The Cost of Tyranny

It is now ten years since the collapse of the Zimbabwe economy got under way in earnest in 1999. It actually started in 1997 but only really began to slide two years later when the effect of policy changes took root. It is perhaps time that we looked back on this lost decade and ask ourselves what sort of price have we paid?

The numbers are astonishing - if you assume an average potential growth of 5 per cent in GDP over this decade then the actual cost in terms of lost GDP earnings is over $76 billion. In human terms, life expectancies have halved and over 3 million people have died before they would have died in the decade before.

For South Africa , the collapse of Zimbabwe has cost over $43 billion or 350 billion Rand and that estimate is a third lower than the cost estimated by Tony Blair when he visited South Africa three years ago. The crisis has cost the region perhaps a million jobs - a total that rivals the job losses attributable to the recent global melt down in financial markets.

In human terms the collapse has been nothing short of a catastrophe - a third of our population has left the country - nearly 4 million going to neighbouring States. About half a million people have lost their jobs and nearly two million people displaced internally. Absolute poverty is now the norm with average Zimbabweans receiving less that a dollar a day on which to subsist - the international measure of living below the level required for essential needs. This is confirmed by the fact that over 70 per cent of the national population was being supplied with their basic food needs at the beginning of this year.

On Sunday I attended a meeting where I was told of an incident where a woman encountered a man who was clearly insane wandering about a shopping centre. She was told he was a former member of the security forces who had been involved in torture. I understand there are thousands who are haunted by the crimes they have committed under State direction.

The consequences of the genocide in 1983/87 in many areas of Matabeleland have not been addressed and remain as a shadow over many communities. The effects of Murambatsvina in 1995 when 1,2 million people were displaced by a State campaign to force people back into the rural areas. Thousands died in the aftermath and hundreds of thousands are still homeless.

All of these are the consequences of a political tyranny that has sought to defend its hold on power and privilege. While the country slid into poverty and collapse accompanied by joblessness, homelessness and despair, a small minority who came to power in 1980, have become wealthy beyond their imaginings. They shop in Dubai and Johannesburg and holiday on the ski slopes of Europe . Their children go to the finest Universities and schools in the world. Many have homes in Zimbabwe that would do the wealthy in the west proud.

They conduct a clever and professional campaign to cover up their crimes. In offices in Toronto , London , Washington and Johannesburg , highly paid experts counter the attempts by the victims in Zimbabwe to tell their stories. Dozens of websites spew out their propaganda and people with false names correspond across the globe. Inside Zimbabwe they are terrified of any independent sources of news and information. The Prime Ministers news letter, launched this year in an attempt to counter a savage media campaign run by State agencies inside Zimbabwe , is feared even though it is by no means propaganda.

Attempts to reform the media and allow new broadcasting and TV channels have been met with total resistance even though they agreed to the reforms in the GPA. Only 12 per cent of the reforms negotiated over two years under the facilitation of SADC have been implemented in 9 months of political squabbling. No progress on democratic conditions for elections, no progress on the rule of law, freedom of assembly and association, no progress on the enforcement of contract law and respect for property rights, no progress on media reform.

Instead we are faced with a flood of propaganda about 'pirate' radio stations, 'sanctions' (shopping restrictions) and 'regime change'; as if elections are not all about regime change by democratic means. In place of real reform we continue to see harassment of the political opposition, illegal arrests and prosecution, the use of the legal system, (not for justice) as a mean of suppression. Political violence continues across the country with thousands of militia deployed and active and communities fearful of a knock on the door at midnight.

We are waiting, like everyone, for some news of the discussions that have been taking place over the past two weeks. These talks were not about negotiations - they were about a time table for implementing what all the Parties have already agreed and signed up to in the GPA. Why they have taken so long is a mystery to me - what is there to talk about? They signed up to the deal, all that remains is to get on with the job of implementing the agreement and in full.

It is obvious that once again we in the MDC are being asked to compromise. Quite frankly it is difficult to see any reason why we should. We won the 2008 election - hands down, we clearly control two thirds of the country through local authorities. Everyone knows full well that in a genuine election with free and fair conditions that the opposition to the MDC would be miniscule. I cannot see us compromising on any of the more substantive issues but you can be sure there will be a number of peripheral ones which they will trumpet.

We have suffered under a tyranny for 30 years. Believe me we are quite prepared to suffer for a bit longer if at the end we can elect a leadership that we can trust with our future under a system that will allow us to dismiss them if they fail us or abuse our trust. After all that is what democracy is all about.

It is raining and the crop season has started well. We were able to get a small quantity of seed and fertilizer into the hands of 700 000 families in the rural areas - enough for them to feed themselves if we get a decent season. As Mr. Tsvangirai said last week, pray for a decent Christmas for all of us - we deserve and need it.

Eddie Cross
8th December 2009