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A letter from the diaspora

THE UK is in the throes of an election campaign. For perhaps the first time in years the Brits actually seem to have woken up to politics and one of the reasons has undoubtedly been the television debates involving the leaders of the three main political parties.

The final debate was on April 29 and for someone used to elections Zim-style, it is fascinating to watch democracy –– even if it is flawed –– in action.

Each time I see the party leaders on television, I can not help wondering if ZTV, controlled as it is by Zanu PF, would ever host a debate between Robert Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara with questions submitted by a studio audience and all under the control of an impartial chairperson! It is an intriguing thought but we all know it is not likely to happen while Mugabe is in power.

The sight of Mugabe and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad standing shoulder to shoulder at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair was a reminder that dictators are not concerned with the democratic process –– retaining power at all costs is their sole concern.

One of the complaints frequently heard from the British people is that politicians are all the same and one cannot believe a word they say as they are all out for themselves.

I suspect you would probably hear much the same comment in Zimbabwe. Sadly, that now appears to apply to both sides of the political divide; after one year of “sharing” power with Zanu PF it seems the MDC too is not immune from the attractions of the good life, so much that many of them appear to have forgotten their roots in the labour movement.

It was profoundly shocking to hear Tendai Biti talk as he did this week of amending the Labour Act in favour of employers so that wages could be cut “depending on the state of the economy” and the right to strike would be limited, if not prohibited. I remember hearing Biti when he was in London shortly after I arrived here.


He was very impressive, not least because he appeared to be totally committed to the cause of the workers and presented himself as a genuine social democrat.

Yet five years later, when the UN estimates that unemployment in Zimbabwe stands at 90% and, for anyone lucky enough to have a job, the average wage is US$150, Biti chooses to support not the struggling workers but the fat-cat bosses.

Interestingly, the same comment is made in Britain about the governing Labour Party. They have lost touch with their roots and have chosen to support the bankers and big money.

Once they are in power, politicians tend to treat the electorate as an unthinking mass, but ordinary people, whether in the UK or Africa, are not stupid and they realise immediately when politicians desert their core principles.

The MDC is in real danger of doing just that if Biti’s statement to business people this week is anything to go by. The hopes and dreams of ordinary people for a better life are forgotten as the politicians grow more comfortable in their newly found middle class lifestyle.

The breakdown in education is highlighted by the revelation that 45 000 teachers have quit the teaching profession in the past decade. There are 5 200 primary schools in Zimbabwe and they are 30% short of teachers.

Secondary schools too have a shortfall of almost 30%. The result of this mass exodus is clearly shown in the abysmal examination results just published. Nineteen percent of the students sitting for ‘O’ level examinations achieved pass marks and at primary school level a mere 7% of the children passed their vital Grade Seven exams.

David Coltart, the Education minister, seems to be an honest and hard-working man but it is hard to see what he can do to solve this problem without financial resources. The health sector is similarly deprived of money and manpower; with just 47 surgical doctors left in the country, excluding expatriates and missionary doctors.

The truth is that Zimbabwe is broke, there is no money in the public purse but still, under the guise of indigenisation, the greedy fat-cats continue to exploit every loophole they can to enrich themselves even further.

We hear this week that the police commissioner-general has applied for a licence to mine diamonds. Shall we now see the police mining diamonds at Chiadzwa while at the same time they beat up innocent villagers to prevent them from earning a living?

The Herald reported last week that the High Court had approved the sale of 129 000 carats of diamonds though that report was subsequently denied by the CEO of African Consolidated Resources. By contrast, the Mines minister, Obert Mpofu, has made it absolutely clear that he has no intention of abiding by the Kimberley Process ruling. “We are going to benefit from our diamonds whether with the Kimberley Process or not.” he said.

When Mpofu says that “we” are going to benefit he is certainly not talking about ordinary Zimbabwean citizens. It is not the schools or hospitals that will benefit from the diamond bonanza. It is the already rich fat-cats while the sick and the elderly die in abject poverty and the children are denied a future. Zimbabweans are entitled to ask whether their politicians, Zanu PF or MDC, really care about the people’s welfare at all.

Biti’s recent trip to China in the company of Nicholas Goche in search of a Chinese loan suggests that he has fallen for Mugabe’s “Look East” philosophy. Remembering that China’s involvement in Africa has little to do with the observance of human rights and democratic freedoms and more to do with plundering Africa’s resources, that is a worrying development coming as it does from a prominent member of the MDC.

l Henson is the author of Case Closed published in Zimbabwe by Mambo Press, Going Home and Countdown, political detective stories set in Zimbabwe and available on Lulu.com.

By Pauline Henson

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