The Human Cost of Tyranny

The cost of some conflicts is quite easy to calculate. So many "deaths from hostile fire in an armed conflict". Often those same figures will make global headlines as body bags are loaded onto transport planes to be conveyed back to loved ones in some small town in the mid west of somewhere. Others are not so easy to record and almost impossible to get into the global psyche. When it comes to the cost of the Mugabe regime we have seen many calculations - the GDP has fallen 40 per cent in six years, the headline shouts. Or "Mugabe costs South Africa US$5 billion a year!"

These sorts of headlines will be read over coffee at the breakfast table and perhaps highlighted in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs in other countries, but the human costs are seldom seen. Unless that is, if you live here and even if you do you can miss the telltale signs and grasp their significance.

If we start this analysis with a simple estimate of what our population would have been had the Mugabe regime not stumbled over its feet in 1990. I calculate that the population today should have been about 16 million. The population last year was recorded as 11,6 million. One has to ask where are the missing millions? We know about human flight - at least 3 million Zimbabweans are living abroad, two million of them in South Africa, 1,3 million of them illegally.

On Sunday this past weekend the senior doctor at one of our largest State hospitals was woken up at six in the morning and told that a doctor who was supposed to come on duty had quietly slipped out of the country the previous evening and flown to the UK. On holiday but not intending to return, no notice to his employer, abandoning his home and its contents. He was the fifth doctor to leave the hospital that week.

Walking along the banks of the Limpopo River one evening a local resident came across a human head lying on the sand. The remains of a man who tried to cross the river and did not get to the other side. The Police in Botswana stop a van with a container on the back - when they opened the container they found several bodies of men and women who had died in the stifling heat of the Botswana desert as they tried to cross into South Africa illegally.

They had no identification and were buried in a mass grave.An old lady found dead in her flat. The autopsy report said she died from starvation, a pensioner with family abroad who simply could not spare the time or the money to care.

There is a price to be paid in human terms for this flight of human capital from Zimbabwe, caused in the main by this tyrannical regime. On the one side is the cost to those who have taken flight, on the other side the cost of those who must live with the domestic consequences. Hospitals and clinics without staff; employers who assets strip their companies before fleeing leaving their employees destitute.

Then there are the missing 1,4 million people who should be alive and living here and who are not in the "Diaspora". Where are they? Here there are some really shocking figures. We have about 2 million people who are HIV positive. Two thirds are women - nearly 1,3 million women and girls.

Sixteen per cent of all women who give birth die in childbirth - that is one women in every 6 who bear a child. Infant mortality has doubled in the past three years, driven in part by the HIV crisis. We have 600 000 full blown Aids cases - with barely a few hundred on any sort of treatment regime. Work it out - if they all die in two years we will have 800 deaths a day - from Aids alone. We have not reached the peak in terms of Aids deaths and already it is a scourge that affects almost every family in the land.

Historically we have had a population that has grown at a rate of about 3 per cent per annum - births outstripping deaths by three to one. Now the ratio is tipped in the opposite direction. By these calculations - human flight plus deaths, our population is now declining at a rate of nearly 2 per cent per annum. But worse than that - the majority of this decline is amongst our young people, our best-educated and most experienced people, people on whom the whole future depends. We have lost 20 000 trained and experienced teachers in the past three years, similar numbers of nurses and doctors. As a consequence our social institutions on whom our human welfare depends are now almost at the point of collapse.

We have nearly one million orphans in our education system - the head of a major High School in Harare told me the other day that half of her first year intake this year were full orphans - both parents dead. Take into account the numbers with one parent - the other either dead or absent and the numbers rise to a clear majority. The social implications, let alone the economic implications of this massive dislocation of normal family life are impossible to calculate. The burden on the remaining breadwinners who must try to support this enormous burden within the extended family system is now impossible.

In the face of this humanitarian crisis every action taken by the Mugabe regime in the past four years has made the situation worse. If you were to try and create an environment within which HIV/Aids would prosper and grow - Zimbabwe could not have done a better job if it had tried. He has destroyed our farm system - imperfect as are all farm systems and with it the production of all essential foods - so we are now not just a net food importer but are unable to provide our people with anything like a decent diet.

He has destroyed what he created with such fanfare in the first decade of independence at great cost to both the economy and to foreign donors who poured US$5 billion into social programs over that decade. So now we have epidemics of tuberculosis and malaria, diseases that we thought were defeated.

Our average life expectancy has dropped from 59 years in 1990, to 37 years in 2002.

But we have no body bags to show journalists in Zimbabwe and the mourning here is done in the remote villages where only the old and the very young subsist. But the cost in human terms is real and we all have a responsibility to see to it that regimes like this one who are responsible for this devastation are defeated and replaced as soon as is possible.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 8th October 2003