Friday, November 28, 2008

Genocide in Zimbabwe

Eddie Cross on the brutal ways in which Zanu-PF has been depopulating that country

Many years ago, Didymus Mutasa said that they (Zanu PF) would be quite happy if the population fell to 6 million people who would then support the Party in its ambitions.

At the time the population was probably just over 12 million and most thought these were the remarks by someone who did not have any idea of just what he was talking about?

Today we are rapidly moving towards that target figure of national population. Some people say that our population is no more than 8 million. I personally am comfortable with 9 million. In 1980 when we gained our independence as a State, the population growth was about 3,4 per cent per annum and expected to double in 17 to 18 years. It should therefore have been 17 million in 1997 when the madness that has gripped the country since then was initiated by the government.

So when we talk of the population now being only 8 or 9 million we have to ask what has happened to 8 or 9 million people. At least 4 million now reside in South Africa, a further 1 million live in other parts of the world - probably most in the UK, followed by the USA and Canada and Australia. This leaves an unexplained gap of 3 to 4 million people. Remember that is half the population of London or Paris or Gauteng.

We need to understand this number in terms of individuals - people with families, children and parents. Real people with real relationships that have been smashed by a system that has been deliberately created to sustain the grip on power of a small elite of perhaps 2 000 individuals at best (or worst).

In the 10 years that have followed 1997, the population should have grown naturally by another 8 million had historical birth and death rates been maintained. So we are talking about unnatural deaths in the order of 12 million people. One feature of this abnormal death rate is that life expectancies have fallen by half since 1990, from 60 years to about 30 years today.

It is not difficult to establish how these millions of people have been dying - HIV/Aids kills over 100 000 a year. Malaria another 30 000, tuberculosis perhaps 60 000, malnutrition and hunger perhaps another 60 000, mainly the elderly and the young. What we do know is that whereas in the Smith era, live births exceeded deaths by a 4:1 margin. The ratio today is perhaps 4:5 - a rise of 5 times in the natural death rates pre 1980.

Some aspects of these huge changes are particularly poignant - the men who were displaced by Murambatsvina and died of heartbreak when they could not protect or sustain their families, they just quit and died. The numbers of people displaced or traumatised by this regime since 1980 are astonishing. All data are estimates as official statistics are either not available or just plainly dishonest.

It started with Gukurahundi - a 6-year campaign to destroy Zapu and entrench Zanu PF hegemony over the whole country. This campaign was kept secret until the Legal Resources Foundation and the Catholic Bishops Conference published a partial report on the atrocities. Their conclusion was that over 20 000 people hade been murdered and hundreds of thousands displaced. What is not appreciated from this first attempt at securing control is that many of those affected elected to move to South Africa. The breadwinner going first followed a short while later by the rest of the family.

Between 1987 when Zapu succumbed and 2000 there was no campaign of dislocation and intimidation as such, but the war against any form of opposition continued unabated. The Centre Party, ZUM and the Forum Party all became victims. Their leadership hectored and brutalised - leaders such as that gentle intellectual, Enoch Dumbutshena, former Chief Justice and leader of the Forum, hounded into liquidation and disgrace.

Many leaders even in Zanu PF who attempted reform found themselves vilified and even killed. How many died in this secret war will never be known.

Then came the defeat in the 2000 referendum and the near defeat in the election that year. In a fury, Zanu PF turned on their perceived enemies - farmers had played a key role and when the votes were counted it was discovered that the 2 million people on commercial farms had in fact swung the vote. The State turned on this community - savagely beating and even killing any who opposed their will. Thousands of farms were illegally confiscated and at least 1,5 million people were displaced.

When it became clear that a majority of the population now lived in the urban areas - the hard core of MDC support, the State launched 'Murambatsvina' - 'clean out the rubbish'. In the view of the UN special investigator 300 000 homes were affected, 700 000 people displaced and 1,4 million people lost their livelihood and shelter in a period of three months.

Again an understated effect of these state managed interventions was the flight of millions to the nearby states of Botswana and South Africa. Completely understated is the number of people who have died in these campaigns. A common feature of each new campaign has been the ruthless application of State power.

Despite these massive manipulations of the population and the complete disregard for the welfare of the people, the population of the urban areas still expanded - a process actually impelled by the dislocation of the rural economy. In addition the flight to South Africa and other destinations accelerated.

In political terms this meant that the objective of the ruling elite still eluded them - the MDC became stronger, not weaker and they were faced with a steady escalation of pressure from the global and regional community. In desperation the State turned on the MDC and its structures in a manner that resembled the Zapu campaign 20 years before. Hundreds of thousands were beaten and tortured, their homes and businesses destroyed and families harassed. Hundreds were killed or disappeared.

But they were up against a very different antagonist in the form of the MDC. Its leadership understood what Zanu PF strategies were, and used every means open to them to publicise what was going on. They refused to give the regime the excuse to use its military power. They maintained a strong political base in the urban areas and even managed to penetrate the rural areas. In consequence, when minor reforms of the electoral system were adopted in 2008, Zanu PF went into the elections in March and lost the election.

We know, without any doubt, that there was widespread rigging on top of intimidation and violence - let alone the total distortion of the national media and the control of food and traditional leaders. We also know that despite desperate effort to over turn the result, Zanu eventually had to admit it had lost control of Parliament and that Morgan Tsvangirai had won the Presidential contest. What they did not do was to publish the actual results of the poll. With the deliberate connivance of the South African President they simply published a fictional result that gave Mr. Tsvangirai less than the required 50 per cent.

Even so, they then launched a campaign they called Mavhoterapapi or 'where did you vote'. 2000 militia camps were established with military leadership - thousands were beaten and tortured. Hundreds died. Now we understand they are about to launch another campaign called 'Ngatipedzenavo' or 'lets finish them (MDC) off'.

Today, besides the direct victims of Zanu PF's genocidal activities over the past 28 years, we have perhaps 6 million people without food and 98 per cent without medical attention or services. Schools are closed and Universities dysfunctional. Can anyone describe what I have set out above as anything other than a form of Genocide? A lot of publicity is being given right now to the situation in the Eastern Congo - but the death toll there is tiny by comparison to the death toll here.

There can be few situations in the world, even in recent history, where a small country like Zimbabwe can go through a period of its history seeing a full third of its population die in state sponsored violence and dislocation.

Where else in the world has a State overseen a crisis during which half of its total population has died by natural and unnatural causes in a short space of three decades - under conditions where there was no national civil war or conflict. In the past century we have seen two genocides - Cambodia and Rwanda. In both the mortality was less than that through which Zimbabwe has gone in the past 28 years. But because the universal eye (the camera) was not present and because we were not killing each other - it was the State killing its people, our genocide has not been understood or lamented.

Eddie Cross is MP for Bulawayo South and the MDC's Policy Coordinator

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