Reading by Paraffin:
Cracks in the Zimbabwean Mirror

The cracks in Zimbabwe have been blatant for a number of years. After the Lancaster House Agreement and the landslide victory of Robert Mugabe's Party (ZANU-PF) in internationally recognised elections in 1980, the sense of euphoria which followed was short lived. Strikes spread rapidly throughout Zimbabwe over the following years led mainly by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) . Although Socialist rhetoric was infused into Government statements at this time, the trade union movement, while initially supporting the Government, became increasingly impatient with its failure to implement "socialist" policies and, by the mid 80s, when it became clear that ZANU-PF had no intention of ever introducing even a minimum type of state-socialism the trade union movement moved into opposition. One immediate and opportunistic way of curbing this disillusionment was by Mugabe's party launching a tribal pogrom in the name of a Shona majority, whipping up a fever against the largest minority, the Ndebele with the awful massacres which followed in Matabeleland in the 1980s. This is one of the first of Robert Mugabe's many opportunistic gestures at work.

Discontent mounted. On the one hand the inherited system of white domination was maintained. The Governing Party occupied some of the Palaces and certain of the larger estates of those 'Rhodesians' who had left. But the vast majority of the descendants of Cecil Rhodes who had first cheated the Shona and Ndebele and then forcefully occupied their land, setting up huge estates, remained in control, and the blacks were confined to lands in the barren and crowded "reserves" which had been set up in the 1930s. Some 7 million blacks still occupy these "reserves", while some 4,500 white farmers occupy some 11 million hectares with some estates as large as 200,000 hectares. The crops grown are not to feed Zimbabwe's poor but are rich export cash crops -tobacco, mange-tout, radicchio and french beans. While some social construction of houses was carried out in the 80s and 90s the majority of workers were still confined to the "townships" which had been set up on the outskirts of the major cities, (Chitungwiza, Dzivarasekwa, etc) to provide cheap labour. In 1980 Mugabe started off with ambitious plans to resettle 600,000 families in five years. To date about 65,000 families have been resettled. The majority of those resettlement projects have not succeeded, largely because they have not received adequate follow-up support to redevelop the plots and because they were not granted tenure to the land. A recent national housing list register in Zimbabwe shows that the national backlog has reached the one million mark.

The list, which registers households not individuals, indicates that a third of all Zimbabweans are lodgers or do not have even a bare minimum of housing. More than 40,000 live in the high-density Mbare hostels, where 40 people share a single toilet and up to 10 live in one room.

According to a survey conducted by Dialogue on Shelter for the Homeless in Zimbabwe, more than 50% of families in Mbare are on the council's housing waiting list and have been for an average of nine years. Almost all those on this list first signed up between the ages of 28 and 33, meaning they have spent most of their adult years just waiting. One third of all Zimbabweans are lodgers or homeless. Despite the grave housing shortage, the construction industry, driven to maximise profits, no longer builds houses for the lowest income groups who make up the majority of Zimbabwe's working population. National Housing and Local Government Minister John Nkomo said he found it ironic that the Miner's Pension Fund is investing in the construction of houses and flats for the middle and higher income groups while the majority of its members live in sub-standard houses.

A report financed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and produced in consultation with the government by the University of Zimbabwe's Institute of Development Studies and the Poverty Reduction Forum. gives human development comparisons between provinces, rural and urban areas, "in order to provide policy-makers with an analysis of the situation and help the government to target the poor in efforts to end poverty". Some of the findings of the researchers, most of them academics at the University of Zimbabwe are;

A Society Divided

There was a short-lived economic boom in 80-82 with the lifting of international sanctions but this was soon followed by a severe drought (83) and a recession and the "socialist honeymoon" was over. When in 1984, the Economic Structural Adjustment Policy (ESAP) was introduced ZANU-PF sought to govern Zimbabwe on market principles with a subsequent pocketing of resources and wide-spread corruption at Government levels. Zimbabwe's slide towards dictatorship was inexorable, providing what is almost a classic case of the corrupting effects of power.

