Thursday, January 13, 2005

Zimbabwe in Free Fall

The state of the nation of Zimbabwe can be accurately gauged by reading just the first sentence of an article in yesterday's Telegraph.

The bodies of murder victims are piling up in Zimbabwe's hospitals because the country's collapsing health service has lost its only forensic pathologist, it emerged yesterday.
Zimbabwe has a population in excess of eleven million people. The former British colony - once named Rhodesia - does have other doctors; in fact, the Telegraph describes its medical system as formerly "among the best in Africa." Nevertheless, the country's remaining doctors refuse to assume the departed pathologist's activities because they are "unwilling to perform post mortem examinations on murder victims for fear of being forced to give evidence in court cases." Why would physicians fear giving testimony in Zimbabwe's courts? An earlier Telegraph article explains that an international panel of lawyers had examined the country's legal system and concluded the it had been hopelessly corrupted by Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party run government.

The report gave examples of senior judges, lawyers and magistrates being forcibly removed from office after being jailed, beaten or threatened with violence for failing to toe the government line.

In such conditions, testifying in a murder case might present certain dangers. Without a forensic pathologist to examine the bodies of murder victims, corpses have remained stored awaiting autopsy "for more than a year," the present article said, noting that the number of such corpses isn't extreme, less than forty nationwide. Nevertheless,
Because no post mortem examinations are being performed, police are unable to proceed with criminal investigations into the killings. Supt Wayne Bvudzijena, the police spokesman, said that some suspects were on remand and others were out on bail, with little prospect of cases being brought against them.
The article notes that Zimbabwe is "suffering a disastrous loss of medical personnel and the country in unable to train replacements." The country's economy has "collapsed" with inflation "running at 149 per cent" and "tens of thousands of doctors and nurses, desperate to earn hard currency, have emigrated to Britain or South Africa."
Hospitals are dependent on a European Union aid programme for about 75 per cent of their essential drugs. Treatment for patients suffering from HIV Aids is funded largely by Britain and America.
Dr Max Hove, the country's chief clinical pathologist, seems resigned to the continued absence of a forensic pathologist and the imobilization of the country's criminal justice system. "The bodies will remain and I suppose more will come in," he said.

President Mugabe has received most international news attention for his confiscation of farms owned by the white descendants of British colonists over the past two years. Mugabe's persecution of the white minority evoked some protest, but little action from Europe or the US. Faced with increasing violence and threats thereof, the country's white population is fleeing.

David Coltart, an MP from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change [a Zimbabwe's opposition party], said: "This is ethnic cleansing, not in the Bosnian sense of the phrase, as they knew they couldn't get away with wholesale murder.

"It's more subtle, designed to drive out whites because Mugabe believes whites provide funding and administrative support to the MDC.

"The laws were changed to deprive whites of land. Private schools were closed to get at whites even though most pupils are black. Mugabe said whites were 'enemies of the people' and he is still hammering away at them."

Rose McCullum, 39, owns Ocean-Air Packers and Removals. "Top businessmen are going in droves," she said. "Most go to Britain, Australia or New Zealand. A few go to South Africa but they won't stay there as they worry about the future there as whites.

The economic effects of this openly racist policy have been as obvious as they are tragic. Mr. Mugabe proclaimed that his seizure of white farms, which he promised to give to black farmers would greatly increase their agricultural yield. He defended the siezure of this land as redress for the prior expropriation of land and resources by European colonialists in the previous century and allow native Zimbabwians to simply reclaim what was legitimately theirs. Ppredictably, however, the confiscated farmland went to Mr. Mugabe's personal friends, family and political supporters and the fields were allowed to go fallow. The result?

[Mr. Mugabe] brushed aside the fact that Zimbabwe has lived on food aid since 2001 and that 6.5 million people, more than half the population, depended on international help last year. By contrast, his office forecast a maize crop for this year of 2.4 million tons, more than enough to meet domestic needs.

Yet a report from the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee provides a strong antidote to the president's optimism. It concludes that 2.3 million people in rural Zimbabwe "will not be able to meet their minimum cereal needs during the 2004/05 season".

