Tags: Zimbabwe's | Human | Tragedy | Unfolds

Zimbabwe's Human Tragedy Unfolds

Sunday, 10 February 2002 12:00 AM

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – The main opposition party in Zimbabwe, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), made an urgent call to the international community on Feb. 7 to intervene to stop the human tragedy unfolding in Zimbabwe.

An MDC spokesman called Zimbabwe "a rich country made poor by a bad government."

The social and economic crisis in Zimbabwe is so severe, however, that it does not matter who wins the March presidential election.

Zimbabwe is in a state of total poverty. It is unable to pay off its estimated $10 billion debt and owes Mozambique $284 million for electricity it receives from that country. More than 100,000 people are already facing severe starvation.

What is happening in Zimbabwe is also affecting the whole of southern Africa. The balance of power in Zimbabwe will have a direct effect on the Africa Recovery Plan and the establishment of the African Union, according to Eddie Cross, secretary for economic affairs of the MDC.

Zimbabwe is facing its worst social, economic and political crisis ever. The agricultural sector, once the pride of Zimbabwe, cannot produce enough maize for the country's current needs, highlighting the problem that there also is no money to import maize.

The country has been without maize since the middle of January. At current levels, Zimbabwe needs 5 tons of maize a day, or 400 grams of maize per person per day. Zimbabwe has less than 20,000 tons of maize left, according to the Agricultural Union of South Africa.

A plan to import 150,000 tons has not materialized: Financing has been delayed, and the railway and road infrastructure is either insufficient or already occupied with maize being transported to Malawi and Zambia, in response to shortages there.

The present harvest will provide only 1.2 million tons because of late planting, land grabs and a drought.

Due to the shortage of maize, livestock is also being affected: Beef is down by 60 percent; egg production, pork and chicken stock is down by 50 percent.

Worsening the situation, President Mugabe sold 2 million tons of maize late last year to Malaysia, in exchange for foreign currency.

Hospitals are currently without food, drugs, drips, medical equipment and cleaning materials. It is estimated that 35 percent of the population is HIV-positive, with 200,000 HIV-related deaths and an additional 32,000 dead from malaria in 2001.

Over 100,000 people will not receive emergency medical treatment this year.

The current inflation rate is estimated at 112 percent, increasing on a weekly basis.

Zimbabwe's economy has shrunk 35 percent since December because of salary increases of greater than 500 percent.

Due to these salary increases, many factories and industrial sites in Harare and Bulawayo did not open after the December 2001 summer holiday, causing job losses of over 30 percent.

So far, 300,000 people have lost their jobs, adding to the displacement of people and the worsening of family income distribution.

The official exchange rate is US$1.00 for Z$54.00. On the black market the exchange rate is US$1.00 for Z$200.00.

Food prices have increased dramatically, to over 200 percent. The masses cannot afford these prices. The price of rice is up 30 percent, and bread, a basic commodity, is twice the price of maize. Wheat is also unavailable in most areas.

Other dietary supplements such as fat (animal fat and margarine) and oils (cooking oil) are also not available, which gives rise to black-market profiteering, where prices are twice those of supermarkets, where the shelves are empty.

Mugabe made a deal late last year with Gadhafi of Libya to obtain oil. However, there are still no adequate reserves available at fuel pumps, causing long queues for those waiting to fill up their cars.

MDC spokesman Cross stated that Mugabe's deal entails Zimbabwe buying oil from Libya at the price of two oil tanker loads of oil for the prize of three oil tanker loads, paying much more than the current oil price on the international market.

The main reason is that Zimbabwe does not have the currency to buy oil from the other OPEC countries.

The Mugabe government prohibits the MDC from campaigning for the upcoming presidential election on March 9-10. This election therefore cannot be free and fair, says senior adviser to the MDC Ian Makoni.

After almost 22 years in power, President Robert Mugabe, 77, is making every effort to stay in power. His brutal crackdown on the opposition includes implicit government approval of violence against opposition activists and legislation aimed at silencing any dissent.

His actions have been widely condemned by the international community.