ZCTU, with other groups in civil society, became involved in demonstrating against State corruption, violations of human rights and the movement towards the One-Party state. General Secretary of ZCTU, Morgan Tsvangirai, was detained for six weeks in October 1989 for supporting the anti-government demonstrators of the Student Representative Council. An amended Labour Relations Act in 1992 was designed to weaken the growing strength of the Labour Movement in general, while The Law and Order Maintenance Act in 1994 was designed to prevent opposition meetings and demonstrations, even though the High Court ruled it unconstitutional. Strikes abounded throughout the early part of the 90s (Railway workers in 1992, Postal and Communication Workers in 92 and 94, Bank Workers in 1993 and Civil Service workers in 1996.)There are many divisions within the Zimbabwean society. There are the ex-colonial white landowners and the rural land-less poor. There is the divide between the Ndebele and Shona which still thrives today, with their different culture and language. There is the affluence of party aparachi and the senior army officials compared to the Urban hostel and township dwellers. And there is the cultural and institutionalised powerlessness of women who have an inferior role sanctioned by the Constitution. Resentment breeds in the tremendous economic gap between the grinding poverty experienced by the average black Zimbabwean and the comfort and luxury enjoyed by the majority of the white and connected population. It is an economic question rather than one of race. The net is closing in. The smell of money is everywhere and nowhere. The future of this beautiful country and beautiful people depends on how these contradictions pan out.

The Land Question

Zimbabwe's 4500 white farmers own about 11m hectares of prime land, about 30% of the total land mass, while 7m black Zimbabweans are crowded into barren communal areas representing some 41%. The War of Independence which was fought mainly by rural land-less workers was primarily about reclaiming what the Cecil Rhodes mob had stolen from them with the help of the Maxim gun, by Cecil Rhodes and his Jameson gang, blessed by Whitehall and milked by the likes of Edgar Whitehead before Ian Smith and his Cowboy Cabinet came in to secure the fence with jet fighters and Selous Scouts.

During the Rhodesian era, black families were stripped of their ancestral land by the white government. They were paid no compensation and were herded on to reserves in arid, less fertile areas. Impoverished rural blacks supported Mugabe and his nationalist guerrillas in their fight against Rhodesia because they were promised they would get their land back.

By 1997 war veterans began demanding money from the War Victims Fund which they saw being looted by Government officials. This fund which was intended for poor people who had suffered losses during the War of Independence but really only went to senior Government officials and their relatives, many of them claiming fictitious war injuries and traumas, Mugabe's brother-in-law, Robert Marufu, being one of the largest beneficiaries. When the veterans became increasingly angrier, Mugabe conceded to their demands and was forced to pay out Z$3 billion in unbudgeted funds in order to pacify them.

In 1996 the government forcibly purchased 270 farms, covering one million acres, for redistribution to poor blacks. The majority of state-owned commercial farms leased out under Zimbabwe's land resettlement programme in the last three years have been given to well-connected individuals, most of whom are absentee landlords with no farming experience, according to a list obtained by the South African Mail &Guardian. Many of the new owners have been given leases for 98 years at advantageous prices, while others have yet to have their lease rates assessed.

The list was obtained in a parliamentary written answer in January by the opposition MP, Margaret Dongo, but it has received scant attention in the Zimbabwean press. It also includes land rented out under the tenant farm scheme since 1990. Only a handful of these, which range from very large farms to smallholdings, have been given to genuine farmers.

Dongo, the president of the Zimbabwe Union of Democrats and a founder member of the War Veterans' Association, has been trying to give the list of commercial farmers a wider circulation with a message accusing the ruling ZANU-PF of "corruption and mismanagement".

She added: "I appeal to my fellow war veterans not to let your suffering be used by selfish and greedy politicians who caused your suffering. This will not benefit you at the end of the day. Comrades, you should stand up and be a watchdog of the government. If you do not, you will have fought for nothing."

