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Eric Bloch Column

Zimbabwe’s bad image self-created

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe and his plethora of obsequious ministers who fawningly will do and say whatsoever he requires of them — in particular the minister of fiction, fable and myth &#82

12; habitually seek to blame Zimbabwe’s distraught economic conditions upon Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair.

They also blame the hundreds of thousands of “Rhodies” — being whites who emigrated from Zimbabwe during the years of the liberation struggle, or over the 24 years since Independence. Some very necessarily emigrated because their abhorrent and unacceptable racial beliefs would have made life untenable in the independent Zimbabwe.

Many others had little alternative but to emigrate, because the equally abhorrent and unacceptable racism of the post-Independence regime rendered their lives impossible, with the government promulgating oppressive and unjust laws to deprive them of all, or virtually all, of their worldly possessions.

Contrary to the state’s false justifications of the legislatively enabled, virtual “theft” of their farms, their homes, their crops, their equipment and their livelihoods, most of them had invested a lifetime of diligence, intense work and all capital they had. They did so to develop and use those farms for not only their own benefit, but also the support of more than 300 000 farm workers and their families, and as the mainstay of the country’s economy.

The government would have one believe that there is no foundation to the contentions that reflect Zimbabwe in a negative and adverse light. They wish all to believe that Zimbabwe is a democratic state which preserves absolute law and order, pursues racial harmony and reconciliation and wellbeing for all.

To the government, all suggestions to the contrary are not only devoid of fact, but are the malicious and evil stratagems of Blair, the “Rhodies” and their cronies, not only to denigrate Zimbabwe, but either to destroy it or assure its recolonisation. And the government further claims that these virulent enemies of Zimbabwe reinforce those actions against Zimbabwe by also motivating the application of economic sanctions.

Most thinking people dismiss these claims with the contempt they deserve, for evidence on the ground is very pronounced as to the real reasons for the sad economic plight that is Zimbabwe’s lot. The evidence is equally manifest that, in reality, almost all Zimbabwe’s economic ills can be laid fairly and squarely at the feet of Zimbabwe’s government.

It is the government’s ill-advised, destructive policies that are the principal causes of the economic malaise that afflicts Zimbabwe. It is also those policies, and concomitant actions, that have given Zimbabwe its appallingly bad international image, and it is that image that is the main deterrent to foreign direct investment into Zimbabwe, to trade growth and to the considerable touristic patronage which Zimbabwe would otherwise enjoy.

However, the astounding development a fortnight ago was that when Mugabe surprisingly accorded Sky News an exclusive interview, much of what he said corroborated many of the allegations that are the foundation of Zimbabwe’s loathsome image abroad. Certainly it was not his intent to provide such corroboration, but provide it he did.

The number of times that he did so in the interview was great, but a few examples should suffice to make the point. On the issue of whether or not the 2002 presidential election was free and fair, the Sky News interviewer, Stuart Ramsay, suggested that there were significant irregularities, such as the closure of polling stations before many had been able to vote, confused voters’ rolls, and the like.

The president’s response was: “Sure, there might have been hitches here and there and there are always hitches, not just here but even in democratic countries.”

Usage of the word “even” was extremely telling, for effectively the President was, for the first time, acknowledging that Zimbabwe is not a democratic country. And the absence of democracy is a significant factor which discourages donor development funding, investment and trade.
Ramsay pursued the electoral issue further, stating that “one of the concerns of the international community . . . has been the level of political violence . . . ”. The presidential response was not to deny such violence. He did not suggest that the guardians of law in Zimbabwe strive to prevent or, at least, contain political violence. Instead, he impliedly admitted to that violence, and on the part of the political party led by him, for he said to Ramsay:
“You are just looking at violence, alleged violence affecting Zanu PF. What about the other side . . . ?”

Apparently, he felt he had not sufficiently acknowledged the extent of the violence and the lawlessness in Zimbabwe for, when Ramsay said that he had “met people who have been beaten and they say they are beaten for putting out leaflets calling for industrial action”, the President did not deny such acts. Instead, he sought to justify them by saying: “But you will get those actions even in Britain”.

Most viewers were undoubtedly conscious of the spuriousness of that statement, and instead received reaffirmation that Zimbabwe’s government saw nothing wrong when violence is wrought against those that differ with it.

The interview also focused upon Zimbabwe’s impending food crisis. Despite the fact that the World Food Programme says that urban food shortages are approaching critical levels, and despite the fact that a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) memorandum says that the tonnages projected by the Zimbabwean government crop assessment cannot possibly be realised, and that the estimates are completely impossible of materialising, the President was adamant to the contrary.

The evidence of impending disaster is incontrovertible, but the President chose to ignore the evidence, and instead to believe the estimates. Has there been a single instance in the last five years that the Ministry of Agriculture has been able to issue a correct crop assessment? No! The president not only claimed that there would be enough food this year to feed all, but went as far as to claim that there would be a surplus!
Unfortunately, Zimbabwe’s far-mers, indigenous and the few remaining white farmers and the populace know otherwise. So too do leading, authoritative international organisations, donor states and others.

With that knowledge is the recognition that the food crisis, when it occurs, will impact very markedly upon the economy. Addressing the crisis, without the cavalierly rejected international humanitarian aid, will place an immense burden upon the exchequer. It will heavily drain Zimbabwe’s scarce foreign currency resource. It will fuel inflation, negating much of the achievements of Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono. And the tourist does not wish to come face to face with intense poverty, hardship and misery.

Still on the issue of agriculture, the President claimed that Zimbabwe has “an agricultural system second to none in Africa”. When tobacco production has fallen by over 60% in three years, grain production has fallen by 75% in the same period and thousands of farms have been vandalised and decimated, such a statement defies belief. And the results of such disbelief include yet further losses of confidence in the economy and in the government’s ability to run it. The reluctance to accept realities was further demonstrated when the President said: “The whites who were here were mere actor farmers, ill-educated and we brought in a system which is much more enlightened than the system they had.”

It was those whites or, more correctly, their antecedents, who 100 years ago turned uncultivated, unutilised lands into flourishing fields. They were the ones who developed agriculture to an extent that it fully fed Zimbabwe, exported to the region and earned much of the country’s foreign exchange requirements.

And it is those whites who are now being welcomed with open arms by Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda, Nigeria and elsewhere. Are all those countries wrong, and only Zimbabwe right? Surely not!

These and many other responses by the President to Sky News served directly and indirectly to confirm the poor impressions much of the world has of Zimbabwe, its economy and its lack of adherence to fundamental principles of human rights and good governance. The interview showed beyond doubt that, unfortunately, Zimbabwe’s bad image internationally is self-created, no matter how much Zimbabwe may like to pretend otherwise. And until Zimbabwe recognises that reality, and does something about it, the economy will continue to head downwards.

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