Cowardice rules

ZIMBABWE marked the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on Wednesday with power cuts and water shortages. From a self-sufficient middle-income country just 10 years ago, Zimbabwe is today an

impoverished low-income country where even the most basic services have collapsed. Hospitals and clinics barely function, the nation’s flagship University of Zimbabwe can no longer offer full-time teaching or adequate accommodation, and inflation at 8 000% this week has eroded the incomes of workers across a spectrum of health services, education and industry.

Against this appalling background, President Mugabe in all seriousness thinks he has the answers to the country’s problems while various support groups, oblivious to the misery his policies have spawned, demonstrate on his behalf. Why they think the people of this country want a continuation of hardship and the certain prospect of further decline is difficult to tell.

War veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda has been leading demonstrations in support of Mugabe but is unable to explain which part of the president’s record he wants to see repeated.

Ten years ago, before Mugabe gave generous handouts to war veterans that the fiscus could not sustain, Zimbabwe cultivated and exported a range of products that earned foreign exchange. That in turn meant we could comfortably import power and fuel.

Now, with tobacco under siege and horticulture all but destroyed the country no longer has the means to earn forex. And tourists don’t want to come to a country where the president and his ministers wage war against minorities.

Without forex the country can’t pay for power or fuel. That explains the steady collapse of electricity supplies to urban centres. Large swathes of Harare have been in darkness this week amidst reports that Zesa cannot pay its bills. This is disastrous for industry and demoralising for the public at large. But it is a sign of things to come.

In Bulawayo, which has suffered a severe water shortage, Zanu PF is preparing to elect a provincial leadership. The war veterans have thrown their weight behind Mugabe but the local provincial heavyweights have withheld their endorsement.

Of interest here is the way in which Sibanda and his cohorts have driven a coach and horses through the Unity Accord openly denouncing the Zapu old guard which regards the region as its fiefdom. Mugabe no doubt feels his barons haven’t delivered since 2000 and need shaking up. This is the way they do things in the ruling party!

Whatever the case, Zanu PF’s internecine struggles are a sideshow. What matters is the country’s plunge into poverty. That is the direct product of misgovernance at every level. By printing money and spending it hand over fist to propitiate key sectors Zanu PF has become the chief generator of hyperinflation. And just when the country needed foreign investment most, the government has embarked upon what one South African commentator last week described as “extreme policy options” in the field of indigenisation.

Zimbabwe has become “a laboratory for bad policy in Southern Africa”, he said, something our neighbours have finally woken up to.

In most countries, if the government was offering more shortages, unemployment and hardship the public would revolt at the polls. But in Zimbabwe the national discourse is tightly controlled by a suborned public media which very simply lies about the cause of our national condition. In these circumstances the public cannot make an informed choice at the ballot box.

Unless there is a sea change in our political climate we are condemned to more of the same. That is the tragedy Zimbabwe faces today. And nobody seems to be able to do anything about it. Instead, thanks to the naivety of the Portuguese, Mugabe will be allowed to strut upon the international stage in Lisbon on December 8, where he will make a number of misleading claims, and then return to a hero’s welcome at his party’s extraordinary congress on December 12-14. After that we will live in darkness and fear.

As veteran South African journalist Allister Sparks points out in our columns today, this is what happens when dictators are indulged by their regional colleagues and cowardice rules at home and abroad.

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