The farms had been distributed to 416 high-ranking members of ZANU-PF, including Ministers, provincial governors and army officers. The government's own survey, obtained by The Observer newspaper (London), shows that very few of those who received the farms have farming experience. Many are not paying rent.

In 1998 the government announced that it would be seizing 841 commercial farms and preliminary notice was served on 1,471 farmers. This was promised in particular to those "war veterans" who had fought the War of Independence to gain land. The nine commercial farms, totalling about 500,000 acres, were voluntarily offered for sale by their owners in 1998 and divided into 253 separate units. Among the leaseholders and tenants are a cabinet minister, two provincial governors, numerous civil servants, two judges, four members of the president's office and employees of large private and state corporations. The Battlefields farm, for example, in the cotton-farming area of Kadoma south of Harare, has been divided into 27 parcels, some as large as 4 800 acres. Not one is occupied by its owner. Twenty four of the absentee lessees have no agricultural experience. Although they were given out at the beginning of last year, no lease rates have been assessed. Of the 50 parcels from the Coburn farm, only nine are occupied by farmers; 22 lessees have no farming experience. One provincial governor is paying under £1,000 a year for 2 800 acres.

Another governor whose five-year tenancy on 2,400 acres expired last September has still to have his rental assessed. The defence permanent secretary rented 780 acres during the 1990s for just over £1 a year.. While Mugabe was using this issue to whip up support amongst the rural poor (where he himself had come from) there is little doubt that the same corrupting influences would be at work and it would be the same party officials in the name of the rural poor who would benefit.

This month nearly 60,000 squatters have occupied more than 1,000 farms scattered across the country. The Government complains it can do little with only 20,000 police. Zimbabwe's minister of land and agriculture, Kumbirai Kangai, almost fell victim to the invasions after a large group attempted to occupy his farm in Nyabira. They were eventually driven off by security guards. Kangai described the potential squatters as "thugs".

Sensing that his rural support is flagging, Mugabe has seized on the land issue once again. In the past two years, he has given a series of inflammatory speeches on the subject. Avoiding any responsibility for the stalled land reform, he blamed his inactivity on the British government and on the white farmers themselves.

While there is no doubt about the validity of the land question what is questionable is whether Mugabe's Party is capable of leading land reform in any honest or moral way. The 60,000 squatters are sincere in their demands. They still however have to make a coherent criticism of the former land acquisitions and stand alone as squatters independent of the ZANU-PF.

Race or Class Issues

The Harare Club's teak-panelled walls speak of years of tradition, privilege and exclusivity, dating back to its founding in 1896. The Salisbury Club, as it was known then, was the social centre for the white men who lived well as they imposed their rule over the country's black majority. Today, the main staircase is lined with portraits of the club's past chairmen all of them white. An ex Rhodesian asks me if I have been to the "Irish Club", up near the Catholic Church on 4th Street. I noted it but I never got there.

The Exchange bar in Bulawayo which is a mixed bar (white, black and even an occassional woman-black or white) tells the story of these frontiersmen who are lauded in European history books defending their empires and making quick raids into 'enemy' territory, just like the cowboys of old whether in the "Birth of Nations" movie or the "Indian fighter". The American frontier was won by successive waves of immigration and revolution in Europe. Only the tourists are now going to Africa. Whether or not those who have been there a long time will be allowed to stay is another question.

Compared to South Africa, race relations are, on the surface, good. Black and white Zimbabweans, as well as other ethnic groups such as Asians and those of mixed race, get along easily on city streets, in shops and in other public places. The country is remarkably free of palpable racial tensions and animosities.

Pockets of white racism still exist, although they are increasingly covert, and there is a not-so-hidden block of black anger. But between those two poles, there is a growing area where Zimbabweans of all shades find common interests.

The country's white population reached its peak in the late 1960s at about 275000. As the Rhodesian war ground on, a stream of whites left the country, so that when Zimbabwe finally reached majority rule in 1980, there were about 120 000 whites. Today, the white population is estimated at 70 000 less than 1% of the country's 12-million people.

