Keeping things in perspective

Just this past weekend we have had three deaths of people closely associated with us. This is becoming all too common and points to the crisis here taking on a new dimension. Yesterday a young man walked through the door - he had just arrived from the UK where he has married and works for the London Police. He was here to see to the needs of his parents and I said to him that one of the things that worried me was that the crisis was now reaching beyond empty supermarket shelves and becoming life threatening in many ways.

Two of the deaths this weekend were relatively young people - one was a tuberculosis death, the other a sudden death in hospital from causes unknown. Our cemeteries are expanding exponentially as people with HIV fail to get a proper diet and are unable to receive treatment of any kind once they become Aids sufferers. The third death was a grandmother who had been ill for some time.

The statistics are horrendous - 1,6 million orphans - nearly a third of all children, increasing at the rate of 350 a day. Nearly 1000 deaths a day - the highest child mortality in the world, the highest maternal mortality levels in Africa, if not the world. Add to this 3 500 Aids deaths, 1000 deaths from Tuberculosis, 550 deaths from Malaria every week. Add to that water borne diseases as urban water supplies go untreated and sewerage systems fail and effluent plants fall into disrepair. Add to even these terrifying statistics the toll from malnutrition and even starvation.

Yet the regime here shows no sign that it is even aware of the nature and extent of the crisis. They act as if almost every citizen was an enemy and that their deaths were therefore a matter of little significance. Their total preoccupation with the retention of power overrides all other concerns. It is astonishing to say the least, especially for someone like myself who knows personally, so many of the leadership. I doubt if we will have 8 million people in the country by the time of the proposed elections in March 2008.

That is half the population we predicted for the country by 2003 of 16 to 17 million. It chills me to think that just a few years ago we heard of that statement by Didymus Mutasa that Zimbabwe would be better off with 6 million people who supported Zanu PF. Chilling to think that they thought like that years ago and that this process of self destruction and genocide was in fact planned and deliberate, not simply the results of crass ineptitude. This is in a new league all by itself. It makes Pol Pot and the Rwandan genocides look amateurish and clumsy.

In the face of this unfolding human tragedy on a scale (in relative terms) not seen since Stalin and Hitler, I find the whole attitude of the media incomprehensible. Just take two headlines in the past two days - 'Tsvangirai backs down' in the Standard and then today 'Violent clashes outside MDC Headquarters' in Harare in Zimdaily. Both refer to the story about the MDC Women's Assembly decision to remove Lucia Mativenga from her post as Women's Chairlady of the MDC Women's wing and replace her with Theresa Makone. In the first instance it was the decision of the Women in the MDC to move against their leadership. It was the representatives of all districts and provincial Assemblies that met and elected Theresa Makone virtually unanimously. The fact that Lucia has decided to fight back is nothing new or extraordinary - its politics. By doing so she has exhausted what sympathy and support she had in the leadership of the MDC and the matter is now a dead letter. Theresa's election still has to be reported formally to the National Executive but she is already hard at work organising the Women's wing in a way that we have not seen for years.

But the local press (forget the State controlled media - that is just a sick joke) and the South African press are making a huge story out of the whole thing. Suggesting that the MDC might split again (a repetition of the October 2005 incident that did such damage and from which we are just recovering). That is simply nonsense.

But when it comes to the really big issues - like that of the silent genocide that is killing millions of our people or the tidal wave of refugees flooding out of Zimbabwe into neighboring countries, the media does little except pick up the occasional incident - such as the tragic story of the man who died of starvation outside the Home Affairs Office in the Cape. The wholesale abuse of Zimbabweans in South Africa and in Botswana goes largely unreported. Journalists pay scant regard to the real story that is cleverly disguised and hidden by Zanu PF rhetoric and propaganda.

When I read the story today of the Matabeleland massacres in the 80's and I think that I lived through that in Bulawayo, was very largely ignorant of what was going on in my own backyard, then I realize the full extent of the failure of our press and media. Those who did do something were simply not visible to the ordinary men and women. The media, by their very nature, have a responsibility to search for the real stories in any situation and then to publish those stories with integrity and conviction.

The Soweto massacre was one such incident carved into the mind of the world by a vigorous press and media. It involved the killing of 62 young people who were protesting the use of Afrikaans in schools. Set that against the thousands dying every week in Zimbabwe as a consequence of a delinquent and rapacious regime. It bears no comparison - yet I see no significant media campaign around this issue.

Lets keep these things in perspective. There is only one agenda in Zimbabwe today and that is how to remove Zanu PF from power and replace it with a government that will restore sanity to the country. Anyone supporting any other agenda, no matter how justified in normal circumstances, is just perpetuating our misery and mortality.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 19th November 2007