Outside looking in: A letter from the diaspora

This will be my last letter for 2011. I am going into hospital next week for an operation and it’s unlikely I’ll be functioning properly again until the New Year.

This weekly Letter from the diaspora is intended to show how affairs in Zimbabwe look to someone who knows the country well but is no longer a resident. Cathy Buckle’s Letter, on the other hand, comes from inside and reflects the daily realities of life in Zimbabwe: the water and power shortages, the vagaries of the economic situation and the effects of politics on ordinary people’s lives.

Cathy has the dubious pleasure of hearing and seeing for herself the ZBC/ZTV coverage of events- in and outside Zimbabwe – while people in the diaspora can only guess what ‘Idiot News’ is saying. What Cathy can do that people in the diaspora can’t, is see the beauty of nature in Zimbabwe: the birds, plants, trees and wide African skies – and she does that beautifully. It is my hope that the two Letters, taken together, give a rounded and accurate picture of life in Zimbabwe, particularly now as the country goes into the 3rd year of a GNU.

There was general agreement that the GNU had at least succeeded in stabilising the economy. Looking back to the economic madness of 2008, a year before the formation of the GNU, the Zim.dollar had become the laughing stock of the world. Now, in 2011, Tendai Biti has presented a budget which has earned him praise as ‘the best finance minister since Independence’. His budget was hailed as a genuine people’s budget. It was a shock to hear that MPs from both sides of the house chose to hold up the budget until they were given their allowances. Friday brought the news that the MPs’ action was successful and they will be paid the arrears in their allowances.

This week the stories about Morgan Tsvangirai’s personal life reached fever pitch and politics played its sordid part even there. This time it was the dirtiest brand of Zanu PF politics as practised by the state controlled media which delights in spreading scurrilous rumours about Mugabe’s opponents. Today, Tsvangirai issued a detailed statement clarifying the whole matter – and not before time.

The story, had it been allowed to run, was deeply damaging to Tsvangirai’s reputation. That, of course, was the intention of the Zanu PF rumour mongers; politics at its very dirtiest! Another example of dirty politics this week was the issuing of bags of maize – to Zanu PF supporters only – bearing pictures of Robert Mugabe. Whether this was intended to show that the 10kg bag of maize was the personal gift of Robert Mugabe is not clear but it must certainly have seemed like that to the recipients.

It was Ignatious Chombo, the Minister of Local Government, who revealed the depths to which Zanu PF politics will sink, so desperate are they to retain power. Chombo was addressing a meeting of village headmen about a boundary dispute but, despite the fact that all three political parties had earlier united to call for peace, Chombo turned his address into a violent political rant. He told the assembled headmen that they had to support Robert Mugabe in the next election; if they supported Tsvangirai they would face dire consequences.

No Zanu PF member would ever spend time in a cell for defending their territory, he said! And it was then that Chombo told the chiefs and headmen something which we have all known for a very long time – but it was no less shocking for that: “Zanu PF controls the police,” he said, “and tells them who to arrest and keep because they (the police) never say no to their instructions.”

To hear a cabinet minister making such an admission is profoundly shocking. Chombo has been castigated for inciting public violence but what he said to that group of traditional leaders goes much further than that because it undermines the very foundations of the democratic state which Zimbabwe claims to be.

Not a good omen for democratic politics in Zimbabwe in 2012. With very best wishes for Christmas and the New Year to all Zimbabweans, at home and in the diaspora.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH. Pauline Henson.

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