At independence in 1980, Mugabe dramatically announced a policy of racial reconciliation, and Zimbabwe became the shining alternative to South Africa's apartheid system. The country's citizens began living side by side, with equal rights - although the white minority still retained the property and wealth amassed during the Rhodesian era.

Mugabe enjoyed a reputation as a statesman of international stature for urging that differences be put aside to allow the building of a new country. But today, it is Mugabe himself who is seen as the main threat to racial harmony. Dramatic economic decline has made his government decidedly unpopular with urban blacks. The Commercial Farmers' Union, understandably don't trust him either. The regime has become openly repressive, banning strikes and demonstrations.

To distract attention from these problems, Mugabe has resorted to blatantly anti-white rhetoric calculated to stir up old resentments and bitterness. "Some white people of British extraction have been planted in our midst to undertake acts of sabotage aimed at affecting the loyalty of not just our people in general, but also that of the vital arms of government, like the army, so these can turn against the legitimate government of this country," said Mugabe, in a recent speech.

"They are bent on ruining the national unity and loyalty of our people and their institutions. But we will ensure that they do not ever succeed in their evil machinations. Let me state this emphatically: they have pushed our sense of racial tolerance to the limit. Let them be warned that unless their insidious acts of sabotage immediately cease, my government will be compelled to take very stern measures against them and those who have elected to be their puppets." More recently he has put it more bluntly "Whites are the enemies of the State".

In Rhodesia, Prince Edward School was the premier government school for whites. I used to pass it every day on my way to work in Clayton Road, in the Milton Park district of Harare. Shortly after independence, it went virtually all black, but now the school has an enrolment of about 80% black and 20% white, Asian and mixed race. At Prince Edward, now, boys of all races wear colonial-era blazers, ties and straw boaters. They attend classes together, in addition to playing cricket, rugby, football and many other sports. It is not a racially divided institution but a class institution where those with power and money can send their kids. The headmaster, Clive Barnes, has succeeded in keeping white graduates from the Rhodesian era interested in the school's welfare. To mark the school's centenary last year, a wealthy alumnus donated a multimillion-dollar computer centre.

The growing dissatisfaction with the Mugabe regime is a common cause, with many groups now joining forces to push for a more accountable government which transcends race. The trade unions, church groups, women's groups, lawyers associations, human rights groups and gay rights groups are increasingly working together. Recently, anti-war demonstrators of all races tightly held each other's arms so as not to be taken away by riot police. At a human rights march, blacks and whites carried banners together.

Perhaps the most potent argument against a racial divide rather than a class divide in Zimbabwe today is the makeup of the coalition of blacks and whites who have gathered to form the National Constitutional Assembly, a group calling for a democratically drafted Constitution. Since 1980, most of Zimbabwe's whites have stayed out of politics, but now a band of dedicated human rights activists, both black and white, are spearheading the movement to get the Zimbabwean public involved in creating a new Constitution.

One of my fellow workers, a white Irish physiotherapist expressed this well to me when I was working in the Children's' Hospital in Harare." The colour of your skin is important here. My best friend is African but she is very middle class. She is horrified that I ride in the commuter vans with everyone else. She says she would find riding in the vans degrading. She doesn't think I should do it and she doesn't do it. She'd prefer to walk. I tell her to feck off and not be worrying about such things. She would worry that her friends would see her. You see, it is not a racial difference it is a class difference."

Compared with South Africa relations between the races has been much more open. In Johannesburg, the atmosphere is full of tension. It seems there is still a taboo on interactions beyond a certain line. In Zimbabwe, things are so much more open.

It is the palatable feeling of corruption in high places which is the topic of every conversation and the class frustration is patent.

