SADC Must Find Immediate, Equitable Solution to Zimbabwean Crisis

SADC Must Find Immediate, Equitable Solution to Zimbabwean Crisis

Emily Wellman

The financial and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe is now so grave that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) mediators meeting in Harare today must find an immediate solution to the impasse and halt the country's headlong plunge into chaos and despair.

Independent Zimbabwean analysts estimated last week’s inflation rate at 1.4 billion, far surpassing the hyperinflation levels of any country on record.

They report that hyperinflation is escalating at 50 percent a day and heading towards the trillions.

The exchange rate is currently around Z$5-billion to US$1 and by the end of the month is predicted to spiral to Z$9-billion.

Devoid of solutions to the financial fallout, the Zimbabwean government continues to print vast amounts of worthless bank notes.

Consequently the Zimbabwean dollar is at the point where it is unable to hold its value for more than two hours and is being discarded in favour of the US dollar or South African Rand.

The only solution, analysts say, is to take control of the economy out of the hands of Mugabe.

Ironically the Ministry of Finance is one of the disputed ministries in the stalled negotiations.

“If the mediation results in a stalemate, the solution will be to immediately set up a combined AU / UN / SADC force to co-ordinate and supervise a fast-tracked presidential election authorising the use of identity documents for verification,” said a Harare-based analyst.

However, the holding of yet another election poses significant problems.

The voters’ roll remains in  shambles and requires a complete overhaul.  It also has to be produced in an electronic format which can be easily accessed.

Another stumbling block is that, according to the current constitution, people have to vote in their wards which means displaced people cannot vote outside of their constituencies..

In the run-up to the June 27 presidential run-off election, the government-sponsored violence was of such intensity that thousands of people were forced to abandon their homes and flee for their lives.

During the attacks, hundreds of homes were burnt to the ground by Zanu PF militia and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party estimated that as many as 200 000 people had been displaced countrywide.

Given the bloodshed during the last presidential election it is hard to see how elections could be undertaken without foreign troops or a terrible loss of life

There is also another – and as yet unquantified – population movement taking place.

Employees whose companies have closed down due to the economic and political chaos are having to leave the cities where food is also becoming scarce and return to their homes in the rural areas.

The Diaspora is yet another question.  Although estimates vary widely of the number of displaced Zimbabweans in the region – notably in South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique – in excess of three million people could be involved.

Angered by their disenfranchisement in previous elections, members of the Diaspora have expressed the desire to return home to exercise their right as citizens of Zimbabwe to vote for the president of their choice.

However, it will only be feasible for those in the SADC region to return if their security can be assured and if there is sufficient food available to ensure they do not become a burden on their struggling families.

This also raises the question of funding.  The majority will require financial assistance to return home.

Travel documentation will also have to be resolved since many do not have passports having entered neighbouring countries illegally.

A further issue is the sourcing of polling agents.  In previous elections, teachers played a significant role but were victimised by the regime, some suffering extreme brutality.

Consequently, thousands of trained polling agents fled for their lives to South Africa, neighbouring states and overseas where they are now widely scattered and attempting to rebuild their lives.

The fallout in the educational sector is so profound that the Professional Teachers’ Association of Zimbabwe (PUTZ) estimates only about 7 percent of the 3-million school-age children in the country are being educated.

In some instances, pupils have only had 23 days of effective teaching the entire year.

The PUTZ therefore anticipates a catastrophic pass rate in this year’s examinations of just 3 percent and Raymond Majongwe, the secretary-general, has made the unprecedented call for the 2008 academic year to be cancelled.

The agricultural outlook is correspondingly bleak and this year’s harvest is described as the worst in Zimbabwe’s modern history.

In many rural areas there is neither food on the ground nor in the shops.

Mugabe’s Zanu PF party has once again taken control of the distribution of agricultural inputs such as maize seed and fertilizer for the 2008/09 season.

