|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
Panorama went into Zimbabwe undercover in May, during the Zimbabwe/England cricket test at Lords. We found people living in terror and an economy on its knees.
President Robert Mugabe has instigated a brutal regime. Anybody who challenges the president or his government risks being seized and tortured by the police, government militia or the notorious Central Intelligence Organisation.
There is an opposition party but it faces constant harassment.
Opposition MP Job Sikhala who we followed for the 'Five Days in May' programme was horrifically tortured earlier this year. Panorama reporter Fergal Keane interviewed him at his bedside after the ordeal.
A nation that queues
Mugabe's government has also failed to pay the bills and now Libya, which supplies Zimbabwe with fuel, has cut it off, plunging the country into a crisis.
People wait in queues for days for alternative supplies. The poor are forced to sleep in their cars overnight. Those with money employ people to sit in the queue for them or buy off the black market.
Zimbabwe also has 80 per cent unemployment. There is no state money for those without work, so the majority of Zimbabweans are reliant on relatives who do have jobs or on small, make-shift economies such as selling tomatoes at the side of the road.
As many as seven million people are reliant on food aid, with the rural areas being particularly badly hit.
Gagging the press
Criticising Mugabe can now land you with a year's jail sentence or a 20,000 dollar fine. Zimbabwe state television and radio are tightly controlled by the government and opposition figures such as the Mayor of Harare are not given airtime.
A number of independent newspapers still survive. But all journalists - national and foreign - risk being imprisoned for "engendering feelings of hostility towards the President".
The Guardian's Andrew Meldrum, interviewed for Panorama's 'Five Days in May', fell foul of the public order bill and was ejected from the country on May 16 2003. The BBC is particularly hated by Mugabe's government and BBC television is banned.
Is this cricket?
But it was the torture of MP Job Sikhala that prompted Zimbabwe's cricket players Henry Olonga and Andy Flower to wear black armbands during the World Cup in January 2003.
Both men are now living in the UK. The Zimbabwe team that arrived at Lords in May had been politically cleansed of opposition voices.
Henry and Andy's stance brought Zimbabwe's suffering to the world stage. It also sparked the debate about whether sports people can ignore politics as has often been the case.
Despite considerable personal cost to them selves, Henry and Andy don't regret making a stand.
The final push
While Panorama was in Zimbabwe, the opposition party, Movement For Democratic Change was organising mass demonstrations.
Many people were talking about "the final push" - the idea being to forcibly oust President Mugabe from power.
Subsequent strikes and demonstrations at the beginning of June were met by tear gas, beatings, the death of an opposition activist, and the closure of businesses that dared join the strike.
Government brutality, fear and ineffective leadership from the opposition meant mass action was largely ineffective. The "final push" became a "tentative prod".
What can be done?
It is widely believed that Zimbabwe's powerful neighbour South Africa is the only nation which can resolve the current crisis. They control Zimbabwe's electricity supply and provide the country with large quantities of food aid.
Yet President Mbeki and South Africa's ANC party seem reluctant to meet the challenge head on - preferring instead, quiet, very quiet diplomacy.
Reporter Fergal Keane spoke to a number of South African figures to find out why South Africa is stalling on the question of Zimbabwe.
Panorama: Five days in May will be broadcast at 22:15 BST on Sunday, 15 June 2003 on BBC One.