In recent weeks, ZANU PF has upped its usual rhetoric about the so-called sanctions imposed by Western nations, including the US, Canada, Australia and the European Union. Despite the measures being specifically targeted against Robert Mugabe and key members of his regime, and NOT against the country itself, ZANU PF continues to use the measures as the scapegoat for the problems created by the party’s control of Zimbabwe.
This includes blaming the measures for issues like the economic turmoil Zimbabwe faced pre-2009, and even the cholera epidemic of 2008.
So what is the truth?
My first guest is Geoffrey Van Orden MEP, who is the Chairman of the European Parliament ‘Friends of Zimbabwe’ group, and who has for many years spearheaded the Parliament’s campaign for freedom and democratic change in Zimbabwe. Mr. Van Orden, thank you for joining us on SW Radio Africa. First off, please explain what the targeted sanctions imposed by the European Union are and why they were imposed in the first place?
Van Orden: Well they were introduced over a decade ago in response to the deterioration in the political and economic situation and human rights situation in Zimbabwe. You’ll remember, if you go back to 2001/2002, Mugabe became angry that he’d been challenged in his position of leadership and decided to take it out on all those that he saw in any way opposing him in Zimbabwe and as a consequence, there were farm seizures, there were attacks on opposition activists, journalists were arrested, we saw a really brutal side of the regime and the international community, not just the Europeans but in the United States and beyond, the international community looked with horror at what was taking place in that part of Africa, which after all, there had been such hopes.
When we looked at South Africa at the end of apartheid, and then we had a transition in Zimbabwe which seemed to be very optimistic and hopeful and then there was this awful deterioration. And so the international community, which after all provided a lot of aid and assistance to Zimbabwe, wondered how it could best react and therefore the European Union decided that, under pressure by the way from members of the European Parliament such as myself, decided that they would introduce measures that would impact, not on the people of Zimbabwe but on those that were responsible for the brutality and the terrible infringements of human rights and the breakdown of law and order in Zimbabwe.
And so measures were introduced specifically against a relatively small number of people and we’re talking about first of all of course an arms embargo but also a travel ban and an asset freeze on a fairly limited number of individuals, now, including of course Mugabe and his immediate family.
So that’s where it began and of course Mugabe and his people have always screamed that oh well of course this was why we have these economic problems and this is why there’s been hardship in the country – that of course is complete nonsense. This was a response to that hardship; it was the very fact that Mugabe was destroying what had been a very vibrant and successful economy and brutally taking it out on all those that opposed him – it was a response to that.
Bell: The state media in Zimbabwe of course blithely refers to these measures as sanctions against Zimbabwe – so again to clarify – these aren’t sanctions against Zimbabwe but targeted measures against key people.
Van Orden: Well we call them restrictive measures; they are travel bans on certain key people, an arms embargo, and asset freezes against those same people and always they’ve been aimed at a small number of people, and one or two companies which were bankrolling Mugabe and his people and were pillaging the system.
Bell: Mr. Van Orden we’ve seen in recent weeks, since the election in Zimbabwe, the rhetoric from the state media about these measures has increased exponentially with the measures once again becoming the scapegoat for the economic turmoil in the country and even things like cholera – your reaction?
Van Orden: Well the fact is that the European Union for example, took the decision some while ago to suspend a number of these restrictive measures and in fact the number of people who are now affected by them is very small. As things stand at the moment there is still of course the arms embargo, but there’s also a travel ban and an asset freeze on just ten individuals including Mugabe and his wife and eight other senior military and political figures that are closely associated with Mugabe and two entities which have been particularly exploitative – the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation and Zimbabwe Defence Industries. Now these are the only people who are directly affected by the restrictive measures at the moment so it is complete nonsense to try and explain any other problems that they are having in the economy because of these measures.
Bell: Again though the rhetoric in the state media is that because these particular entities are under these restrictive measures, it stops the key industries like the diamond industry from contributing effectively to society. But is this just smoke and mirrors coming from the state media?
Van Orden: Absolutely. If we thought for a moment that the mineral resources of Zimbabwe were being used for the benefit of the people of Zimbabwe it would be a different matter. What we see is certain people lining their pockets through these benefits. I should add another thing by the way, that although we’ve had these restrictive measures in place, some of them for a decade or more, the fact is that we’ve continued to give enormous amounts of development assistance to Zimbabweans, to the Zimbabwe people. We’ve supported the health sector, we’ve supported agriculture, we’ve provided food aid and many other areas of support. We’re talking about some eight hundred million dollars worth of assistance over the last few years so there’s been enormous assistance pumped into the Zimbabwean economy and society by the West if you like. But what we’ve tried to do is impact on those people who are abusing the people for their own benefit.