Mugabe has mobilised the youth, similar to the Hitler Youth, to support his ZANU-PF Party. Two weeks ago the Zimbabwean government announced plans to make youth service training and indoctrination compulsory, a move the MDC said was an effort to create a private army.

The national state radio said all high school graduates would be required to undergo youth training in government centres to inspire them with "patriotism" and what it described as an unbiased understanding of the country's history. Because of high unemployment, there have been many youths volunteering to join the national youth service, where they are paid, fed and clothed.

The MDC blames the militias, many dressed in green denim uniforms, of disrupting its meetings and rallies in advance of the upcoming presidential elections. It said ruling party militants, including youth militias, have already disrupted its campaign rallies in Harare and Bulawayo.

Under the new draconian security laws, police must be informed of arrangements for rallies four days in advance. Collaboration between police and official youth service members gave militants enough time to plan disruptions and intimidate residents in areas around rally venues, according to the MDC.

During a rally earlier in the month in Bulawayo, these militias arrived by train to disrupt a campaign meeting of the opposition.

During the previous parliamentary elections in June 2000, the Danish Commission found that 25 percent of the registered voters on the voters roll were dead. It is estimated that another 700,000 people still need to register.

The election office currently handles about 8,000 people per week, which means that over 600,000 people will not be registered in time to vote.

According to MDC, a national poll was held in November that gave the MDC a 50 percent support base, leaving the ruling Zanu-PF with 27 percent, with 23 percent undecided.

As a result, the Mugabe government made it illegal to conduct and announce the outcomes of these types of popularity polls.

The whole land-grab policy aims to displace people from farms, and more than 1,654 farms have already been taken, according to Cross. More 1 million people have been displaced in Zimbabwe because of the land grabs.

The direct implication is that, according to election legislation, people can vote only in their constituencies. Therefore, displaced people will not be able to vote.

The group of 480 international observers – representatives of the Commonwealth, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), embassies and South Africa – will not be enough for the upcoming presidential elections, according to Makoni.

Political intolerance is high in Zimbabwe, and observers should move immediately to ensure a free and fair presidential poll, according to South African Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana. Mdladlana will be representing the six-member SADC ministerial task force on Zimbabwe.

"There is too much intolerance in that country and too much polarisation. ... What concerns me most is this intolerance," Mdladlana said. This intolerance is across the board, and there has been an increase in political violence since President Robert Mugabe announced the March 9-10 presidential election dates.

The Zimbabwean government will be using 5,000 mobile polling stations, and no one currently knows where they will be deployed. It will be very difficult if not impossible to monitor these polling stations and there will be massive election fraud, Cross said.

During the previous parliamentary elections, polling stations were deployed in army camps, which led to intimidation of voters by the military. It is estimated that 2 million Zimbabweans are already living in South Africa and another 300,000 in the UK.

The Mugabe-led government is also in the process of clamping down on the independent and international media in Zimbabwe through draconian legislation. The new press legislation was pushed through the parliament on Jan. 31, but has not yet been signed by Mugabe because he is too busy campaigning.

The new security act, which came into effect two weeks ago, makes it a crime to criticise or ridicule Mugabe and calls for a death sentence or life imprisonment for anyone convicted of "insurgency, banditry, sabotage or terrorism."

Any type of criticism of Mugabe and his government is seen as unjust. Journalists enter the country as tourists to report on the state of affairs there.

The MDC has made an urgent and desperate plea to the international community to intervene in the unfolding human tragedy in Zimbabwe. An emergency plan needs to be adopted and implemented by the international community before the March presidential elections to address the severe food shortages and assist with the starvation crisis.

Zimbabwe will need international monetary assistance to get the country up and running again. Plans have to be put into place now and implemented, because the longer we wait the bigger the problem becomes.

Some of the measures called for by the MDC are

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - The main opposition party in Zimbabwe, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), made an urgent call to the international community on Feb. 7 to intervene to stop the human tragedy unfolding in Zimbabwe. An MDC spokesman called Zimbabwe a rich...
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Sunday, 10 February 2002 12:00 AM
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