Review of 2005

By Violet Gonda 2005 was undoubtedly an agonising year for most Zimbabweans. This was the year that saw the Mugabe regime flexing its muscle and tightening its grip on power. From the imposition of draconian laws, rigging elections, acts of violence, arresting journalists and activists to continued

illegal farm evictions. Zimbabweans had to deal with the never-ending price increases and worsening standards of living. These are some of the issues that made headlines this past year. On September 16 the constitution of Zimbabwe amendment no. 17 was passed, signalling the end to people’s civil liberties. Among other things, this saw the legalisation of farm invasions and the introduction of the controversial senate. Soon after the March parliamentary elections the government embarked on a brutal exercise, code named Operation Murambatsvina that severely affected hundreds of thousands of people by pushing them out of their homes. Many say it was punishment for the way they voted in the elections, and an insidious strategy to rig or predetermine future elections. Paradoxically, this cruel exercise started around the time Africa was celebrating May 25, a day designated as Africa Day. A day to celebrate Pan -Africanism. On this day Africans are expected to reflect on what the continent has achieved since its independence. For Zimbabweans however, it was a time in which many people lost their livelihood to police raids. The Government of Zimbabwe became an anathema to the noble African cause as Zimbabweans battled with food and fuel shortages, as well as police and military brutality. The police used brutal force and burnt to the ground property belonging to the residents in places such as Hatcliffe Extension. At times residents were forced to burn their own belongings and later loaded onto trucks and dumped at Caledonian Farm without food, water or clothes. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights reported that army officials were in charge of transit camps where the government is keeping victims of Operation Murambatsvina. The story is no different: for one to get food aid one has to carry a Zanu (PF) card. Badly needed food continues to be distributed in a partisan manner and the situation has been made worse by the fact that human rights groups and churches are denied access, to impoverished communities. The economic crisis also added to the nightmare. The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe says prices of bread, milk and cooking oil increased 10 fold in the last 12 months. Bread cost ZW$ 3,500 in January 2005 and now if you are lucky you may get a loaf for “as little” as ZW$44,000. The West has imposed travel restrictions against top officials of the Mugabe regime, and urged African leaders to take steps to pressure Mugabe to change his policies. The New Partnership for African Development (Nepad) is largely aimed at boosting investment and aid in Africa, with good governance and peer review mechanisms at the core. In his official “Letter from the President” column on the ANC website in August, South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki wrote that Mugabe’s policies were a stumbling block to regional growth, and that his actions had an impact on the rest of the region. He wrote that a stable and prosperous Zimbabwe was critical and urged the country to play a central role in the struggle to achieve the goals spelt out in the SADC Treaty. This was one of the few times that Mbeki came close to openly criticising his neighbour and time ally Robert Mugabe. But he still avoided direct criticism of issues such as oppressive legislation, the chaotic and illegal seizures of land, and the absence of independent media in the country. Mbeki has been accused of shifting goal posts where Zimbabwe is concerned, as demonstrated in March when he prematurely declared that “the general elections in Zimbabwe are going to be free and fair.” Director of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Arnold Tsunga dismissed the statement as an act of betrayal by Mbeki, saying he compromised his efforts to lead the search for a solution to the political crisis and openly sided with a dictatorial regime. Mbeki’s Government was also faced with mounting criticism over discussions aimed at granting its cash-strapped neighbour a substantial line of credit worth hundreds of millions of rand. Under normal circumstances, an act of goodwill by South Africa to Zimbabwe would not be controversial, but given the current notoriety of the Mugabe regime and the human rights abuses, any help Mbeki offered would taint South Africa’s reputation. Ultimately Zimbabwe is living on a time bomb. Observers predict an implosion in 2006 if the 81-year-old dictator continues with his hard-line policies that have destroyed the economy. Agriculture, once a mainstay of Zimbabwe’s economy, has dramatically declined as a result of chaotic farm invasions, drought, lack of inputs and skilled labour. This has also led to the critical shortages of foreign currency and almost non-existent investment. With all this happening, most people had pinned their hopes on the country’s main opposition party, the MDC, but have been disappointed by the divisions that have rocked the six-year-old party. The internal conflict, which started off over a dispute on whether or not to participate in the senate elections, has now become a game of tug of war between the leadership in the troubled MDC. Both sides are now preparing to hold their own congress, a sign that neither side is recognising the other. Both camps have suspended each other. A leading political commentator and one of the advisors for the MDC, Professor Brian Raftopoulos, said the internal divisions in the opposition party were now too deep to reconcile. He described the infighting in the MDC as a major tragedy for them as a party and for the people of Zimbabwe who have put so much faith in them. The infighting has left some asking if the MDC is capable of mobilising mass protests. Raftopoulos said at the moment it looked very grim, there appeared to be no strategy around mobilisation. The infighting has drained the party and cost a lot in terms of capacity to mobilise. But journalist Chris Chinaka has predicted that former Trade Unionist Morgan Tsvangirai will carry the day at the party’s Congress scheduled for early this year. With many senior diplomats declaring that it is too soon to write off the charismatic MDC leader from the political scene. Political commentator Dr John Makumbe said that the only way out of the crisis for the people of Zimbabwe was a face-to-face confrontation with Mugabe. He was speaking after failed mass stayaways organised by the Broad Alliance (a coalition of opposition, civic and church groups), in June. If the price for freedom is a face-to-face confrontation with the regime, is Zimbabwe ready for this? We will find out in 2006.

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