Despair and Despondency

An immediate outcome of the meeting last Monday was nationwide despair and despondency. On the street, the people have virtually given up any hope that the political process will deliver a solution. At the same time they are not looking elsewhere, just thinking about moving on to another country where sanity might prevail.

It is the possibility of flight that has changed the character of African conflict. Its implications are yet to be fully understood or appraised. When failed by their leaders at home, increasingly Africans are simply packing their bags. I saw a study this past week where a think tank in the UK estimated that remittances from the UK to Zimbabwe alone, could be running at over US$1 billion a year. If this is true, it puts a new dimension on this issue - it shows that the actual Zimbabwe origin population in the UK is much bigger than estimated and that they are sending much more money home than we ever imagined.

This would explain where all the foreign currency that keeps this country going, is coming from. It explains why many more people are not actually dying from the present crisis in terms of hunger, malnutrition and neglect. It also explains why the regime in Harare prints money to buy foreign currency on the street in such quantities and then uses the resulting hard cash to buy luxury items and food or to send abroad to secret bank accounts.

The total population of Zimbabwe is certainly now down to below 9 million. An astonishing figure when you know that it should have been close to double that had conditions remained the same as had existed at the time of independence in 1980. Some of the decline can be explained by millions of deaths due to the deteriorating situation here, but even more by the flight of millions as economic refugees. The most popular destinations being South Africa and the UK followed by the USA and Canada and then Australia and New Zealand. And I am not talking about white African migrants.

I am convinced that the authorities in South Africa have little understanding of the implications of this massive human migration. Half of the population of Somalia and the Sudan has left their homeland. Millions of Congolese are on the move and if this migration is not slowed down, it has the potential to drown the social and economic systems of South Africa.

There is the upside in terms of skills and experience with thousands of migrants now occupying key roles in their destination countries. I personally know of men and women who have quickly assumed top positions in their new homelands. The problem is that this just reinforces the collapse of the societies they are fleeing and makes recovery and growth more difficult to sustain.

So when the SADC leadership gather outside Pretoria on Monday, a great deal is at stake. Itís not just about power sharing. Itís about acting decisively to bring to an end a political and economic crisis that has plagued the region for over two decades. The fact that SADC clearly backed the position of the Mugabe regime at last weeks meeting in the face of overwhelming evidence and rationale, is a real indictment of African leadership. They were not even acting in defence of their own interests, let alone the interests of the long-suffering Zimbabwe people.

As for the Zanu PF and the Junta in Harare, they continued to behave as if it was business as usual. There was no change in the propaganda that pours out of the Ministry of Information via the print and electronic media; there was no let up in the spurious allegations about the MDC sponsoring terrorism. Those abducted and disappeared in recent attacks were still not seen or heard from and we fear the worst. Those being charged with treason are still in custody. Food is being interfered with and directed on the basis of political affiliation, agricultural farm invasions and the theft of private property continue in the face of the SADC Legal Tribunal rulings.

One of the most bizarre aspect of the past week was the leaking of a paper prepared by Gono, the illegally appointed Governor of the Reserve Bank, where he sets out plans to adopt the Rand as an anchor currency and suggests that mineral and other high value exports could generate up to US$1,2 billion a MONTH. His figures and rationale show no understanding of the scale of the crisis we are in or the remedies required. The astonishing thing is that this buffoon is actually taken seriously in Zanu PF circles. I am sure the officials in government departments do not give this sort of rubbish any credence - but they are not directing our affairs. Another of his astonishing ideas is a 30 per cent export tax!

In the meantime, Rome burns. Cholera infections (official only) are now nearly 50 000 with reported deaths at over 3000. Aids deaths continue at about 3000 a week, human flight at whatever figure you want to estimate - but not less than 25 000 a week. Deaths from TB, malaria, child deaths and death of women in childbirth run at another 1000 or so a week. It is a silent genocide and Graca Machel said it best this past week when she slammed SADC leadership for standing by and doing nothing, in fact making the situation worse by not acting to support democracy, the rule of law and all international standards of human and political rights.

One of the worst centers for cholera and the town with the highest death toll (18 per cent of all infected) is Chegutu, about 100 kilometers from Harare to the south. This past week a fellow MP told me that he went to the local hospital to try and get an impression of what was going on. All he found was an empty shell - every thing that could be moved had been stolen, there were no staff on duty and the complex was abandoned.

Another colleague stood up in Parliament and said he had just visited a relative in the local Prison. He detailed conditions in both the remand section and in the main prison itself. Hundreds of prisoners ill with cholera, little or no treatment available, dead bodies left in the cells for days and food rations down to 25 per cent of 'normal'. It was a chilling statement and was received in complete silence by the House.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, January 24th 2009