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Zimbabwe: people get ready

About the author
Mary Ndlovu has worked in the Zambian and Zimbabwean educational sector for twenty years. She now works for the Legal Resources Foundation, Zimbabwe as Curriculum Co-ordinator. She is an advisor on pedagogy to Fahamu and writes for its journal Pambazuka News, where this article was first published.

The long-suffering, patient, apathetic Zimbabweans have had enough. Finally, they are reacting to the horrors of the past three years. The mix of menace and jubilation, of terror, fear, anger and defiance, is electric, explosive.

A year ago the mood was different. An election which most thought would relieve us of deepening poverty and intensifying government abuse had been stolen. The sacrifices which had been made by thousands of committed opposition cadres stretching their energies to the breaking-point seemed to have been made in vain. We stared into a dark future, afraid, confused and deeply depressed.

And our fears were justified. The past year has been horrendous. The government has used the Public Order and Security Act to prevent organised activity by the opposition, as well as all civil society organisations, even during campaigning for by-elections. Opposition leaders have been continuously hounded, arrested, harassed and brutally tortured, while their supporters have been beaten, abducted, raped, and chased from their homes.

The justice system has been subverted, with the police selectively arresting members of civil society and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) without any evidence of crime, while standing watching government supporters commit the worst atrocities. Independent judges have been hounded out of office and replaced by those who appear more compliant.

When these don't satisfy their Zanu (PF) bosses, they too can be arrested. Cases which threaten to embarrass the government never get hearing dates, with the result that some election petitions from the 2000 parliamentary elections have yet to be heard, and one year later we are still waiting for the court challenge to the presidential election. Constitutional challenges to restrictive press laws are also still awaited. The courts are rather spending their energies harassing opposition leaders with spurious charges ranging from fraud to murder and treason.

The civil service has been systematically purged of non-government supporters. Those in senior posts are expected to publicly show approval of Zanu policies and make appearances at party meetings. Hundreds if not thousands of teachers have been chased from their schools as suspected opposition supporters. Graduates of the government militia who have been trained in propaganda, brutality and torture methods have been infiltrated into all government offices and placed on salaries, even though they have no relevant skills. Teachers colleges, nursing schools, polytechnics and vocational schools have instructions to give priority to militia graduates: if they do not satisfy the entry requirements, no problem; just finish them before completing the course in order to get a certificate. These torturers and abusers are to be unleashed into our schools to prepare our children for life!

Meltdown economy

On top of that, there is the economy. A year ago inflation was 70%; today it is 220% – officially. Unofficially probably over 300%. Few farms function at above subsistence level. Jobs are unobtainable; the “informal sector” rules. Those living on pensions or savings are destitute; only the lucky ones have children living outside the country sending pounds, or dollars, or rands. Those who can still afford to own cars cannot pay for insurance, and they cannot buy petrol. Eight days in a queue is common. Those who rely on public transport must be on the street before 6am to get to work by 8, and even then they are often very late. School children often leave home at 5am and return at 6pm. Goods are scarce, and expensive.

The government's answer to inflation was to control prices, when inputs cannot be controlled. The result was predictable – a further collapse of production and a flourishing black market, frequently controlled by Zanu bosses. Exports from the manufacturing sector have dropped catastrophically. The foreign exchange which they should earn to pay for fuel and electricity imports is not available. We are producing less of our own electricity due to the break down of machinery and lack of foreign exchange to buy spare parts. A very vicious circle prevails, producing what has been termed a “meltdown”.

The so-called land reform is a distant memory. The agricultural sector is drastically diminished. No one is sure what is happening on the farms: settlers, war vets, Zanu thugs, genuine land-hungry villagers and government cronies are all battling for a share of the spoils, which no longer exist, since all the movable property and crops have been plundered and few of the beneficiaries really wanted to farm. Those who do are struggling with lack of inputs. Poor rains at the beginning of the season reduced the output of those who succeeded in planting crops, while much of the crop is being stolen from the fields by starving villagers and displaced former farm workers. The prospect for the next planting season later this year is grim, because very little seed maize has been planted and even less will be available for use, as it is being eaten.

Donors are distributing food aid in many rural parts of the country, while in others, hunger and even starvation is common. The government continues to attempt to interfere, but has in most cases not succeeded. In towns, staple food is scarce and only obtained through “connections”, political and otherwise. Long queues have frequently been attacked by riot police beating people (mainly women) with batons and chasing them away.

The daily struggle for food and transport in towns is what has brought the people to the breaking point. Women have progressively amended their family feeding to omit more and more items – cheese, milk, chicken, meat, fruit – not affordable; mealie meal, flour, margarine, bread, vegetables, sugar – not available. We are left with beans and rice. And for most people rice is also not affordable. As the position worsens by the week, the government has become increasingly repressive.

We have the power

Zimbabweans did not easily give up hope that President Mbeki and the ANC would finally understand the true nature of our distress. But finally it has become clear that it was not a question of misunderstanding but deliberate prevarication in order to positively support Mugabe's dictatorship.

The shift began with cricket. Failure to get the world to acknowledge the need to boycott Mugabe by shifting the World Cup matches made it very plain that our salvation would only come from ourselves. And so the protests finally began. Henry Olonga and Andy Flower set it off, as if singing the overture, at the first Harare cricket match. Since then demonstrations and stay-aways have become a regular feature of our lives. Brutally suppressed, they have taught beleaguered Zimbabweans the most important lesson: we have the power, we can face arrest, we can even face torture. Now the people are waiting for the mass action which will finally bring the end of this evil regime. It cannot come soon enough.

This article was first published in the newsletter

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