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The Cost of Tyranny

IT is now 10 years since the collapse of the Zimbabwe economy got under way in earnest in 1999. It actually started in 1997 but only really began to slide two years later when the effect of policy changes took root. It is perhaps time that we looked back on this lost decade and ask ourselves what sort of price have we paid?

The numbers are astonishing — if you assume an average potential growth of 5% in GDP over this
decade then the actual cost in terms of lost GDP earnings is over US$76 billion. In human terms, life expectancies have halved and over three million people have died.

For South Africa the collapse of Zimbabwe has cost over US$43 billion and that estimate is a third lower than the cost estimated by Tony Blair when he visited South Africa three years ago. The crisis has cost the region perhaps a million jobs –– a total that rivals the job losses attributable to the recent global meltdown in financial markets.

In human terms the collapse has been nothing short of a catastrophe –– a third of our population has left the country –– nearly four million going to neighbouring states. About half a million people have lost their jobs and nearly two million people displaced internally. Poverty is now the norm with average Zimbabweans receiving less than a dollar a day on which to subsist –– the international measure of living below the level required for essential needs.

The consequences of the Gukurahundi in 1983-87 in many areas of Matabeleland have not been addressed and remain a shadow over many communities. All of these are the consequences of a political tyranny that has sought to defend its hold on power and privilege.

While the country slid into poverty and collapse accompanied by joblessness, homelessness and despair, a small minority who came to power in 1980, have become wealthy beyond their imaginings. They shop in Dubai and Johannesburg and holiday on the ski slopes of Europe.

Their children go to the finest universities and schools in the world. Many have homes in Zimbabwe that would do the wealthy in the West proud.

Attempts to reform the media and allow new broadcasting and television channels have been met with total resistance even though they agreed to the reforms in the GPA. Only 12% of the reforms negotiated over two years under the facilitation of Sadc have been implemented in nine months of political squabbling.

No progress on democratic conditions for elections, no progress on the rule of law, freedom of assembly and association, no progress on the enforcement of contract law and respect for property rights, no progress on media reform.

Instead we are faced with a flood of propaganda about “pirate” radio stations, “sanctions” (shopping restrictions) and “regime change”; as if elections are not all about regime change by democratic means.

In place of real reform we continue to see harassment of the political opposition, illegal arrests and prosecution, the use of the legal system (not for justice) as a mean of suppression. Political violence continues across the country with thousands of militia deployed and active in communities fearful of a knock on the door at midnight.

We are waiting, like everyone, for some news of the discussions that have been taking place over the past two weeks. These talks were not about negotiations –– they were about a time table for implementing what all the parties have already agreed and signed up to in the GPA.

Why they have taken so long is a mystery to me –– what is there to talk about? They signed up to the deal, all that remains is to get on with the job of implementing the agreement and in full.

It is obvious that once again we in the MDC are being asked to compromise. Quite frankly it is difficult to see any reason why we should. We won the 2008 election hands down; we clearly control two thirds of the country through local authorities.

Everyone knows full well that in a genuine election with free and fair conditions that the opposition to the MDC would be minuscule. I cannot see us compromising on any of the more substantive issues but you can be sure there will be a number of peripheral ones which they will trumpet.

We have suffered under a tyranny for 30 years. Believe me we are quite prepared to suffer for a bit longer if at the end we can elect a leadership that we can trust with our future under a system that will allow us to dismiss them if they fail us or abuse our trust. After all that is what democracy is all about.

It is raining and the crop season has started well.  We were able to get a small quantity of seed and fertiliser into the hands of 700 000 families in the rural areas –– enough for them to feed themselves if we get a decent season. As PM Morgan Tsvangirai said last week, pray for a decent Christmas for all of us –– we deserve and need it.

Eddie Cross,
MDC policy co-ordinator.

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