Zimbabwe Again

So overwhelmingly negative is the reportage from Iraq that I find myself doubting the UK Independent report I wrote about last week, claiming that more people are dying in Zimbabwe than in Iraq. No, it can’t be- 3500 dying a week, that’s an enormous number – it just can’t be right, I find myself thinking. Now here it is again, coming from the well known and respected Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube.


“Cemeteries are filling up throughout the country, but no blood is being spilt,” he told a private meeting of politicians and church leaders in London Nov. 22. “People are just fading away, dying quietly and being buried quietly with no fanfare, and so there is little media attention.”

As many people die prematurely in Zimbabwe in one week as in one month in Iraq when the violence is at its worst, he said. In October, 3,700 people died in Iraq.

The mortality rate in Zimbabwe is also a thousand per week higher than the Darfur region of western Sudan, where a genocidal campaign by government-backed militias against local tribes has claimed an average of 2,500 lives a week since 2003.

I know and love Zimbabwe and have spent considerable time there – mostly in Bulawayo and in Matabeleland of which it is the historic capital. The Archbishop is the long time Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, not some shadowy stringer used by the news services to manufacture the worst possible spin on events in Iraq. Archbishop Ncube has consistently and strongly opposed Mugabe and his ZANU PF government’s policies for years and openly and vocally supported the opposition MDC (Movement for Democratic Change). Even Robert Mugabe has not dared eliminate Pius Ncube. An excerpt about the MDC from the Wikipedia article linked above:

The MDC is a party that supports recognition of and protection from Zimbabwe’s AIDS epidemic, economic liberalization through investment in rural infrastructure and privatization of selected government parastatals, a land-redistribution policy based upon the rule of law and a willing buyer/willing seller basis, and constitutional amendments limiting further the unilateral power of the executive branch of government.

The rest of what Archbishop Ncube had to say is worth reading. The sources of his statistics seem to me respectable and the level to which things have sunk in Zimbabwe are worse than in Iraq.

Archbishop Ncube said World Health Organization figures reveal that life expectancy in Zimbabwe is the lowest in the world — 34 years for women and 37 years for men.

The U.N. World Food Program estimates that 6.1 million Zimbabweans, about half of the 12 million population, face starvation.

The archbishop said Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate is 80 percent, and the country has the fastest-declining economy in the world.

Archbishop Ncube, who was in London to raise funds for an AIDS charity, blamed the crisis on the mismanagement of the country under Mugabe over the last seven years.

“Zimbabwe is not a nation at war,” Archbishop Ncube said. “It used to be able to feed itself and its neighbors. Zimbabwe used to have one of the highest life-expectancy rates in Africa.

“And these figures cannot just be blamed on AIDS,” he added.

He said the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front government, or Zanu-PF, was not investing in medicine to treat AIDS because it was “more interested in importing military aircraft from China than protecting (the) lives of its people.”

“We remain in the grip of a dictator. … We cannot compete for attention in a world fixated by events in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Sudan and elsewhere. Yet we need the international community to maintain pressure on Zanu-PF now as much as ever before,” he said.

I saw the first phase of this devastating attack by the government on its own people. Every time I visited from 1998 to 2002 the economic activity had visibly declined. At the end of my time there the streets of Bulawayo were eerily quiet and I even found myself being offered gold mines for a few thousand dollars by local miners I knew. There was no mass starvation in early 2002, but the AIDS epidemic was in full swing. I recall talking to a domestic worker who had just lost two of her female relatives in the same week to the disease. She was devastated, yet stoic because she knew that sort of thing was happening everywhere.

Still the current situation is a horrendous escalation and is now clearly at the level of democide (the killing by government of its own people) experienced in Cambodia and Iraq. Democide in Cambodia, which includes the casualties of the civil war, is usually estimated as something over 1 million and as high as in excess of 2 million. Before the war in Iraq, Human Rights Watch put the number killed by Saddam Hussein at 300,000 and many more mass graves have been found since. But Mugabe’s policies resemble those of Pol Pot more than Saddam Hussein. He is like Saddam Hussein in that he is a warlord who will do anything to stay in power, but he has an ideological streak that is reminiscent of Pol Pot. Like Pol Pot in Cambodia he claims that wants to take Zimbabwe back to a kind of agrarian purity that existed before the whites came to Zimbabwe in numbers in the 1890s. One of the common ways for poor urban Zimbabweans to survive has been to sell such things as carvings of African animals to tourists in flea markets, yet Mugabe over the past two years has burned these markets and also destroyed the informal housing of the owners of these business in a campaign he called Operation Murambatsvina or ‘drive out the rubbish.’ Part of the idea was to force these people to return to the countryside and the subsistence lifestyle of their forebears. The real reason was that these informal traders were helping themselves and their countrymen survive by building an effective parallel or black market economy. In any case, the victims of this campaign are now among those dying of starvation. Here is a photo from Amnesty Internatioanl Canada of the operation:


This is a contemporary account of Operation Murambatsvina by Barbara Slaughter from 2005. An excerpt:

With unemployment running at over 80 percent, and no social security, millions of people have no means of support. They have been forced into the informal or black economy in order to survive. Even people with regular employment are forced to dabble in the black economy to make ends meet.

The situation led to a vast increase in petty trading. People used all kinds of ingenuity. Some travelled to neighbouring Botswana to buy scarce basic necessities and sell them on the black market. Others set up small, unlicensed businesses or ran informal flea markets or tuck shops. All this activity led to the development of a parallel economy.

The government, which is desperately short of foreign currency, saw this as a drain on the countrys resources. Mugabes autarkic economic policies demand that the government has complete control of foreign currency transactions. The attack on informal settlements and traders is part of an attempt to stamp out the black market.

More than 30,000 vendors have been arrested and accused of economic sabotage. This is an attempt to lay the blame for the dire situation in country on the shoulders of the most disadvantaged sections of society.

At the same time he is carrying out a pre-emptive strike to terrorise the population and to stop the development of an opposition movement that could threaten his rule. Thousands of destitute people, who have been forced into the countryside, will find themselves under the control of the local ZANU-PF tribal leaders who have total control of the meagre food supplies.

I have found two recent references to the current situation in Zimbabwe – the Independent article which disappeared from their website in a few days (not just behind a pay per view barrier) and the one I quote today from the Catholic News Service. This week the UN extended the mandate of the Multinational forces in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government which said it needs more time to establish full control, but we are daily led to believe such an outcome is impossible by a press that ignores or quickly buries much worse situations. Even though I know better, it must be said that the barrage of distorted press coverage about Iraq effects even experienced observers of the media such as myself.

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