AFRICA: by Dr Ian Spry, QCNews Weekly
Zimbabwe violence discredits Mugabe
, May 6, 2000
Dr Ian Spry, QC, recently returned from a visit to Zimbabwe.
Visitors to Zimbabwe cannot but be affected by profound pessimism for the future of that country, and also of other African countries.
Under white rule, Zimbabwe was a prosperous country, second only to South Africa. Its infrastructure was substantial, its exports sufficient to fund its needs and its population lived better than those in almost any other African nation.
During the twenty years of President Robert Mugabe's rule, there has been a decline to the extent that the position of black Zimbabweans - apart from the black elite associated with Mugabe's Zanu PF party - has become pitiful. A common wage is $A20 per week, from which tax and fares must be paid. Bread is 70 cents per loaf, flour $1 per kilo, milk more than $1 per litre, and eggs are $3 per dozen. The staple diet consists largely of roller meal (corn) and bananas.
Further, many earn far less than this common wage, and more than 50 per cent of the population are unemployed in a system where there is no unemployment relief. They must rely on relatives or friends, or starve.
The medical position is even more horrifying. It is impossible to assess accurately the proportion of Zimbabweans affected by the HIV virus or AIDS, because there is no systematic testing. However, medical estimates are as high as 45 per cent, making it a threat to national survival.
The incidence of tuberculosis increased sixfold from 1997 to 1999.
The decline in Zimbabwe's economic position has been accelerating in recent years. The main source of foreign exchange is the tobacco crop, which is produced by white farmers and which may generate more than $500 million in good years. The nation's petrol and oil consumption may require foreign exchange approaching that sum. But much of the foreign exchange that arrives is dispersed through corruption.
The Mugabe government is corrupt. Indeed, corruption is universal, in the sense that there are few blacks in official positions who do not add illicitly to their incomes, through corruption. For example, the Minister of Lands and Agriculture was recently arrested for corruption, as was the Secretary of his Department, who was accused of embezzling $6 million, and as were senior executives of the Grain Marketing Board. But these were simply scapegoats, sacrificed by Mugabe before the forthcoming election to produce an illusion that corruption is being fought, and to forestall inquiries into Mugabe's own affairs.
It is not that the Africans are work-shy; to the contrary. It is the pervasive cultural propensity to corruption that has been the main cause of general economic disaster in many African countries. Economically, the elimination of corruption is more important than the elimination of tribal tensions, which have not been a decisive factor in Zimbabwe.
The tiny minority of white farmers, perhaps 35,000 in a total population of twelve million, is responsible for the great bulk of exports and commercial food production, and administers many of the important businesses.
The area of white farms is falling below 30 per cent of Zimbabwean land. Land held by blacks is either not worked or is worked inefficiently.
There is no doubt that the white minority is vital to the economy. This is generally recognised, and Mugabe's current attacks on whites are seen as an election device to take the people's minds off their misfortunes. The "war veterans" violently invading the farms are in fact almost wholly young Zanu PF supporters, many secretly paid by that party.
They have carried out murders and beatings. Mugabe has publicly threatened the farmers that, if they resist, the violence will increase.
Mugabe, who is in his late 70s, is regarded as increasingly erratic, and many say unbalanced and bordering on insanity.
He will certainly be defeated in any fully free election, that is, in an election without violence and intimidation.
But he is already applying violence against the MDC Opposition (the Movement for Democratic Change), and the police and army are in his hands.
For example, on April 7, 2000, approximately 8,000 peaceful MDC demonstrators in Harare were attacked by Mugabe supporters supplied with iron bars and clubs. Bystanders, including whites, were also targetted. The police did not interfere, except that when the Opposition demonstrators fled, the police hurled tear gas at them (but not at their attackers). The police also prevented other MDC supporters from entering Harare, and arrested Opposition demonstrators, but not their attackers.
It is not surprising that many black Zimbabweans indicate, when questioned, that they would prefer to be living under Ian Smith than under Robert Mugabe.