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Editor’s Memo

Panic tells us

I HOPE you were able to make the best of the festive season and are now settling into the rhythm of another year.

For many Christmas 2003 will have been the most miserable on record. Soaring inflation, mass unemployment and shortages will have meant last year was a period of unprecedented hardship for all except the minority of people in well-paid jobs. As a result of suicidal economic policies Zimbabwe has the fastest shrinking economy in the world. It is a source of endless fascination to the foreign media how a country could have been brought so low so quickly by its own rulers.

The domestic consequences of this is impoverishment on a scale not experienced since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Even then, a population of two million with far fewer involved in the formal economy meant the impact was less devastating.

My heart goes out to elderly people on fixed pensions struggling to cope on incomes of less than $20 000 a month. These are people who have been careful with money all their lives, brought up families, and now face a life of absolute destitution in old age thanks to President Mugabe’s fiscal recklessness. His policies have devalued money to Weimar levels, wiped out savings and, as in 1920s Germany, ruined many ordinary decent people.

A whole generation of young people has emigrated to find employment in Botswana, South Africa and Britain. The more Mugabe waves his fists at Britain the more people seem to want to go and live there!

The official press has been writing stories about migrants struggling to survive over there. But many Zimbabweans have made good careers for themselves overseas and are able to send remittances back to their relatives who are struggling here.

Where once agriculture and tourism constituted the main sources of our forex receipts, now remittances from Zimbabweans abroad fill the breach. It is small comfort to know we are now competing with Lesotho as a country dependent upon the earnings of its nationals abroad!

There is no light at the end of the tunnel just yet. Herbert Murerwa has proved time after time that he is not in control of fiscal policy. The economy has been hijacked by a coterie around Mugabe who are careless of the damage they inflict upon the nation, and upon its most vulnerable elements, spending public funds in a way that stokes inflation and destroys savings.

Mugabe and his gang have literally been ruinous for Zimbabwe. But one small victory of the departed year has been that, with the possible exception of Thabo Mbeki, nobody takes the regime’s land rhetoric seriously any more. That was the important lesson of Abuja. And the reason is obvious. Having taken the land, literally all of it, repression and human rights abuses persist. Leaders who in the past may have been sympathetic to Mugabe’s cause, such as Percival Patterson of Jamaica, cannot understand how the subversion of the rule of law and crude attacks on any manifestation of civic protest can be excused now the upheaval of land recovery is over.

We still have ministers instructing courts on the extent of their jurisdiction, the legalised theft of farm implements, and threats to bona fide businesses. Anybody exercising their constitutional right to take to the streets in protest is liable to violent attack by the police who have become crude instruments of repression.

This is not a regime capable of reforming itself. At the same time, the opposition has made very real progress with its diplomatic contacts elsewhere in Africa. A substantial bloc of African states have abandoned Mugabe. And at home, despite its near-incapacitation, the MDC grows in support with every new crackdown.

Zimbabweans don’t like bullies. And this government exposes itself as vindictive and thuggish with each new assault on people’s rights. It is Dale Carnegie in reverse: how not to win friends and influence people!

This is hardly a regime confident of its authority. The recent fist-waving at Econet, coming hard on the heels of Mugabe’s posturing on the information society in Geneva, will have won more friends for Strive Masiyiwa’s company than its service sometimes warrants!

Wherever I go in this city I am greeted with warmth and enthusiasm by Zimbabweans in all walks of life who identify with the democratic cause. I am humbled by the support we receive in the independent media. The facile racism of Mugabe’s propaganda department would appear to have been counter-productive, as indeed all his bile has become.

There is a groundswell of support for democratic reform that will continue building as the economy sinks. So the one glimmer of hope I can offer you is that this is obviously a regime that has lost the battle for hearts and minds and which knows perfectly well it no longer rules by popular consent. In the past year it has manifestly failed to snuff out that most powerful weapon with which ordinary people can equip themselves against dictatorship: an idea whose time has come.

We all live in hope of a better future once the nightmare of Mugabe’s misrule is behind us. And, given the regime’s repeated disclosures of panic, it seems to agree that day will come sooner rather than later.

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