September 21, 2007
WHEN the struggle against PF-Zapu was at its height in the mid 80's the Zanu-PF
regime here used the distribution of food as a political weapon for the
first time. I recall it well because we were in a severe drought and there
was widespread shortage of food supplies from traditional sources. FiveBrigade was doing its thing in Matabeleland and although we knew all was
not well, we had scant idea of the full extent of that genocidal campaign.
In that year, the government cut off supplies from State controlled sources
and effectively said to the Ndebele people. "If you continue to support
Zapu, one way or another you will die."
This was no idle threat - they killed an estimated 20 000 people in the campaign, more than had died in the liberation of the country over many years and they controlled the basic staple foods almost completely.
They did this by erecting roadblocks on all roads leading into the rural
areas in Matabeleland; these had instructions to stop the entry of media
practitioners and also all forms of basic foods. Relatives in the urban
areas and in South Africa could not reach their families with aid when
requested and no publicity of the operation was allowed.
In 1987, after five years of murder, mayhem and hardship, Zapu capitulated and
was absorbed into Zanu-PF. There was little else they could do if their
people were to survive. The record of this savage political campaign is
published in the report "Breaking the Silence" now in book form.
At that time there was no threat to the hegemony of Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe.
They dominated the political scene and held an overwhelming majority in
Parliament. Mugabe wanted more - he wanted a one-party state. He could not
tolerate any opposition.
Since then many new opposition voices have come and gone. One by one they
were eliminated by effective but less bloody techniques - infiltration,
subversion, bribery, threats and a media black-out with propaganda. When
necessary they used violence - targeted and ruthless, or their economic
muscle to force leadership to leave the field or retire hurt.
Then came the MDC, a new labour based political movement with strong grass-
roots support. Initially confident that the same lethal mix that had poisoned the ground for opposition parties in the past would do the job again, Zanu-PF simply ignored the threat leaving it to the security agency that held responsibility, to "fix" the problem.
When they finally woke up the morning after the referendum in February 2000,
they suddenly knew they were in a real fight - this time for power itself.
MDC had won the referendum even after those responsible for the vote had
ensured that it would be rigged by 15 per cent and had assured them that
they would win the vote quite easily.
The response by the regime to this electoral shock was predictable. Mr.
Mugabe gave a vintage performance on national television saying that he
accepted the decision of the people, but behind that cold façade was a
ruthless and cruel determination to use every tool in the Zanu-PF tool-kit
against these new usurpers.
In the intervening seven years, Zanu-PF has been forced to gradually intensify
its campaign to retain power, in the process losing its democratic
credentials and its standing in the world community. Now Zanu-PF faces its most
serious threat since 1980. South Africa has forced the next election back to
March 2008 and the SADC is demanding that Zimbabwe fulfills its obligations
as a member and adheres to the SADC norms for free and fair elections.
The strategy evolved by those doing this sort of thing in Zanu-PF and
government itself, called for acceptance of changes to the actual voting
procedures on the day, but was intended to deliver a broken, bloodied MDC
and a radically changed electoral pattern to the poll. So we have seen
renewed attacks on MDC structures - across the country, renewed use of
imprisonment, false accusations, torture and savage beatings, all designed
to drive activists out of the country and to intimidate those who remain.
Then there were operations such as Murambatsvina in 2005, designed to close down
business in urban areas, take over major export industries and drive out of
the country another 2 to 3 million urban inhabitants. This is well under way
and I estimate that half a million urban residents have already left the
country for other countries - most going to South Africa. Millions more are
preparing to go and will move as soon as their plans are made.
As part of this integrated strategy the regime here has increased control
over basic food supplies. They are systematically denying the urban areas
food - there is now no maize meal, no rice, no bread, no meat or beans, in
urban areas. People are scavenging for food and the struggle to feed
families and the elderly is becoming well nigh impossible. Couple this to
water rationing or no water at all, water borne disease and fuel at Z$400
000 a litre and the local mini busses charging Z$100 000 per trip to town
and you have a situation that is simply intolerable.
This situation is being created deliberately - fuel is supposed to sell at Z$350 per litre - the actual street price is Z$2 million for five litres. Maize meal is supposed to be sold at Z$5 000 a kilo - the actual price is Z$25 000 a kilo. Meat is supposed to sell at Z$240 000 a kilo but the market price is not less than Z$1 million a kilo. The real rate of
inflation for the ordinary worker is probably about 20 000 percent and his
wages and income are rising slowly - controlled by government.
The plan was that by the time of the election in March 2008, the cities
would be a shadow of their previous state, population down by half and those
that remained, hungry and dependent either on Zanu-PF employers or the State
for survival. The MDC would also be reduced to a shell and a broken one at
that! In the rural areas it was Zanu-PF's calculation that their hold over
traditional leaders plus food control would deliver the vote.
This use of a mix of manipulation of the vote using the voters roll, the
delimitation process in determining voting districts and then exercising
physical control over voters on the day, has enlisted the support of the
donor community who pour hundreds of millions of dollars into humanitarian
assistance each year. The agencies involved allow themselves to be co-opted
by the State for this purpose by only doing what they are allowed to do in
this field and supplying food through official channels. NGOs are seen as
extensions of government liable to be denied access to communities at the
whim of local political authorities. Often Zanu -PF is allowed to direct
food aid operations. The UN Agencies are all guilty of such actions.
Breaking the hold of Zanu-PF over the electoral system is only one half of
the equation as we seek to secure our rights as a people. Their hands must
also be taken off the price controls and the availability of food and jobs.
If we are going to get anything like a free and fair vote in 2008, this
latter aspect, which is very much under the control of foreign donors and
investors, needs urgent attention.
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