Zimbabwe: A Second Cry for Freedom

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This month sees presidential elections in Zimbabwe. Basker Vashee looks at President Mugabe's attempts to stay in power.

At the beginning of the year, war veterans of the Zanu-PF party in Zimbabwe went on a rampage through the townships of Harare. All suspected members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were systematically beaten, and one was decapitated in front of his family. The police did not intervene. This, like many other acts of violence, was an attempt by the ruling party to intimidate people before the presidential elections to be held in March.

Sources from South Africa have suggested that the Libyan leader, Gadaffi, has been providing arms to the thugs of President Mugabe. In return the Libyans have been given land in Harare where villas are being built to make their stay permanent. The arms that Libya has provided are now being deployed throughout the rural areas, prohibiting opposition candidates from canvassing for votes. In effect the rural areas, where 70 percent of the population live, have been made no-go areas, and terror is the rule.

The land distribution continues in its violent form, with the same war veterans occupying farms, and beating farmers and farm workers. To date some 45 people have been killed on the farms in Zimbabwe. The result is a dramatic fall in agricultural production, since the land is being distributed without the necessary infrastructure to make it productive. This will hurt the poorer part of the population, since imported food crops will be expensive, and beyond the means of most people.

To ensure the right result in the forthcoming election the Mugabe government is to disenfranchise all foreign workers in the country. So South Africans, Malawians, Zambians and Asians have been ordered to reapply for citizenship, with the implied threat that they will be expelled if new requirements are not met. Most of these workers have been in the country for many years. Many are farm workers who have experienced the violence of the war veterans and are not likely to vote for Mugabe.

However, it is the economy that provokes most despair and anger among the workers and peasants of Zimbabwe. The inflation rate is spiralling out of control at about 100 percent. Every item needed for the bare necessities of life, like vegetables, meat, milk and bread, is becoming impossible for ordinary people to buy. Poverty is increasing at an alarming rate, as unemployment has now reached 60 percent, and city centres are becoming dangerously violent.

Due to the farm crisis production in the rural areas has decreased by 25 percent. Zimbabwe is also losing its export markets because of the violence, and now sanctions have been imposed by Europe and the US. This affects minerals and industrial goods, and products delivered to Zimbabwe are soaring in price--price adjustments are now a daily occurrence. Again the burden falls on the poor and those with minimum incomes.

Life expectancy has declined

There are some who feel no burden, especially senior officials in the bureaucracy. It is estimated that tobacco sales will be $400 million and gold sales about $125 million this year. By law, 40 percent of all foreign proceeds must be sold to the reserve bank at the official rate--the total amount of foreign exchange available to the authorities is estimated at $1 billion. The nationalised oil company gets about $10 million a month and the electricity company about $200 million a month. Since the government is not servicing external loans, it has a pool of approximately $750 million of foreign exchange for 'other uses'. It is clear that some of this is expenditure associated with the army's presence in the Congo conflict.

Zimbabwe is a traditional food exporter. Two years ago Zimbabwe was a net exporter of both maize and wheat. Now it is a net importer. Forty percent of domestic consumption will have to be imported. This is leading to a dramatic increase in the price of wheat and maize. Price increases are now at work in every field--oil, seeds, vegetables and grain.

The deterioration in the national economy is continuing at a frightening rate, as government expenditures hit the roof. As a result, all other sectors are suffering--hospitals are without drugs, schools are without books and civil servants are being forced to accept starvation wages. Some 25 percent of Zimbabwe's adult population suffers from HIV/Aids, and life expectancy has declined by ten years in a decade.

The government of Zimbabwe argues that, since most of its supporters fought in the liberation struggle, it is impossible for the opposition to come to power. Most of the opposition supporters are urban-based trade union members. But according to the president the real revolutionaries preside in the rural areas. Mugabe insists that the opposition will 'never, never, never, never' come to power. He is supported by the army brass, who held a press conference and announced that they will not recognise anybody who did not fight in the liberation struggle and respect the sovereignty of the country.

To make certain that the election is in the bag and no one else has the remotest chance of overthrowing Mugabe, two important pieces of legislation have been passed by a rubber-stamping parliament. Both the Public Order and Security Bill and the General Laws and Amendment Bill lay down the rules governing the election to be held in March. One of the provisions is a stiff penalty for criticising Mugabe. It is also expected that a bill severely restricting the local media, especially in the area of voter education, will be introduced.

These draconian laws are reminiscent of those imposed by the white minority Smith regime, since they outlaw meetings, and increase powers of the police to harass and arrest people on the slightest pretext. Additionally, the laws also prevent public protests which 'cause disorder and intolerance'. They also ban 'illegal strikes' and restrict the rights of opposition activists. A more blanket clause outlaws publishing false statements prejudicial to the state to incite disorder, violence, and affect the defence and economic interests of the country or undermine the confidence of the security forces.

Mugabe promised that there will be free and fair elections this year, yet he has expelled sections of the foreign media and EU observers.

In the meantime, government supporters in the small town of KweKwe ransacked the offices of the opposition, destroying furniture and office equipment, and beating up the officers of the MDC.