|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
My life was in a big danger.
It started in February 2000 when President Robert Mugabe unleashed his supporters on the commercial farms.
Enough is enough you do not want to be a dead hero
A report was written in the West about how I had fabricated or exaggerated my arrest and then admitted it.
The Times in London published a report, and then dropped it.
The government then started their campaign of vilification against me, saying that they were using a credible report in the Times.
Now they were making all kinds of claims, for example that I had caused a fall in the value of the South African rand.
And that I have caused a drastic fall in tourist arrivals in the country.
They were inflaming public opinion against me.
For several months packets of envelopes with live ammunition were being left on my door step, with letters threatening that I will be dead before the general elections.
The fact that I was a black journalist writing for the Independent newspaper in London really discomforted the government.
They did not want the truth to be told. I was called all these kinds of things, like a terrorist.
I had tried to withstand all these pressures.
But there comes a time when you have to say, enough is enough you do not want to be a dead hero.
It is better to be a living coward.
I will just lie low for a while and continue to tell the Zimbabwe story from wherever I will be.
I hope he (Mr Mugabe) allows the people of Zimbabwe to choose their leader in a free and fair election.
The multinational brands common throughout the world for staple foods are much less in evidence in Harare or the second city, Bulawayo, than elsewhere in Africa.
Of course, an uncomfortably large proportion are still owned by whites.
But whoever holds the purse-strings, the brand-names are no longer in evidence: whether domestic or foreign, the shelves of most foodstores are worringly bare.
Prices up, supply down
The landmark presidential election is only weeks away, but Zimbabwe's economy continues to worsen.
Prices more than doubled in 2001 - inflation was 112% - and the price controls instituted by the government on a widening range of products have taken retail prices to below the cost of production.
Thus the shortages - and the thriving black market for everything from laundry soap to the maize-based staple, mealie meal.
Meanwhile, what produce there is continues to leak across the border.
The official exchange rate is 55 Zimbabwe dollars to one US dollar.
But traders from Zambia, Mozambique and elsewhere use the "parallel market" rate of Z$300 to the greenback to buy low in Zimbabwe and sell high at home.
A success story...
The situation is quite a turnaround.
Once the economic success story of Southern Africa, Zimbabwe was the regional breadbasket, the only southern African country to export food to Ethiopia during the drought in the 1980s.
Its economy was doing well, its people were well educated and richer than many of their regional peers.
Foreign investment was by African standards plentiful.
And it was - relatively - free of the endemic and high-profile corruption which caused huge problems for many other African countries.
...Now a basket case?
But over the past five years things have got harder as urban areas ceased to create jobs and rural areas felt the pressure too.
International Monetary Fund rules meant public investment was starved - although the growing default on loans meant Zimbabwe was cut off from further funding in 2000.
Cronyism by political elites increased, and the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the focus on land reform has been used to try to divert attention from domestic tribulations.
Now, according to one Southern African economist, the country is "a financial basket case".
The economy contracted 4% in 2001. "The crop has been lost this year, production has been lost, earnings are gone," he said.
The desperate push by the core of the ruling Zanu-PF party to ensure victory for President Mugabe on 9-10 March has taken its toll.
For the outside world, most of the attention has been on the seizures of white-owned farms.
The effect on export earnings has been severe. But it has also displaced thousands of black farmworkers, and what little activity continues on the farms is limited to inefficient subsistence farming.
And much of the choicest land has gone either to party supporters, or to Libyan and South African backers to pay for scarce fuel and power.
The disruptions caused by Zanu-PF's internal divisions and increasing paranoia have hit industry just as hard as agriculture.
The price controls introduced in October last year mean many factories never reopened following the long Christmas-New Year break.
That made the unemployment rate even worse. On the government's own count, about two in every three Zimbabweans is out of a job.
Closures happen for non-economic reasons too. In the past few months a number of businesses have been attacked by Zanu-PF supporters if their employees or owners are not party members.