Bell: A final question then Mr. Van Orden, the EU stance has always been that the measures would be lifted if there was real democratic progress in the country – does that position remain?
Van Orden: Well as I said, there are only a few measures that still remain, they are suspended I should say – and that means that all the measures could be reintroduced at the drop of a hat if there was an indication of a return to the violent abuse that we’ve seen in the past. I think it remains to be seen, we’ve had the elections in Zimbabwe fairly recently; it was obviously a very disappointing result for the democratic forces in Zimbabwe and Mugabe and his team have managed to cling on to power, I think we need to see how things pan out over the coming few weeks before we can make a final decision on what action we should now take.
Bell: That was Geoffrey Van Orden, the Member of the European Parliament who is the chairman of the Parliament’s Friends of Zimbabwe group. As Van Orden explained in that interview the targeted measures have not been against Zimbabwe and yet ZANU PF insists that the measures are to blame for certain issues like hyperinflation. I recently spoke to independent economist John Robertson who explained what the real reasons for hyperinflation are.
Robertson: Hyperinflation was caused by the incredible level of indiscipline that was being shown by the central bank and its efforts to justify and bolster the various measures taken by government, which in themselves were so damaging to the country’s productive capacity. So the reason we had hyperinflation in the first place was a sequence which started with the collapse of the agricultural sector which was the country’s biggest industrial sector.
Now all of that collapsed with land reform and the reason for the collapse in financial terms was the removal of the collateral value of the land. The land had previously been pledged by the farm owners in support of their applications for bank loans and when the banks could no longer lend to the new farmers because they were given the land, they were not sold the land and the land had no market value because it was now claimed to be the property of the state.
So with no market value the land could not support any of the loan applications that the new farmers wanted to put to the banks and with no money to work with, the Reserve Bank was obliged to fill the gap by providing inputs and financial support to those farmers. So the Reserve Bank was actually responsible for generating vast amounts of money that were handed over in support of the new efforts to make land reform successful.
It still wasn’t successful because the inputs that the people gained control over were easily sold because at the same time we were generating massive scarcities throughout the economy so when they were given these scarce inputs they quickly found the market for them and so they didn’t apply them to the business of producing crops and so land reform has remained a total failure ever since.
Bell: When you hear things like the sanctions are to blame then for the problems that we’ve seen in health care, in basic services, leading to things like cholera – what do you make of that?
Robertson: Well that’s a very twisted piece of logic. Sanctions applied to the business sector of the country would mean that no company could buy what they wanted to buy from foreign countries that were applying sanctions and no company was manufacturing goods that could be exported would be able to export these goods to any country that was applying sanctions.
The fact is that whatever you are producing, if you can find a market for them you can sell them and whatever you want to buy in this country, if you’ve got the money to pay for it you can buy whatever you want so sanctions are not applicable in this story. We don’t have sanctions against the business sector.
The sanctions that were applied against individuals because these same individuals were accused of being guilty of human rights abuses, these sanctions did not affect the economy directly and it was the lack of earnings from the exporting companies in the country that meant that there was a shortage of money that might have been of assistance to the hospitals to prevent the cholera epidemic or money that might have been available to maintain the electricity supplies or the roads or the water supplies or whatever.
So the lack of money was because we were no longer earning it. Once land reform started we lacked the ability from then on to service the debts we already had and therefore it was enormously difficult to borrow yet more money when we were not servicing the debts that were already in place. So all these were very much the effects of land reform and not the effects of sanctions.
Bell: That was independent economist John Robertson. And finally tonight I’m joined by political analyst Charles Mangongera to discuss why ZANU PF is increasing its propaganda about the sanctions in the weeks since the elections on July 31st. Mr. Mangongera thank you very much for joining us on SW Radio Africa. Why do you think the party is increasing its rhetoric about this issue?
Mongongera: Well I think that it’s a realization on the part of Zanu PF’s strategists that they have a monumental challenge in terms of ensuring that they deliver on electoral promises that they made during and before the July 31 elections. You need to understand that they are inheriting an economy with a lot of structural challenges.
The GNU managed to stabilize the economy but it didn’t actually grow it in terms of ensuring that it provides jobs. If you look at the rate of unemployment in Zimbabwe, you’re talking of 80% formal unemployment and there are a lot of people, youngsters that are leaving universities and colleges who are going to be demanding jobs and people in Zanu PF realize that this is going to be a difficult task and therefore they have to start creating, it’s a preemptive attempt to shift the blame from their ineptitude to the issue of sanctions.
If you read their manifesto, it is a litany of complaints – sanctions did this to us, the MDC did this to us, civil society organizations did this to us – so they realize that it’s time to deliver now and it’s going to be difficult so they have to start creating these imaginary enemies and sanctions are an obvious target.
