

There are many similarities between these forms of national genocide - the people who were perpetrators and victims were citizens and from the same locality, they were Germans, Rwandese or Congolese. Also, they were the victims of a carefully promoted and planned system of mass murder conducted by those in power at the time.

The murders were carried out behind doors closed to the media - either by law or simply by the remoteness of the conflicts and the difficulty of communication. They also shared one other similarity - the programme of murder and genocide was well documented and known by those in power in the West and East and those who sit in the comfortable halls of the UN. In hindsight these stark tales leave an indelible mark on the conscience of mankind. That is little comfort for the victims and their families and the majority of those responsible get away with their crimes.

A simple peasant farmer in western Matebeleland, weak with hunger, gets up to release his beloved cattle from their pen and slowly walks them to water and grazing. After this the effort involved is too much and he rests under a tree in the heat of the day. He never wakes up and when he fails to come home with the cattle in the evening his family find him dead under a tree. A low paid worker in Harare loses his job with a security company - he was found responsible for petty theft, he is unable to buy proper food and in six weeks he is dead from Aids induced disease.

A clerk in a major company is the only member of her family working - she sends most of her earnings home to help keep her extended family alive, unable to afford the high protein diet she needs, she catches a cold and dies in three days.

She leaves two orphans and a destitute rural family that now plans to send a teenage son to South Africa and to a life of crime that will enable him to send a few Rand home each month. These are three true stories from my own sphere of knowledge in the past month. You can multiply these stories by thousands. The stories and the statistics mean little to those in the outside world because they cannot be revealed in a "sound bite" on national television.

When a BBC crew came across a refugee camp in Ethiopia and filmed a small child dying in his mothers arms, covered in flies, with a swollen belly, there was a huge outpouring of grief and outrage. Millions poured into the coffers of the aid agencies, governments scrambled to give their support and personalities made records and appeals. When the doors are closed to the media, this does not happen.

It does not mean that it is not happening - it is, and it does not mean that officials in Embassies and UN Agencies do not know what is going on - they do. What it does mean is that this is a new form of genocide - conducted away for the glare of the TV cameras and insufficiently dramatic to command media attention. But its impact on ordinary people - people with families - people who work and love and suffer silently - is huge and often fatal. Zimbabwe should have a population of 14 or 15 million. In fact a recent census revealed that our total population is down to 10,6 million.

That means we are "missing" 4 million people! This population decline has come about in the past decade. We know that about 2,5 million live abroad - 2 million in South Africa, most is squatter camps and shanties. We also know that a million people have died of Aids related causes. The rest - who knows? I suspect high levels of infant mortality in children under 5 years of age. We have a population that has infection rates for HIV/Aids that now exceeds 35 per cent of all adults.

This means we have over 2 million infected adults, the majority are women. We have 750 000 orphans - 15 per cent of all children. Only 900 000 adults have jobs in the formal sense - the rest are in the informal sector and most earn less than US$1 a day - the bench mark for being absolutely poor.

TB, Malaria and other infectious diseases are endemic. In this environment of human poverty and disease, our government has adopted policies, which have made every Zimbabwean poorer, disrupted the food producing industry from its grass roots upwards, and destroyed the institutions that provide key social support. Hospitals are without trained staff and medicines, schools are being run by poorly paid and motivated personnel and must operate without even the most basic amenities and supplies.

Bad macro economic policies have led to a sharp reduction in economic activity across all sectors of the economy and foreign exchange earnings have declined to the point where even the most basic needs of the country cannot be obtained. Zanu PF under the leadership of Robert Mugabe has turned what always was going to be a serious health and humanitarian crisis into a catastrophe. 65 per cent of girls of school going age are not in school; educational standards are falling rapidly - especially for the poor and disadvantaged. Food production in the subsistence sector is declining under the twin pressures of HIV/Aids and emigration by the most productive elements in their society.

Decent diets are unaffordable by 90 per cent of HIV infected adults - let alone the most basic medicines and drugs. This year, under pressure from all these things, at least half a million people will die. Perhaps as many adults and children will also succumb to other diseases and simply hunger.

The fact that the majority of those fleeing to other countries or dying in their villages and urban homes, are the opponents of Zanu PF and Robert Mugabe is not being lost on the global community or the media. This transforms this human tragedy into another form of national genocide - like Rwanda and the Congo, going on behind closed doors and therefore not attracting the appropriate response from the global community. The appeals of the UN system to donors to increase their financial support for the NGO's struggling to address the crisis in its many forms is not enough. The problems here are not climatic, or "acts of God", they are political. The remedies are political.

South Africa's deliberate decision to ignore what is going on and to urge the West to support Mugabe and his henchmen in what they are doing is, under these circumstances, the same as those in the West who deliberately turned their backs on the millions of European Jews who faced the gas chambers in Germany. If we are to address the crisis in Zimbabwe we must do so at its source - the corrupt and incompetent administration of a discredited political regime that is trying to hold onto power to protect itself and its cronies from the consequences of their actions.

Nothing less will do and time has run out for many with millions more at risk. What Mugabe is doing in Zimbabwe is the equivalent in human terms of what the suicide teams did to the World Trade Center in New York every day. I was privileged to actually watch the planes go into the building and the dramatic consequences. Behind Mugabe's closed doors his victims will not get the same exposure, or response - not because the people in power do not know, but simply because they either do not care or do not see.

Eddie Cross Bulawayo
10th January 2003.