Breaking Records

I spotted a short statement from the UN this morning. It said 'Zimbabwe has the highest ratio of orphans to population of any country in the world.' We seem to be making a habit of this just now - breaking all sorts of records in the realm of development economics.

Just the other day I heard we had the lowest life expectancy in the world. I knew it was low and still falling, but I did not know we were the worst in the whole world! Then I listened to a speech at a conference and heard for the first time that we have been officially classified as a 'failed State'. We already knew that our economy is the fastest shrinking in the world and that we have the highest inflation - to this we must now add the accolade that we are in that exclusive group of less than 10 countries who are regarded as being in such a shambles that they are classified as 'failed states'.

This week we have seen several detailed international media reports on the Zimbabwe crisis. The Independent in the UK carried a blazing headline - 'Dead at 34' - not the latest casualty in Iraq but the epitaph on the grave of a young women in Bulawayo. The story went on to detail a social and economic crisis that has decimated the lives of millions of people. The shortages and the cost of all basic foods, the collapse of the health system, the impact of unemployment and high inflation and the lingering affects of urban slum clearance campaigns that have destroyed the livelihoods of millions and the homes of hundreds of thousands, are all contributory factors.

Diseases that were once considered no longer significant are back and killing tens of thousands of people every month. The mortality figures for this country - above those that we would have regarded as 'normal' just 20 years ago, exceed the combined death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Zanu PF regime here is killing thousands of people every week - it is not shooting them or blowing them up in front of roving TV cameras but it is killing them just as emphatically as the Jangaweed in the Sudan or the car bombers of Baghdad.

I had always imagined that the leaders of the world would sit up and take notice when a crisis of these proportions occurs. They do not have the luxury of not having information or not fully understanding what is going on - they do know. But somehow it is only when the images come up on that little screen and CNN or the BBC capture the stark reality on electronic disc that leaders suddenly take notice and seek action.

Just look at the disproportionate effort being made in the Darfur region of the Sudan -
Population affected        Physically displaced
Darfur - two million        Darfur - 200 000 people
Zimbabwe - ten million     Zimbabwe - 2,4 million internally displaced people and at least 3 million externally displaced refugees.
Deaths Darfur - 20 000 people in 3 years, Zimbabwe - 550 000 deaths in three years.

The response by the UN - direct intervention by the Security Council, the Secretary General takes personal charge of negotiations. The AU sends in 7000 troops and the global community demands that this be strengthened with thousands of UN troops and peacekeepers. The media exposure is daily - graphic pictures of sprawling camps and men in uniform on camels and pick up trucks. The response to the crisis in Zimbabwe, a one hour talk with Mugabe on the sidelines of the AU summit and a half hearted effort to appoint an ineffective mediator in the form of Mkapa. The response of the AU and the SADC - silence.

As we slide towards the abyss several things come to mind. Could P W Botha and Ian Smith have got away with this in their lifetime? Why the difference in response just because those doing the killing and abusing our rights are black? Or does Mugabe have some sort of Juju that makes him invisible - just like the original rebel groups in the Congo?

We are told by all our critics that Zimbabweans must change things themselves - on their own. Would the ANC, Zanu and Zapu have ever argued that in their day in opposition to a grossly unjust and tyrannical regime? The answer of course is never - they asked for, nay demanded, full international support and solidarity and got it - in big measure. UN resolutions, global mandatory sanctions, the threat of force and finally political and economic threats that crushed the remaining sources of resistance to change in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The final outcome - negotiated assumption of democratic, social and economic reforms that brought the majority to the ballot box and peace to the streets.

When I hear the deputy Foreign Minister of South Africa (who seems to have a special mandate to deal with Zimbabwean issues) pontificate on the situation in Zimbabwe I just cringe. He has said repeatedly that this is a crisis - but one that must be resolved by Zimbabweans. He wrings his hands and says, 'What do you want us to do? Send in the troops?' as if there were no alternatives to physical intervention. Just recently he was quoted as saying that South Africa was aware of the nature and extent of the crisis in Zimbabwe and was concerned - but that the matter was now in the hands of the SADC troika - I assume he was referring to the group made up of former Chairmen of the SADC who head up the SADC Organ on Security and Politics.

Any Chief Executive of a major Corporation, who ignored a threat of the magnitude that is represented by the crisis in Zimbabwe to the region as a whole, would soon find himself looking for another job. Unfortunately the same rules do not apply in politics.

So here we are - at the start of a new wet season, facing a continuing crisis that threatens the stability of the State and the region as a whole. Zanu PF is disintegrating and there are now so many leaks of sensitive information that it is clear that the sailors on this particular ship no longer have any faith in the Captain. No life rafts or boats on this vessel - if you want to get off you have to leave the ship at the next port or not at all. But then at least we will still be breaking records - the wrong sort, but still world records, we will be remembered for some of the things we did - even if it was always the wrong thing.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 20th November 2006