There are divisions, even within the indiginous Zimbabweam community. The divide between the Ndebele and Shona is still alive today. When I visited a game reserve near Bulawayo I asked the guide what meat they fed to the lions and the joke was that it was "Shona". But while the biggest divide is that obviously between the "white" farmers and the landless poor, other issues are still at play. It is in these divisions and their mismanagement where Mugabe has the upper hand, it is his ace in the hole and makes it difficult to see how a coherent opposition can emerge.

Although the now deceased ex-Vice-President Joshua Nkomo, Zvobgo scored a major plus for himself when he publicly apologised for the massacres of the people in Matebeleland during the 1980s civil strife. The massacres have been a major bone of contention especially with the people of Matebeleland who more than 10 years after the unity accord of 1987 do not see any tangible benefits apart from the peace itself. The victims were not compensated and some are still trying to get death certificates, and therefore benefits, of their spouses or parents who disappeared.

The scandals in high places are endless. While rich ex-cronies are allowed to leave the country, there is a crack-down on working class crime. Banana, the ex President, accused of raping a younger officer was let go while another high Zanu-PF official who was convicted of embezzlement of funds was allowed back into the country after being away for a few years without being rearrested. Its definitely one law for the poor and a very different one for the rich.

When fuel prices were hiked by some 67% in 1998 amidst allegations of embezzlement by senior government offices running the oil companies. Construction costs for the mayoral mansion in Harare have risen to almost Z$50 million in a country where a vast majority have no public lighting and poor sanitation conditions. In one of the country's biggest financial scandals businessman Sampson Paweni defrauded the government of Z$5 million. At the time the Zimbabwe dollar was stronger than the US dollar which means at today's rates this could be equivalent to Z$90 million. Kangai was implicated but he survived the scandal. Paweni was jailed and died soon after his release from prison. He has also survived the land scandal, taking the blame to weather off the storm. Kangai has the dubious position of heading Manicaland yet after the death of former ZANU chairman, Herbert Chitepo, in Zambia in 1975 he was arrested as a Karanga together with former ZANLA chief Josiah Tongogara.

The farce at Town House, seat of the Harare City Council, is something out of a Mexican soap opera but the government is reluctant to fire executive Mayor Solomon Tawengwa. While the city is tottering on the brink of collapse, all fingers point to one man. Recently, half the city went without water for three weeks and a quarter was without power. The city's workforce was not paid in October because no bank is prepared to grant its administration an overdraft. Meanwhile, work continues on the Z$50-million mansion.

A government commission of inquiry has revealed gross irregularities in the financial management of ratepayers' money. Mayor Tawengwa searches for scapegoats and cries sabotage when it is plain that the buck stops at his desk. He suspended the director of works, the city treasurer and the town clerk. They have since been reinstated by the minister responsible for local government.

The UNDP 117 page report cited above states that "Corruption is of increasing concern in Zimbabwe. Numerous cases have gone before the courts of law, the government set up commissions to investigate some of the cases while some have received extensive media coverage,"

Zimbabwe, is believed to have pocketed more than (Usnot Zim)$2 billion from the UN when it sent its troops to Angola and Somalia, Other allegations of corruption and bribery related to the War in the Congo, where some 11,000 Zimbabwean troops are deployed alongside smaller contingents from Namibia and Angola, ostensibly to support Laurent Kabila against Rwandan and Ugandan troops but widely seen as a way for senior army officers to take over the rich mineral rights of the Congo. Senior army officers have investments in these rights but it is the Zimbabwean economy which must pay the cost of Z$1 million daily for the war alongside with figures of over 100 Zimbabwean fatalities. Demonstrations against the war have been confined to Harare and are never reported on the two State owned TV stations or in the Government newspaper, The Herald.

The fuel hikes in Nov 1998 which led to mass scale rioting and the ZCTU general strikes (called stay-aways) of Nov 11th and 18th were just about total. Harare and all around it came to a complete standstill. The Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) , now the MDU is accredited with the leadership of these stay-aways.

