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Eric Bloch Column

Zimbabwe: a land of plenty

IN many statements by the then newly-appointed Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, in 1980 the populace were assured tha

t the country would be radically transformed.

 He assured the people that under his leadership and that of his political colleagues Zimbabwe would become a land of plenty.

He and his minions have fulfilled their promises. None can credibly argue that the Zimbabwe of 2004 is not a land of plenty. It is a land of plenty, but of plenty of what? Most of all, Zimbabwe has plenty of poverty.

Of a resident population of approximately 12 million people, almost seven and a half million will be without food this year unless they are provided that food by the world’s generous donors who, despite their anathema for the Zimbabwean government, are sympathetic to the plight of the people and, driven by humanitarian concerns, are forthcoming with much food largesse. Some food will probably also be supplied by the government, but it is so bankrupt that its ability to fund food imports is greatly constrained.

Those same seven and a half million people are also without the wherewithal for their other daily needs. They cannot live in even the slightest semblance of comfort, cannot afford to obtain health care or educate their children. They rely almost wholly upon the remarkable “extended family” concept that so admirably prevails in Zimbabwe, whereby the few with resources will, no matter how little those resources may be, strive to support even the most distant of relatives. Zimbabwe is a land of plenty — of poverty!

Zimbabwe is a land of plenty of unemployment. Almost four fifths of the employable population are unemployed. Over 300 000 farm workers have been deprived of attaining a livelihood, due solely to the foolhardy, bigoted, unjust, racially-driven destruction of agriculture by an ill-conceived, destructive programme of land “reform”, instead of one which could have been equitable and constructive. Thousands of others have lost their employment in industry and in commerce as a result of some enterprises being closed as a consequence of governmental mismanagement of the economy, and of many others having to contract and to “downsize” their labour forces in order to survive. There are at least twice as many Zimbabweans working abroad than there are Zimbabweans employed in their home country! Zimbabwe is a land of plenty — of joblessness!

Zimbabwe is a land of plenty of shortages. It has a massive lack of essential agricultural inputs, be they fertilisers and chemicals, seeds, agricultural equipment, coal required in tobacco curing barns, or of any other needs for viable agricultural production. The shortages of drugs and medications, other health care requisites, and of operational equipment are critical in almost all of Zimbabwe’s hospitals. Moreover, their ability to serve the needs of an ever greater number of ill and frail (in many instances due to malnutrition and inability to fund basic living standards necessary for good health, and in numerous other instances due to Aids) is worsened by a continuing loss of nurses, doctors and other health workers. Unwilling to work without the necessary resources, and drastically underpaid, there has been a vast relocation of nurses, doctors, radiographers, physiotherapists and others essential to sound functioning of hospitals and medical centres beyond Zimbabwe’s borders.

Zimbabwe has shortages of chemicals to treat water for human consumption. It has shortages of funds required by local authorities to maintain roads, street lighting, sewerage works, water distribution infrastructure, and all else which they are responsible for in their cities and towns. Zimbabwe has grievous shortages of effective, fully-operational telecommunications, the collapsing infrastructure hindering commercial activity and necessary communication.

Zimbabwe is a land of plenty of corruption. Dishonesty has become the order of the day. Public and private sector officials unhesitatingly demand blatant bribes to assure that contracts are awarded to those corrupt enough to pay such bribes. Law enforcement officers allege crimes and offences which have not been committed in order to receive unreceipted “spot fines”, and unhesitatingly confiscate foreign currencies and imported goods without lawful grounds.

Financial institutions, licenced and unlicenced, sprung up endlessly in recent years, in many instances promoted by entrepreneurs devoid of skills, capital or probity, skirting the periphery of fiscal laws, diverting funds to own use, and engaging in unacceptable speculative activity. In many instances they shielded behind politicians and other politically-influential to avoid the constraints of law. Zimbabwe is a land of plenty — of corruption!

And Zimbabwe is a land with an abundance of crime. In recent years, partially driven by poverty, partially by expertise gained by Zimbabweans in South Africa, and partially by the pronounced ineffectiveness of Zimbabwean law enforcement to contain criminality, the incidence of crime has been increasing exponentially. Car-jackings are now an almost daily occurrence in Harare and Bulawayo as are armed robberies, and house-breakings are numerous and associated with intensifying violence. Not a single business can credibly claim to be immune from pilferage and theft, misappropriation of goods and equipment by employees, and from wide-scale white-collar fraud. Zimbabwe is a land of plenty — of crime!

Zimbabwe has a myriad of cabinet ministers to govern it. It has more ministers than the USA where a single city has as great a population than all Zimbabwe. It has more ministers than the United Kingdom and more than almost all other countries in the European Union, virtually all of which are considerably greater in numbers of citizens than is Zimbabwe. And in contrast to most, or at least many of the ministers of other countries, few of Zimbabwe’s ministers demonstrate an ability to advance Zimbabwe and its people. Instead, it has a Minister of Land, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement who has effectively destroyed most of agriculture and reduced his country to beggar-status for food from others.

It has a Minister of Education who, ignoring the fact that his government has afflicted the economy to an extent that inflation exceeds 600%, castigates schools that increases fees to enable then to continue to educate the country’s youth. Disregarding that none of the schools operate for profit and for individual gain, but only to provide high standards of education in lieu of those that he does not provide, he initiates prosecutions and other measures which can only collapse the schools (whereafter he will undoubtably take them over and ruin them or bring them down to the lower standards which are characteristics of many governmental schools). He also forces scholars to write Zimbabwean school-leaving examinations, instead of those accorded international recognition.

And Zimbabwe has a Minister of Information who despises freedom of speech and freedom of the press and does all he can to ensure absolute control thereon by the state. He also has a remarkable knack of interpretation of facts, events, statements and the like to cast his government in the most favourable light and to blacken the image of others, and yet continuously fails in those endeavours. Zimbabwe is a land of plenty — of ministers who do not, or cannot, minister!

Yes, President Mugabe and those led by him have kept their promises. They have turned Zimbabwe into a land of plenty! A land of plenty of poverty, plenty of unemployment, plenty of shortages, plenty of corruption, plenty of crime, plenty of inept government, plenty of stress, misery and economic and other ills. And yet, Zimbabwe could be a land of plenty of much else, instead of these undesired “plenties”.

It could be a land of plenty of wealth, of well-being for all its people, of harmony and friendship with most nations, of democracy, of good governance, of peace and national unity. Transformation of Zimbabwe to such a land of plenty requires a transformation of political ideology, of political will, of political and economic policy. Such transformation can be by change of government, or by change in government. Either can turn Zimbabwe into a genuine land of plenty, a land of plenty as implied by Robert Mugabe 24 years ago, in contradistinction to today’s land of plenty.

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