YOU may have seen the pictures or read the stories. Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe turned 86 late last month and his supporters helped him celebrate with a party costing about US$300 000.
Mugabe is right to celebrate. Life expectancy in the country he has systematically brought to its knees stands at 44. Men, women and children are dying daily from Aids. Hospitals have no medicine. Prisoners have no food. Reaching 86 is a privilege reserved only for those who can loot the state.
As Delma Lupepe, a member of Mugabe’s Zanu PF, said without irony: “We have to celebrate our leader, who is now 86. How many people reach that age?”
In Zimbabwe, if you are an ordinary man or woman, the answer is simple: you will not reach that age.
The party took place while Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change and now prime minister in the increasingly laughable coalition government with Mugabe, has been begging for US$6 billion in foreign aid and investment to rebuild schools, hospitals and sewers after a decade of economic collapse.
He will not get much help from Mugabe. While Tsvangirai tries to attract investors, Mugabe six weeks ago totally ignored Tsvangirai and signed into law “indigenisation regulations” which will allow him to seize control of foreign-owned companies and hand them over to locals.
Foreign investors must give “a controlling stake of not less than 51% of the shares to indigenous Zimbabweans” within the next five years or from the commencement of the business concerned.
Companies that fail to meet the empowerment quota risk having their directors fined or jailed.
So tell me, which investors would rush to Zimbabwe? Does any sane business person want to have his business taken over in the way the land redistribution campaign has been handled?
In the meantime, harassment of opposition activists continues unabated and newspapers remain censored. Nothing has changed in Zimbabwe except that Mugabe and his cronies are getting food and other supplies into the country to be sold for the South African rand and US dollar. Zimbabwe is an absolute disaster! It is a disaster because Mugabe remains in power. This is a truth none can dispute.
So why was President Jacob Zuma in the UK two weeks ago speaking up for this man — a really vile dictator and oppressor? Why does South Africa’s government give succour to this corrupt, thieving embarrassing regime?
I have written before that, by the end of his tenure, former President Thabo Mbeki had become the de facto foreign minister of Zimbabwe.
Mbeki never failed to take to the podium anywhere and everywhere and go in to bat for Mugabe, despite the torture of opposition activists in that country.
Zuma is proving just as enthusiastic as Mbeki in this dastardly deed. When South Africa has so many problems, Zuma spent a huge chunk of his visit to the UK working for Mugabe.
He had no qualms about repeating his call in the international media for international sanctions on Mugabe and his coterie to be lifted, saying they were not helping the beleaguered administration.
“If they could lift sanctions, that would give Zimbabwe an opportunity to move forward,” the president said, quoted by the Daily Telegraph. Why would it?
For Zuma’s information, there are no sanctions against Zimbabwe. There are targeted sanctions against Mugabe and his closest ministers and business inner circle. These are the people who have laundered Mugabe’s wealth and maintain his foreign accounts.
It is worth remembering, in case Zuma has forgotten, that Mugabe wants sanctions lifted against him so that he can visit his daughter, Bona, at a university in Hong Kong — and take her shopping elsewhere in the world.
Meanwhile, the children of ordinary people in Zimbabwe have no education. Most of the country’s teachers have fled to work as gardeners in South Africa and elsewhere. Zimbabwe, which once had the best education system on the sub-continent, is now ruined and its children rendered illiterate.
In the run-up to the African National Congress’s conference in Polokwane in 2007, and in the general election campaign last year, Zuma made encouraging noises on Zimbabwe.
He pledged to deal decisively with Mugabe and help return that country to normality. He lied. What he has achieved is exactly what Mbeki did: protect Mugabe and smile nicely while ordinary people suffer.
Zuma had no shame two weeks ago in London, putting himself and his administration forward as a defender of Mugabe. What does Zuma have to gain? Why work so hard for the dictator? And why is the ANC so quiet about it?
Malala is a leading South African journalist. —www.timeslive.com.
By Justice Malala