Electoral Politics

While on paper, there are more than 20 political parties, and 10 contested the 1995 elections, there is virtually no opposition party one can talk about. The parties all seem to sink into oblivion soon after the elections and are only likely to resurface in the year 2000 when the next elections are due. Besides, the more popular opposition parties like the Zimbabwe Unity Movement, the United Parties and ZANU-Ndonga are led by the same "old geriatrics" who cannot seriously challenge Mugabe. Edgar Tekere of ZUM is 61. Abel Muzorewa is 73 and Ndabaningi Sithole is 78.

Although on paper there are more than 20 opposition parties in the country, only one has two seats in Parliament. Mugabe's lieutenants, though not willing to go down with him, are scared of the fact that there is no future outside ZANU-PF unless they walk out en-masse. It is thus up to the Labour Movement, the newly constituted MDC which was formed out of the ZCTU to forge the strongest force at the moment. Tsvangirai is an eloquent speaker, just like Mugabe was during his hey-days. He has youth on his side. He is only 46. And he has the workers behind him, which is a powerful tool, especially given that most of urban middle class have been reduced to poverty as well and are flocking to the unions for protection. Still in a country where 80% of the people are rural poor this alliance (the alliance of historical revolutions) might not be enough. Of late Tsvangirai has been attracting huge crowds at workers' rallies, attended by nurses and civil servants, the kind of crowds Mugabe enjoyed in the early 1980s. Tsvangirai has become such a powerful political force that though he may not be presidential material at the moment, he is definitely a kingmaker. Anyone aspiring for the country's top post has to bring him to his side

What with many constituencies gerrymandered and a constitutional provision allowing Mugabe to hand-pick 20% of all MPs, there would have to be a massive swing to the opposition for it to be able to take control of parliament. With only three seats out of 150 belonging to the "opposition", President Mugabe is virtually assured that nothing of the sort will happen. Besides, over the years he has craftily manipulated the composition of the House to ensure that alliances would be difficult to forge except in his favour. In 1980 for example, out of the 80 seats for blacks, Masvingo and Midlands had 23, Mashonaland 31 and the two power brokers, Matebeleland and Manicaland 15 and 11, respectively. By 1995, out of the 120 elected seats, Masvingo and Midlands had only increased to 29, Matebeleland because of Bulawayo had jumped to 23, Manicaland was still at 14 while Mashonaland had skyrocketed to 54 with 20 of the seats in the capital Harare.

With the 30 reserved seats filled by Mugabe by appointment, he therefore can safely tuck in 84 seats, a majority in the 150-member house, only through the support from Mashonaland. Besides, he has also weeded out all educated people from the armed forces who could have engineered a coup, leaving loyalists who are beholden to him. Defence forces commander, Vitalis Zvinavashe, though a Karanga has no soldiers of his own since there is army commander Constantine Chiwenga and air force commander Perrence Shiri. President Mugabe has survived up to now because there is no opposition to talk about.

Democracy (1)

Of course electoral representative democracy is unlikely to solve the class issues no more than it would solve all the other inequalities in Zimbabwean society. Real Democracy is finally more about the equality of everyday life, lived experience, than in merely electing representatives. Democracy is also about the freedom of choice, economic or otherwise vut it is also about gender and sexual orientation and neither have a good place in Mugabe's closet. A case where a former wife, a Ms Magaya, was overlooked in terms of inheritance and the land was left to the eldest son brought women onto the streets of Harare. Rita Makarau, a lawyer and MP, appealed on behalf of Magaya to the Supreme Court and lost. The court ruled that, under customary law, that only men can inherit and all family members are subordinate to the male head of the family; and that the Legal Age of Majority Act, drafted in 1982 to ensure equality, does not apply to customary law; and that Section 23 of the Zimbabwe Constitution allows discrimination against women as "the nature of African society".

Women's groups were up in arms, complaining that although women constitute the larger part of the country's population -- about 51% of Zimbabwe's estimated 12,4-million people -- they only have a 22% representation on the 395-member commission.

The total number of female commissioners is less than 100, with 52 of them having been appointed by the president while the rest are there by virtue of being parliamentarians.

