Zimbabwe's Chernobyl

One of the Pastors here most closely linked to the Murambatsvina exercise last year has tracked the nearly 1000 families displaced from a squatter camp on the outskirts of Bulawayo. He claims that in his estimate, nearly half those displaced have died since they were rendered homeless and destitute by the 'clean up the filth campaign' of the Mugabe regime.

By the United Nations own estimates 700 000 people were displaced. My own estimate has always been much higher because we know that up to 40 per cent of all who live in the towns and cities affected by the campaign, were in fact living as lodgers - most in illegal structures. One of my senior staff for example has a sister in Harare where she has a two roomed home to which she added 7 other rooms, which were rented out to lodgers. The combination gave her (a widow with two children) a home and an income. During the campaign her extension was completely destroyed and with it her only source of an income.

Whatever the figures, even at the low level estimated by the UN - this Church Pastor estimates that 300 000 will have died in the 11 months since the operation was launched. Today Green Peace are claiming that the deaths from the Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine will reach 100 000 in two decades. This was world news on the BBC this morning. The impact of what Mugabe did on May the 18th 2005 is many times more serious than the fallout from Chernobyl. The only difference is that Mugabe's victims will die out in lonely villages, far away from the searching lens of a TV camera. These deaths will go unrecorded and unrecognized except for the attendance at the subsequent funeral of family and a Pastor who can do little but weep for those for whom God has made him shepherd.

In one month from now we will remember those who were displaced by the regime in May 2005. Churches will hold memorial services and protests will take place across the country. But it will do little to remedy the wrong done to millions by a government that not only has lost its way but is hell bent on destroying what little is left of the economy or it's own reputation.

Despite the furor caused by the campaign and negative reports by the UN and many others, the campaign itself continues. Just yesterday my daughter went to the local shops where she was buying some vegetables from the local vendors. Suddenly several Police vehicles arrived with police in plain clothes in them. The vendors were rounded up and their produce confiscated and they were taken to the local Police Station where they were charged and fined. I hear widespread reports that the demolition of 'illegal' structures continues across the country. Last week a Minister confirmed that instructions had been given to the effect that all such structures were to be demolished in urban areas.

The motivation is not what they are saying it is - it has nothing to do with the question of legality, it is a deliberate attempt to destroy potential areas from which dissent might come following economic collapse and the withdrawal of all our basic rights. It is an attempt to move millions of people from the sprawling urban areas to the rural districts where they can be controlled and manipulated for political reasons and social control. The human consequences are not a concern. In fact the architects of this brutal programme welcome the deaths of those they regard as enemies.

Mugabe is on record as saying that he admired Hitler. Perhaps he also admires Stalin - they were both cut from the same cloth. Hitler ruthlessly eliminated all those he regarded as enemies of the Reich. Stalin likewise - personally overseeing the murder of a million people and responsible for killing a quarter of the total population of Russia. The Russians made a film on the Stalin era but it was so horrific they canned it and it has never been shown in public.

Mugabe is directly and indirectly responsible for millions of deaths and displacements in Zimbabwe. He is responsible for the displacement of millions as economic and political refugees to other countries. He is responsible for millions of internally displaced refugees who have lost homes and livelihood at his hands. He is responsible for the hundreds of thousands who die each year in Zimbabwe because they have no access to adequate food, shelter or medicine.

Will he ever be held accountable? It certainly has become more likely in recent years and the Charles Taylor episode shows that it is very likely that unless he is able to persuade another State and government to grant him sanctuary, he will get his day in court. But as recent experience also shows - this process is long and drawn out and the likelihood is that he will die before justice is done.

But our concern is for the living and those who are still to be born. Most of us would say let him go - together with his coterie of sycophants and allow us to get on with our lives in some semblance of a normal, democratic State where the rule of law prevails.

There are rumors that the international community is in fact trying to engineer such an outcome. That regional leaders and the Secretary General of the UN have a plan and that Mugabe himself is negotiating his exit. But we have been there before and have little faith in the UN, the SADC or anyone else. Malawi has just announced they are going to name a new highway after Robert Gabriel Mugabe and have invited him to open it and enjoy a full State visit to that impoverished country. The road, by the way, was funded by the European Union. Can you blame us for being skeptical?

No! We stick to our plan for a national conference of representatives from all sectors of Zimbabwean life to determine a new constitution and a transitional mechanism to fresh, free and fair elections in 2007. Only such a transition will give us the clean start we need, the respectable international standing as a democratic and progressive State and allow us, as Zimbabwean citizens to decide what to do with our past and our future. Anything less would be a betrayal of those who have given their all in the struggle against this Zanu PF tyranny in the past two decades or more.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 18th April 2006