If you look at, I have always challenged people in Zanu PF to say look at the trade data between European countries and the USA for instance – it shows that there is growing trade between Zimbabwe and these countries but these restrictions which are targeted at individuals really, they have had no effect on the economy and therefore I think that as long as those measures are there, Zanu PF people are going to continuously point to them and say that’s the reason why we can’t deliver even though it’s a result of their lack of visionary leadership. They don’t have a plan for the country, they don’t have a plan to ensure that this country takes off and delivers the kind of livelihoods that citizens would like to see.
Bell: Do you think though that the rhetoric is working in some respects because more and more people do seem to be agreeing that sanctions could be to blame for many issues?
Mongongera: Well you know propaganda or a lie that is repeated often times will end up convincing people and it’s unfortunate that not everyone in Zimbabwe, we know that Zimbabwe has got very well educated and literate people but I think that not many people are not smart enough to realize that this is a propaganda campaign and I fear that some of it has found resonance in the citizens and some have tended to believe that sanctions really are hurting the Zimbabwean economy.
But if you go back to several opinion surveys that have been conducted by various institutes, the Mass Public Opinion Institute for instance in Harare, you’ll find that people have not really believed this rhetoric that sanctions are an issue. They know that these so-called sanctions are measures that are targeting very few individuals.
The European Union for instance removed several names from the list at the time that the new constitution was enacted and people in Zanu PF should see that these are measures that have been put in place because of certain things that are happening.
As those that have imposed those measures have said – they are targeted at individuals that are seen as undermining democratic transition in Zimbabwe so the fact that when progress was made, when political progress was made around the constitutional issue they actually removed those sanctions shows that indeed if Harare adheres to democratic principles, then Brussels and Washington would have an obligation to remove these measures.
But I think that generally people are not going to be listening to issues of sanctions and the blame game and so forth. Zanu PF is claiming that they won resoundingly so people are going to be demanding to say you have the mandate, you claim that you have the mandate of the people, can you deliver on what you promised?
Bell: There are a growing number of people saying that we should take away the scapegoat by removing the sanctions – do you think that should happen despite the lack of democratic progress that Zanu PF has really been responsible for?
Mangongera: Well I think that’s the prerogative of the governments that actually imposed these measures and I think that there’s a whole lot of debate on whether these sanctions really have achieved their intended objective which is delivering democratic transition in Zimbabwe.
Some will say – look since 2002 when these measures were put in place to date we realize that there’s been insignificant progress that has been made, in particular the enactment of the new constitution and the question is whether there is going to be consolidation of these democratic breakthroughs but of course with the electoral process we saw a democratic reversal so it’s a debate that many people are saying yes there’s been progress to some extent but would you really attribute that progress to these restrictive measures and really I cannot give a hard and fast answer on that but I think that the fact that those that have been targeted are actually screaming about it, shows that there’s some level of pain and if that level of pain is going to help in terms of delivering democratic transition in Zimbabwe then probably there’s need to maintain the pressure on these individuals but others will argue and say look you are giving these people a scapegoat, you are giving them a reason to even clamp down on human rights and say because we are under sanctions then we have no obligation to respect rights.
Even their argument on the diamonds – they will tell you that because we are under sanctions, we are not going to be transparent and accountable in terms of how we are selling our diamonds and spending the revenue.
So it’s a whole debate and it depends on really whether people think that the restrictive measures are delivering democracy in Zimbabwe but I think that the ultimate goal, the ultimate aim of any of these measures should be to ensure that the people of Zimbabwe are able to participate freely in political processes and elect a government of their choice.
Bell: And as we’ve seen by these last elections, that’s not necessarily happening yet.
Mangongera: Well that’s not happening, as I said with this particular election, we have witnessed serious democratic reversals. I think that it’s really a sad moment, not only for Zimbabweans but Africa in general. For the key institutions like SADC and the African Union, COMESA and so forth to actually endorse this farcical election to say it produced a legitimate government, I think that it brings to question really the democratic credentials of not only the leaders in Harare but those in SADC and some of those key institutions and the fact that this has happened is actually going to make people despondent and they are going to lose confidence in electoral processes and their ability to deliver change, so really I think that there is not much progress that has been made and it then begs the question – do we maintain the same measures that we have maintained over the years or there is need for maybe new mechanisms, new ways of ensuring that there’s adherence to democratic practice.
Bell: That was political analyst Charles Mangongera. And on that note Zimbabwe, we have come to the end of tonight’s special programme on SW Radio Africa. If you have any comments or queries about tonight’s show you can get in contact at any time by emailing [email protected] You can also find us on Facebook and on Twitter, or if you prefer you can message us on WhatsApp – just add our number – that’s +44 7773119485. For now though it’s time for me to say goodnight, thank you for joining me, Alex Bell on the show.News