This has been organised through the Reserve Bank, which has bought up seed and centralised the distribution of agricultural inputs.

General Constantine Chiwenga, the commander of Zimbabwe’s defence forces, who was given the responsibility of identifying the beneficiaries of agricultural inputs, has been handing them out at Zanu PF rallies to party members and senior officials.

According to IRIN, a few “A1” small scale and communal farmers and “A2” new black commercial farmers are known to have received seed and fertilizer but ordinary card carrying Zanu PF members and villagers have been told that inputs have run out.

The situation is now so dire that whole villages are faced with no food and welfare organisations warn that entire families are dying.

UK charity Save the Children reports that thousands of children have dropped out of schools devoid of learning materials to search the already heavily plundered countryside for edible roots and berries.

“In one district, 10 000 children out of a population of 120 000 left school over a period of six months,” said Rachel Pounds, the charity’s country director.

“If it wasn’t for aid organisations such as World Vision and the remittances from family members in the Diaspora, we would already have starvation levels of the proportions of Biafra during the 1960s on our hands,” said a humanitarian worker in Matabeleland province.

Food is also becoming in increasingly short supply in the towns and cities, with row upon row of empty shelves in supermarkets.

What little food is available is so expensive that it is beyond the means of most people.

The chaotic situation has been compounded by the fact that the government has set a maximum daily withdrawal limit of Z$50 000.

To put its value into perspective, Z$50 000 will buy the hard-pressed consumer just one loaf of bread – and in certain outlets only four slices.

As a result, millions of man-hours are being wasted while people wait in the endless queues that choke crumbling city pavements.

Since it has become almost impossible for companies to withdraw adequate cash – which is in effect worthless anyway, they are resorting to paying staff in goods such as salt, beans and the staple maize meal – if they can locate supplies.

According to the financial director of a large company in Bulawayo the chaotic situation is further exacerbated by the fact that it is virtually impossible to use cheques.

“If you are given a cheque, by the time it has been cleared it has lost 20 percent of its value,” he said.  “And if a client tells you he will pay by cheque, you have to add on such a substantial mark up that it further fuels inflation.”

Given the worthless state of the Zimbabwean dollar, companies and individuals are increasingly refusing to accept it as a currency.

When the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe is no longer able to continue its practice of purchasing foreign currency on the black market, some analysts predict it could finally collapse.

They point out that, with 50 percent of this year’s budget allocated to the armed forces, Zanu PF has no financial reserves to feed or provide support to the starving population, or to keep the country running.

A consequence of the economic and humanitarian fallout that Zimbabwe’s neighbours cannot afford is a major escalation of desperate Zimbabweans crossing into their countries in search of jobs, food and, increasingly medical support.

The health care sector, which has been teetering on the brink for months, has effectively collapsed.

Parirenyatwa Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in Harare, announced last week that it had stopped hospital admissions with immediate effect due to a chronic shortage of staff, drugs and food.

Even the fortunate few who have been on private medical schemes through their companies can no longer afford to get ill, or even to book a doctor’s appointment.

Medical aid tariffs have rocketed from four to seventy times the salary of an office worker and just one tube of antiseptic ointment costs Z$200 million which equates to more than a year’s salary.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) has expressed outrage at the worsening situation in government hospitals.

Douglas Gwatidzo, ZADHR Chairman, says he fears that increasing numbers of lives will be lost and has called for immediate intervention.

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki has been forced to share the responsibility of finding a solution to the impasse with SADC leaders, who effectively have two choices.

Either they admit that the allocation of ministries tabled by the Movement for Democratic Change is fair and use this as a basis for an equitable solution, or they accept the deliberately skewed demands of Mugabe and Zanu PF who are determined to retain power.

Realistically, and in the interests of their own electorates, SADC cannot afford the catastrophic consequences of a failed member state and the resulting fallout if they fail to act decisively.

The time for protracted negotiations and deferring to aging dictators is over.


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