Misrule and national decline go together

AS South Africans went

to the polls this week 10 years after the demise of apartheid, the contrast between political cultures on either side of the Limpopo could not be more stark.

Zimbabwe “celebrates” its Independence on Sunday amidst record contractions of the economy, growing unemployment, and deepening levels of poverty. It has one of the fastest shrinking economies in the world and, according to the Minister of Finance, the highest rate of inflation.

The International Monetary Fund at the conclusion of their recent visit said real GDP had declined by 30% and inflation had doubled in each of the last three years to reach 600% at the end of 2003.

This, the team said, had dire social consequences. Unemployment is rising, poverty has doubled since 1995, school enrollment declined to 65% in 2003, and HIV/Aids has gone largely unchecked.

As health and education were the two areas where government could boast of significant achievements since 1980, the IMF’s findings that Zimbabwe has regressed in recent years are timely.

The facts speak for themselves. Zimbabweans are today worse off than they were in the mid-1970s at the height of the liberation war. And the cause of their plight is a regime which forbids dissent and punishes critics.

While South Africans were exercising their right to vote — and being encouraged by their leaders to do so — our leaders have been assiduously whittling down rights and discouraging people from casting their votes for any party other than their own. South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission has been ensuring voters have access to polling stations across the country. SABC has been slammed by a wide cross-section of stakeholders for allowing President Mbeki to use the state broadcaster to fire the opening salvo of his election campaign two months ago. However, throughout the campaign Mbeki has been careful to underline his party’s achievements instead of attacking the opposition. And SABC has opened its airwaves to a variety of candidates.

While there have been inci-dents of violence in KwaZulu/Natal, this has been largely a peaceful and orderly election.

Here, by contrast, in the last presidential poll the number of polling stations was reduced in areas of opposition support such as Harare. The Electoral Supervisory Commission is answerable to President Mugabe. ZBC is nothing more than a crude propaganda instrument of the ruling party. And the country’s leaders use the most inciteful and abusive language when decampaigning the opposition including the suggestion that it has no right to function because of colonial links conveniently invented by its accusers.

It is a profoundly anti-democratic message backed up by brute force in many instances. As a result Zimbabwe is a deeply fractured country where the democratic majority are thwarted in expressing their views and where powerful politicians communicate a message of intolerance and menace.

Whatever criticisms we may have had of President Mbeki in recent years, his sense of a South African national identity and shared rights are in marked contrast to the narrow exclusivist nationalism practised this side of the Limpopo. Furthermore South Africa’s courts have provided examples of judicial activism in upholding rights and defending democracy at a time when Zimbabwean jurists exhibiting even the smallest sign of independence are subject to threats.

At Independence in 1980 Zimbabwe’s government, equipped with a democratic mandate, addressed colonial anomalies with vigour and enjoyed wide respect on the international stage. Today the country is isolated and friendless. With the exception of a handful of countries which are diminishing in number every year, Zimbabwe’s  rulers have sacrificed the goodwill they once enjoyed by imposing a brutal tyranny upon their people and impoverishing them in the process.

The claim that land reforms have incited Western hostility is only true in so far as those “reforms” have been racist, violent, lawless and catastrophic to agricultural production.

A country that was for over 20 years self-sufficient in food is today a beggar state dependent upon the generosity of those it resentfully insults every day.

Zimbabwe is on the 24th anniversary of its Independence more dependent on others than it has ever been. It is a lesson in the consequences of misgovernance. Misrule and national decline go hand in hand. That much will be evident to everybody on Sunday. What use is sovereignty if it doesn’t fill stomachs or meet basic needs?

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