Monday, July 14, 2008

Mugabe retains power, the people don't rejoice

On Saturday an effort by the US and others on the UN Security Council to issue sanctions against Zimbabwe failed when it was vetoed by China and Russia.

The sanctions proposed were relatively mild: an arms embargo, an appointment of a UN mediator and financial and travel restrictions on President Robert Mugabe and 13 of his top generals. This was an effort to penalize Mugabe and his Zanu-PF Party for gross human rights violations against his political opposition during the recent elections. During the first election in March, the government claimed opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai did not gain a majority and a runoff was needed to determine the presidency. This was disputed by the opposition.

Leading up to the runoff, Mugabe’s party goons terrorized opposition party members and their families with rape, butchery and murder. Shortly before the runoff, Tsvangirai withdrew, fearing for his life and those of his supporters. He also knew the results were preordained. Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) is in economic ruin because of Mugabe’s policies. There is hyperinflation of 26,000% per year as the government simply prints more money to pay their bills. Once the breadbasket of Africa, the country is now on the verge of massive starvation after the white farmers were forced off of their farms, their lands confiscated and given to Mugabe's pals. Even efforts by impoverished Zimbabweans to provide for themselves, by selling their wares in an open-market shanty town, was met with military force, leaving 700,000 homeless and out of work.

It is difficult to comprehend the misery Zimbabweans live under. Antiseptic articles in British and American papers simply can’t do justice. But there is a window you can peer through that gives a more realistic picture. It is Cathy Buckle’s Letters. She writes her weekly memoirs every Saturday. Please be warned! You must have a strong constitution to read them. They will tear you up. Cathy Buckle is white. She is the widow of a farmer who bought his farm in the early 1990s with government assurances it would be safe. They were subsequently forced off it. Cathy loves her country. Most of her reporting is about the black citizenry and the suffering they face. From this past week:

“In the main supermarket in my home town this weekend there were too many empty shelves to count. In the fortnight since Mr Mugabe was sworn in as President for his sixth term, everyday life has gone from struggle to complete crisis. No one is coping now and in the last two weeks virtually all foodstuffs, toiletries and household goods have completely disappeared from stores.

On what should have been a busy weekend morning in our once thriving town, the car park was virtually empty and the only things to buy in the cavernous supermarket were cabbages, butternut squash, lemons, fizzy drinks and a few packets of meat.‘Where are all your goods?’ I asked one shop attendant.‘There is nothing,’ he said, ‘the suppliers say they have nothing to deliver.’I stood while he weighed the butternut squash I had chosen and exclaimed in shock at the 30 billion dollar price sticker he fixed to the vegetable. ‘Can I show you something?’ the man said and before I could answer he took his most recent pay slip out of his pocket.

For an entire month the shop assistant had earned just 28 billion dollars - not even enough to buy one single butternut squash. Eight hours a day, five and half days a week and his entire salary was not enough to provide even one single meal. He told me he had a wife and a child to support and said with remorse and shame in his voice:‘I am failing them and if I do not jump the border to look for work this month then they are surely going to die.’ ”

You would think the neighboring South African government might help. They won’t. Nor will the members of the Organization of African Unity. Other than a tepid chastising by two members at their meeting two weeks ago, Mugabe was treated as an honorable head of state.

Thugs like thugs.

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