17 August 2007

Zimbabwe: Give Us a Break Please and Go


THINGS are rapidly and irretrievably going from bad to worse. There is barely any food or basic commodities for survival in the supermarkets after a government-engineered policy tsunami swept across a swathe of the land, leaving a trail of destruction and mayhem in its ugly wake.

The current food crisis triggered by the misguided price blitz is compounded by the social and economic collapse almost everywhere around us. We do not have adequate water supply or electricity, among other things, and there is clearly no let up in sight.

As the crisis deepens, the philosophy of Mugabe's bankrupt regime is increasingly becoming more frozen. Their thinking is polarised and paranoid, with dangerous emotional overtones and anxiety. Frankly speaking, Mugabe's tunnel vision won't take us anywhere.

Desperate Zimbabweans are now flocking into neighbouring countries to buy food -- including the staple mealie-meal, beef and salt -- in a bid to fend off hunger. Clear conditions of a man-made famine -- are now developing in Zimbabwe.

Famines are usually the product of drought, crop failure and pestilence, and man-made causes such as war or misguided economic policies.

In Zimbabwe the problem is clearly man-made. Leadership and policy failures have caused the food shortages and suffering. A disastrous cocktail of repression, human rights abuses and economic collapse have forced Zimbabweans to flee to other countries. Our political and civil liberties have been eroded or taken away except the right to starve!

While Zimbabwe is not facing famine, conditions for mass starvation are there. The country has no food in the shops, let alone grain reserves. The World Food Programme says a quarter of the population needs food aid. We are now relying on food handouts from poor countries such as Malawi and Zambia and buying goods from prospering neighbours such as South Africa. This is what is largely keeping us going.

Imagine if Zimbabwe was surrounded by countries like Somalia, Sudan, Djibouti, and Niger, poor and chaotic nations, people would be staring hunger in the face without anywhere to scrounge for food. Neighbours, South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia, are sustaining us.

During the Heroes' Day holidays I travelled to Francistown, Botswana, with friends from Bulawayo to buy groceries. Supermarkets and shops in the City of Kings are really empty. On Wednesday at least one person died and several others were injured in Bulawayo when people standing in a queue for sugar stampeded.

What we saw during the trip was both unbelievable and shocking: Zimbabweans scrambling across the border in droves to purchase everything from salt to mealie-meal. Banks and shops in Francistown are often overcrowded by Zimbabweans trying to change money and buy food.

Trucks and private cars carrying containers for fuel are now a common sight between Bulawayo and Francistown. The influx of Zimbabweans into Botswana -- which used to be one of the world's poorest countries in 1966 before post-colonial leaders built the current economy -- dramatises the crisis here.

Everywhere we went, in malls, shops and food courts, one way or another we saw Zimbabwean-registered cars and people hunting for food. Zimbabweans now even jostle for beer in Botswana bars.

The stampede was frightening, but drove home the point that Zimbabwe has all but collapsed. If a country can't feed itself when it used to be the bread basket of the region, what do you call that? Collapse, I suggest.

Botswana only had eight kilometres of tarred road at Independence in 1966 and did not even have its own currency. The South African rand was the means of exchange. It relied on little customs revenue, foreign loans and grants for survival, but through well-planned programmes of action and vision, anchored in good leadership and governance, it merged from poverty to relative prosperity.

While Botswana is a shining example of an African country which has tremendously developed after its Independence, Zimbabwe is the exact opposite. At Independence in 1980 Zimbabwe was the most industrialised and strongest economy in sub-Saharan Africa -- outside South Africa, but now it has been reduced to a collapsing economy by a thoroughly corrupt and incompetent regime. The country is now a monument to failure.

I spoke to a lot of friends -- including respectable members of our society who fought the liberation struggle -- who had also gone to neighbouring border towns such as Musina in South Africa, Chimoio in Mozambique and Livingstone in Zambia to buy food. Apologists of the regime -- Mugabe's thought police and mind-guards -- claim Zimbabweans are displaying their purchasing power by flooding neighbouring countries. No one wants to buy salt from a neighbouring country, but we don't have a choice. It's desperation. No amount of spin, propaganada and lies can conceal the spectacular failures of this regime. Efforts to cover up or to rationalise its disastrous policies have so far failed miserably. Zimbabwe is now a manual of how not to run a country, or how to run it down!

Mugabe's political heroics and rhetoric are irrelevant. People just want food, water and electricity, not revolutionary antics. If his government can't provide this, he must give us a break and go.

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