This limited representation has raised fears that the constitution will remain biased against women, who are likely to find themselves battling against a gender insensitive document as they have been doing for the past 19 years under the current constitution.

Women, she says, are concerned about two major issues, among others: these are section 23, which touches on customary law, and section 111b, which deals with international conventions.

Under these two sections, women's rights are limited under customary law while the conventions signed by the Government do not necessarily become law under section 111b, thereby making them futile.

Mugabe, a rabid anti-gay campaigner, is well known for his erratic behaviour . He accused the British government of being made up of homosexuals, as though this was the worst thing about it. It is with the blessing of Mugabe that Jerry Falwell, the anti-gay bible TV preacher goes on air every Sunday evening on Zimbabwean TV.

Homosexuality is unlawful in Zimbabwe and President Mugabe has repeatedly condemned the practice and has described gays and lesbians as being ''lower than pigs and dogs.''

The issue of sexual orientation remains a contentious one as a Church Congress invited "Gay and Lesbians Church" to attend their Conference last year knowing that Mugabe would address it. Members were split on whether to allow them into the Conference. One delegate said that gays and lesbian Christians, were free to come to the church as it is a ''place for sinners '' raising objections as to what constitutes a sin. Gays and Lesbians were not however officially recognised as participants at the assembly and attended only as individual members of the public.

Democracy (2)

While the present constitution gives Mugabe almost unlimited powers, he sought to change it earlier this year to grant ZANU-PF absolute power, hoping to abolish annoying details like the powers of the Judiciary, the Media, and the influence of civic organisations and church leaders in the Constitutional Assembly. He gambled and lost the recent Constitutional referendum. The campaign against the proposed changes was led mainly by the ZCTU. Mugabe is supposed to hold elections sometime this summer. He is obviously afraid that he might loose this election too.

Mugabe is playing these divisions like a lost soul in a poker game. He thinks he knows his people and he banks on a 1960s consciousness to win, a consciousness which was based on rural poverty and a peasant uprising. Mugabe could have resigned like Nelson Mandela and gone into the history books as a great African leader. Instead he has gambled and lost. But if Mugabe has belatedly remembered his rural past and tries to fit the square peg into a round hole the general consensus in Zimbabwe is that he has lost the way. On the other hand can Tsvangirai and the MDU be able to distinguish between the genuine wish to replace Mugabe through democratic elections, and the wish of his white supporters to use him and his struggle to frustrate the attempt of the black people of Zimbabwe to take back their lands and their dignity and their fundamental rights Mugabe has not declared "emergency powers" yet but he is building up to it. He will accept no criticism.

In 1999 the crackdown on the media started when four journalists from the weekly Zimbabwe Mirror were arrested. Editor Ibbo Mandaza and reporter Grace Kwinjeh appeared in court on charges of spreading alarm and despondency under the Law and Order (Maintenance) Act. They were released on bail. The two other journalists were released unconditionally. This follows a spate of stories carried by the newspaper on the army's role in Congo., Mugabe's mismanagement of the economy, and Zimbabwe's involvement in the war as reasons for their intended action. This was reported by the semi-independent The Standard and both the editor and journalist responsible had to go into hiding after being severely beaten in army headquarters. The apprehended soldiers are still held at the Chikurubi maximum prison, pending court martial.

Mugabe warned of "stern measures" against the media and said that newspapers publishing stories he deemed to be untrue forfeited their right to the protection of the law.

The Zimbabwe Mirror had past carried stories on Cabinet opposition to the Congo war and the return from the battlefront of a soldier's body without a head. The report infuriated the Ministry of Defence, which exhumed the soldier's remains in a bid to prove the story false, and led to the charges. Soldiers in the Zimbabwe National Army who refuse to fight in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), have been arrested as army authorities fear they may influence other troops to defy military orders.

