ZIMBABWE - LETTER FROM THE DIASPORA
21 December 2007
My phone rang at 8.0'clock this morning and I guessed straight away that it was Zimbabwe calling because the Brits rarely call at that time in the morning! I was right. My friend in Murehwa wanted to tell me that a certain parcel had arrived but more than that he wanted to talk about what has just happened in South Africa and what it means for the negotiations going on between Zanu PF and the MDC. Knowing how passionately I'm concerned about everything Zimbabwean my caller wanted to describe to me the feeling on the ground in my old home area when they heard that Jacob Zuma had beaten Thabo Mbeki in the election for leadership of the ANC. Naturally enough after seven long nightmare years, Zimbabweans are principally concerned for what this result might mean in terms of their future.
Will events in South Africa make any difference at all? My caller assured me that's the question everyone's asking even in the smaller centres of the country. I admit my own first reaction to the news had been excitement but on reflection I think it is really only significant in that it puts additional pressure on Mbeki to solve the problem. Change in the leadership at the top of the ANC might possibly mean that there will be a firmer line on the Zimbabwe question and that might filter through to Thabo Mbeki himself.
There is no doubt that Mbeki's position is seriously weakened inside his own country and presumably in SADC and the international community. With the end of Mbeki's presidency in sight, he will surely want to score a breakthrough with this thorny and seemingly intractable problem? But Zimbabweans would do well to remember that the South African President will still be the one facilitating the negotiations. Perhaps even more significant is that Zanu PF's endorsement of Robert Mugabe as their candidate in the forthcoming elections means that the one intransigent element preventing genuine negotiations will also still be in place, ie. Mugabe himself. What has become very clear to me is that Mbeki shares at least one characteristic with his friend Robert Mugabe. Both men are in denial about the realities on the ground in their countries and yet both leaders seem to think they reflect grass-root feelings when in fact they have become totally divorced from their own people. Mugabe denies his own responsibility for what has happened in Zimbabwe and Mbeki's denies the terrible reality of the Aids pandemic decimating his country. But, despite the blow to his pride and to his own standing, I can't believe Mbeki is suddenly going to change his stance of support for the man he regards as a Liberation comrade. It would, I believe, be a mistake to assume that Zuma's victory is going to make any immediate difference to the Zimbabwean situation. The suffering and near starvation continues as do the daily arrests and beatings of opposition supporters and the response from the South African government is a deafening silence. It is hard to understand how South Africa can conduct its own affairs in an apparently fair and democratic way and yet remain silent when its close neighbour is putting in place the mechanisms that will ensure the 2008 elections are already rigged.
My early morning telephone caller wanted to tell me also how people on the ground are feeling about the forthcoming elections in Zimbabwe. Looking at the situation from the diaspora, I had been of the opinion that the MDC should boycott the whole exercise for the farce that it is but it seems that the people on the ground do not share that view. Despite Zanu PF's tinkering with the oppressive legislation and amending the constitution - again - ordinary people appear to have understood very well that the only way open to them to bring about change is through the ballot box. The MDC are yet to decide whether to participate or not but judging from my contact's comments the people on the ground are anxious to exercise their democratic right. It's a tough choice for the opposition but I hope they will listen to the people's voice.
Chaos in the banking sector was further exacerbated yesterday with the issue of new notes and pictures of desperate people being turned away from banks illustrated very clearly how frantic ordinary people are with Christmas just around the corner and the dreaded school fees due in January. It's hard to see how issuing larger denomination notes will help the economic collapse in the country, as I said last week the truth is that Zanu PF have no clue how to solve the problems besetting Zimbabwe. And they seem to care even less; even RBZ governor Gideon Gono admitted to the Congress that it was top people in the country who were milking the system. One little story this week proved to me how callous and indifferent the ruling party is to the interests of the people. They respect nothing and no one but their own selfish and corrupt interests. Teachers marking national examination papers at Belvedere Teachers College and Harare Polytechnic were ordered to vacate their living quarters so that delegates attending the Congress could be accommodated. As always politics in the form of Robert Mugabe and his interests takes precedence over every other consideration, even children and the nation's future.The next generation deserves better from their leaders; it really is time for change.