The report adds that food aid "for the most vulnerable people" should be sought immediately. The UN, aid agencies and Zimbabwean government departments compiled the assessment based on a survey completed in April. Mr Mugabe's officials appear not to share his optimism.

The report did not cover the food needs of Zimbabwe's cities, where shortages last year were at least as serious as those in the countryside. Figures for December suggested that 2.5 million urban Zimbabweans were going hungry, bringing the total needing food aid to 4.8 million.
In September, Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube, the mayor of Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo, claimed that 162 people had starved to death there since January 2004. The government immediately denounced Mr. Ndabeni-Ncube.

Jonathan Moyo, the information minister, called him a "liar" and insisted that starvation was unknown in Zimbabwe. "Malnutrition is just a case of not having a balanced diet," he told The Herald, an official daily.

"People in the USA are fat because they eat too many burgers. That's malnutrition."

Mr. Ndabeni-Ncube retorted that while there was some food available in Bulawayo, with inflation running well over 300 percent, few people could afford to buy it.

Zimbabwe once exported food to drought-stricken countries in southern Africa so its dependence on international help has come as a serious embarrassment for Mr Mugabe. His response has been to deny that there is a problem.

In May, he said Zimbabwe would no longer accept supplies from the UN's World Food Programme. "Why foist this food upon us? We don't want to be choked." he said.

As the country continues to crumble, food isn't the only concern. The water supply has broken down, leaving half the residents of Harare, the capital city (home to three million) and "once one of Africa's most orderly cities ... chronically short of water or without any at all just days before the start of the hottest month of the year." The prevalence of raw sewage in the capital has left the city's beleaguered residents - especially the poor - vulnerable to a range of diseases, including cholera.

Psychology Chiwanga, the director of works at the Harare Municipality said last week that water would be rationed and the government would spend £4 million to revamp the water works' infrastructure, which has crumbled away since independence in 1980.

But people in the high density suburbs have taken the law into their own hands. "People dug a hole in the municipality's pipe under the ground, and we take the water from there. If we don't we will die," said Masimba Chayemba, 17, in Mabvuku township, 12 miles south-east of Harare.

In order to secure his regime in the face of rising criticism and internal collapse, Mr. Mugabe has pushed a set of repressive laws through parliament meant to silence dissent.
The latest law, which comes among a rush of new Bills, ahead of elections next March, makes it an offence to publish or communicate "to any other person a statement which is wholly or materially false with the intention of realising that there is a real risk of inciting or promoting public disorder or public violence or endangering public safety or, adversely affecting the defence and economic interests of Zimbabwe: or undermining public confidence in a law enforcement agency, the Prison Service or the Defence Forces of Zimbabwe; or interfering with, disrupting or interrupting any essential service," that person "shall be guilty of publishing or communicating a false statement prejudicial to the State and liable to a fine up to or exceeding level 14 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 20 years or both."
As a result of Mr. Mugabe's policies, Europe and tmost of the world treat Zimbabwe with disdain. However, not all nations are offended by human rights violations and the destruction of democracy. In November, Zimbabwe's national airline conluded an agreement to begin twice weekly flight to Bejing. China's relationship with Zimbabwe dates to the 1970's when Bejing trained rebels fighting against the remnant of the British colonial government (Mr. Mugabe was part of the rebel movement).

The latest stage of a long-standing relationship has seen floods of cheap goods imported from China, and big construction deals go to Chinese firms.

China is also ramping up its presence elsewhere in Africa, from construction in Botswana to oil in Sudan.

Air Zimbabwe is thought to have only two working long-haul aircraft, although it expects another two from China tanks to a deal signed earlier this year.

The Bejing flights are likely to help service China's extensive investments in Zimbabwe, estimated by Zimbabwe's goverment to be worth US$600 million, but by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change to be much higher.

What a surprise that the Chinese government - itself such a supporter of human rights - would have few ethical issues dealing with a brutal regime like Mr. Mugabe's! The infusion of Chinese investment, and thus influence, into Africa should be of great concern to both Europea and the US. China's sphere of influence continues to expand driven by its burgeoning economy; its willingness to increase its influence by taking advantage of the West's human-rights boycott of Zimbabwe should give western leaders even greater pause, since it gives clear indication of China's intent and methods.

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