These mitineers, believed to number about 20, defied military orders when President Robert Mugabe personally ordered the immediate deployment of Zimbabwean troops to the embattled central African country. The arrested soldiers are being held in the Chikurubi and Brady barracks where they are guarded in grounds patrolled by dogs.

But the soldiers are believed to have questioned the interpretation of clause five since Zimbabwe's involvement in the DRC was not a universal decision. Normally, when a United Nations resolution on conflict is implemented, member states within the UN are asked to send troops to protect the legitimate government from being overthrown militarily. In the case of the DRC, there were no resolutions made by the UN, or the Southern Africa Development Community. Only a few leaders with personal and not national interests, agreed to intervene. Our soldiers have a right to refuse to go there," said senior members of the ZNA, adding that those who are dying in the DRC were dying for nothing.

The Zimbabwe Mirror's lawyer said he would appeal to the Supreme Court to test whether the Law and Order (Maintenance) Act, due for repeal this year, was consistent with the right to freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution.

Reflecting the new hard line, Minister of Information Chen Chimutengwende last year said newspapers benefiting from donor support or foreign investment would not be allowed to establish themselves in future.

In an address, Mugabe fuelled a growing constitutional crisis by blasting the judiciary which had asked him for assurances that he would uphold the rule of law following his government's rejection of high court orders for the release of The Standard's journalists. Describing the calls from four judges, three from the Supreme Court for a public statement as "an outrageous and deliberate act of judicial impudence", he told them to resign if they wanted to take on political issues.

The NCA, a civil society forum geared to reform the country's autocratic Constitution said, faced with growing resistance, Mugabe was increasingly resorting to coercion as a means of containing his critics. In August, a revamped Zapu 2000 will field candidates for the 11 councillors' posts in Victoria Falls municipalityand will likely do well amongst the Ndebele people,

One candidate is travel agent Silas Khuphe. His angle, cited in the South African Mail & Guardian is that local residents benefit little from the more than half a million tourists that visit each year. "Tax revenue and the tourist levy are siphoned off by the central government. Discrimination against Ndebele people", says Khuphe, "does the rest." On top of poverty, Ndebele people complain of systematic discrimination. "Our children are less able to get into good schools, locals do not have a fair share of civil service jobs and it is hard to get a bank loan," says Sibanda, who is Ndebele. "You could easily compile a whole catalogue of examples."

Of the 10 biggest hotels in Victoria Falls, none has an Ndebele manager. "Each manager brings workers from his area," says Khuphe.


So what is the future of Zimbabwe? Mugabe is certainly not an Ide Amin figure like certain British media noted. Nor is he a Saddam Hussain because he doesn't have the power. There exists a strong working class union which prohibits him from becoming like Saddam. In many respects he is more like a Milosovich figure who tries to use the rural poor to bolster his wealth and influence. While land resdistribution is definitely on the cards (and Europe and the US have already accepted this in principle) both the Commercial Farmers Union and Mugabe have joined hands in forgetting their own histories, where only a quarter of a century ago while at war, Rodesia was banning demonstrations and hanging the father's generation as terrorists, or forcibly rounding them up into village concentration camps under the Law and Order Maintenance Act. Not to recognise this is to forfeit any respect of history.

But perhaps President Mugabe's biggest challenge at the moment is the economy. It is increasingly becoming apparent that there is no way he can turn it around. With inflation running over 100%, the country has been on a downslide over the past two years and all efforts to turn it around have failed. He is unpredictable and could go to shocking lengths to maintain his position of power. Lengths which might declare a state of emergency in Zimbabwe and the total clamp-down on any criticism. Meanwhile the ordinary Zimbabweans are the ones that suffer. Paraffin for lighting has become too expensive for a good section of the population. Inflation is probably over 100% and things like toilet rolls become a luxury. Given Zimbabwe's role of No. 1 in the HIV/AIDS figures, (some 26% of the population testing positive) it is just another hardship that poor people must bear. In the present situation Mugabe's cynicism is not a friend of the Zimbabwean poor.

Written by PM - April 2000

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