Fat cats feed on Zimbabwe's misery
The Sunday Time's Bonny Schoonakker spent a fortnight in Zimbabwe
and found a country teetering on the edge.
Supermarket shelves lined with every luxury - for the privileged few
Oysters snapped up for a domestic worker's weekly wage
Mugabe's cronies exploit US dollar as pensioners lose savings
Out in the Harare suburb of Borrowdale Brooke, which is among the
most opulent suburbs in Southern Africa, the beneficiaries of
President Robert Mugabe's 24-year rule over Zimbabwe can buy live
The delicacies are kept in a tank at the self-contained suburb's
Spar supermarket. This week they were being sold for Z12 000 each.
That's the equivalent of R20 at the prevailing exchange rate and
equal to the average weekly wage of someone lucky enough to find
work as a domestic worker in suburban Harare.
I spent two weeks in Zimbabwe and found a land of extreme contrasts.
While the super-rich enjoy lives of unrivalled privilege, millions
of ordinary Zimbabweans suffer unimaginable hardships.
In Mutare we met a starving woman who apologized for being too weak
to rise and greet us. In another pitiful scene, a 15-month-old
infant lay in an orphanage, too young to know that her parents were
forced to abandon her after they were driven off their land by
Mugabe's "war veterans".
These are but two of the victims of the worst economic crisis since
independence in 1980, which is blamed on economic mismanagement and
state repression, including the seizure of thousands of white-owned
But while official inflation rose to a record 622.8% last month,
back in Borrowdale Brooke, the supermarket shelves are lined with
every luxury an affluent shopper could desire, including a dozen
varieties of olive oil, wines imported from South Africa and
ciabatta bread from the supermarket's own bakery, not to mention
giant prawns in the freezer next to the oyster tank.
The suburb, a short distance from Mugabe's palatial retirement home
and about 20km northeast of central Harare, is walled off from the
general public and accessible only via a gate manned by guards.
Visitors are allowed to enter only at the invitation of residents,
unless they come to play golf at the course around which the complex
has been built.
Borrowdale Brooke's fairways are ringed by four-storey mansions;
some so large they could be mistaken for hotels. Instead, they are
the homes of those who have flourished in Zimbabwe's bizarre
economy - politicians, stockbrokers, forex traders, businessmen on
friendly terms with the ruling Zanu-PF - in other words, anyone who
does not depend on a salary or pension for his or her livelihood.
According to local economists, the most opulent houses in Borrowdale
Brooke have been financed by Zimbabwe's bizarre foreign exchange
regulations. These rules allow those politicians and businessmen
closest to Mugabe to buy US dollars at the "official" rate of Z55 to
one US dollar. The black market rate for ordinary Zimbabweans was Z4
800 on Friday.
The privileges that Mugabe's allies enjoy offer instant wealth to
those privileged few. They have also helped to bring about what Old
Mutual Zimbabwe calls "the persisting hyperinflationary
In a letter circulated at the end of last year, Old Mutual advised
policyholders that, "despite our best efforts", it was no longer
able to protect the value of life insurance policies taken out in
Pensioners who now rely on policies entered into during their
working lives have been reduced to poverty. If they want to find out
where all the value of their capital has gone, they might want to
take a trip out to Borrowdale Brooke, if they can afford the taxi
Some voices insist that Zimbabwe is on the road to recovery, notably
government mouthpiece The Herald, which last week announced the
build-up to Mugabe's 80th birthday on Saturday by likening him to
Mahatma Gandhi. Similarly, for The Herald, the land acquisition
programme "is a triumph for the country's human rights", despite
overwhelming evidence that it has beggared the country's economy.
Such optimism also flies in the face of the United Nation's World
Food Programme (WFP). In its latest briefing, issued this month, the
WFP warned that the country was "facing enormous food shortages".
It predicts that 4.5 million people - more than a third of all
Zimbabweans - will receive emergency food aid by April. Its briefing
for Zimbabwe also predicts an 18% shortfall in the US197-
million "required to fund the emergency operation".
Because of its sensitive relations with the Zanu-PF regime, the WFP
declines to blame publicly the land acquisition programme, which has
reduced the number of commercial farmers from 4 500 to 400. But,
Justice for Agriculture, which represents displaced commercial
farmers, forecasts a 75% collapse in agricultural output thanks to
the land invasions, a prediction supported by the semi-official
Commercial Farmers' Union.
But then Borrowdale Brooke has never relied on local producers for
its oysters and prawns.
It is one thing to hear stories from Zimbabwe farmers who have been
dispossessed; it is another to go through their personal agony as
they leave homes that have been loved and built up - often from pole
and dagger huts in which their parents or grand parents started up.
They also leave behind workers who, in most cases have worked for
the families for all their lives. The relationship with these
workers - although paternalistic in most cases, is often very deep.
Then there is the wrentch of leaving behind all they have worked for
all their lives except what they can carry. Farmers are unusual -
they have in most cases plowed their earnings straight back into the
farms. The average return on agriculture as a percentage on the
value of the assets used is about 6 per cent - well below what they
could get in industry. I saw Econets results yesterday - profit
levels of nearly 50 per cent on turnover. Farmers could never hope
to get this sort of return over time.
This is the story of one family - fought to stay on their land for
the past four years of intimidation, threats, theft, no legal or
police protection, vilified in the press, trying to hang on - now
given up and leaving for the UK where they will try to make a
living. Please note that their son who has already gone to school
there - did not have the bus fare to his school. For those of you
who do not know the local language - a Mombe is a adult bovine
(steer or cow) worth today about Z$1,5 million. Last week I drove
past a farm in the Kadoma district - an irrigation farm which has
produced top class crops for many years. It lay idle and empty. A
few grass huts on the irrigation fields, the irrigation equipment
still in place but vandalized. The homestead on the nearby hillside,
burnt to the ground. On Monday a 70 year old farmer was beaten to
death on his farm outside Kwe Kwe.
Now I do not know what this does to you - but it fills me with
despair, that intelligent, well educated men and women, can do this
deliberately just to hold onto power for their own narrow needs and
greed. We have 6 million people trying to live on 12 ounces of food
a day right now - worse to come this winter. This is the 4th year of
food shortages and growing poverty. We are going to stop this
nonsense and turn things around. There is no future for any African
if we do not. You can be sure of one thing - we are staying to fight
this thing through to the end. We will be here to welcome home those
who have been forced into exile by this regime and who want to come
home and help us rebuild this fine country.
00 February 2004