And exacerbating the whole situation are periodic fuel shortages, which since 1998 have largely been caused by the need to supply the military's hugely unpopular involvement in the war in Congo.
Beggar your neighbour?
The side-effects are hitting its neighbours.
South African president Thabo Mbeki's reluctance to go beyond quiet diplomacy in encouraging better governance from the coterie surrounding Mr Mugabe has won him few friends.
Although between them Mozambique and South Africa supply three quarters of South Africa's energy needs, neither will act to pull the plug.
Within South Africa, the rand continues to weaken, partly through fears that the troubles to the north could spill over.
Thousands of Zimbabweans try to cross the border illegally every month.
And further afield, the ambitious plans for the "New African Partnership for Development" (NEPAD), of which Mr Mbeki is the main proponent, call for massive inward investment.
But the turmoil in Zimbabwe threatens to stifle the inflows before they begin.
Even Mr Mbeki's brother Moeletsi is complaining his sibling is letting Mr Mugabe off too easily.
No easy answers
But what to do? Europe and the US are planning "smart sanctions" to penalise the upper echelons of Zanu-PF.
But if they are imposed before the election, any chance of monitoring the poll will disappear.
Even if they were, it will be months before they bite.
And assuming a Zanu-PF victory, it is only a matter of time before the economy melts down altogether.
If the opposition Movement for Democratic Change can somehow win despite violent repression - as the majority of Zimbabweans probably hope - the IMF will be back.
Donors and investors may follow - but at a cautious distance.
Either way, it will be a long time before Zimbabwe can pick up the pieces again.
"His visa has not been revoked but what happened is that our immigration officers went to warn Mr Schori to comply with the conditions of his tourist visa which he got when he came into the country," Zimbabwe's Home Minister, John Nkomo, told the Reuters news agency.
Zimbabwe has granted accreditation to about 30 EU monitors, but has told Mr Schori, a Swedish diplomat, that he will not be approved.
It accuses Sweden - and a number of other EU members - of bias.
Mr Schori, however, has said that he believes the EU can monitor the elections effectively despite the conditions set by Zimbabwe.
Earlier Sweden's Foreign Minister, Anna Lindh, said Zimbabwe had revoked Mr Schori's visa because he had made political statements.
The EU had told the Zimbabwean Government that it would face targeted sanctions against its leading members unless it accepted EU election observers.
Countries accused of bias
The EU members have also said they will impose sanctions if they believe that voting is not free and fair, or if media coverage is restricted.
If implemented, the sanctions would include a travel ban on Mr Mugabe, his family and close associates, a freeze on any assets they hold in EU member states, and a suspension of long-term development aid.
A report is being prepared for a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels next Monday, and it is thought a decision could be taken then.
Mr Mugabe is expected to face his toughest challenge in 22 years in power in the 9-10 March poll.
International pressure on Zimbabwe to allow observers has grown as human rights groups have warned of a "climate of fear and terror" in the run-up to the elections.
On Wednesday evening, dozens were reported injured when self-styled war veterans and ruling party supporters rampaged through Zimbabwe's second city Bulawayo.
|Zimbabwe police disperse peaceful protest|
Zimbabwean riot police have broken up a peaceful demonstration in downtown Harare.
Authorities say the protest against repressive laws and political violence was an illegal gathering under new security laws.
At least 10 marchers were arrested.
The National Constitutional Assembly called the march to protest about continuing political violence and repressive new laws.
But police had banned the march, saying it risked fanning public violence, and a judge had refused to hear an application asking him to revoke the ban.
Nearly 1,000 marchers were headed off by armed police on a main downtown street and other police units blocked streets along the proposed route.
Marchers were dispersed without tear gas being fired. It was the first major police action under the new security law that went into effect last month.
The new security laws impose penalties for insulting President Robert Mugabe, require police clearance for political meetings and related gatherings and give police sweeping powers of search and arrest.
The laws have been criticised as a ploy to muzzle opposition to Mugabe's ruling party ahead of sharply contested presidential elections on March 9-10.
Story filed: 16:25 Friday 15th February 2002