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Zimbabwe: Termites in the ship of state
NewsNotes, January-February 2010

Recently, the 2009 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award was presented by President Obama to Magodona Mahlangu and her organization, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), a wonderful recognition for Zimbabweans. Suffering intimidation and torture, the women of WOZA have organized peaceful resistance opposing rape and violence. Mahlangu said that the $30,000 award will help the Bulawayo-based group to deepen the human rights and advocacy work. While this amount does not go far in Zimbabwe, the award, according to Maryknoll Sister Fran Kobets, whose update on the current reality there follows, is appreciated and in the right place.
Termite hills in Africa are huge with long tunnels underground. If you leave a piece of wood on the ground, the termites will exploit it in a few days. While the termites in nature have their purpose, the “human termites” among us cause chaos, confusion, suffering, and demotivation. Two-legged termites are riddling the ship of state producing a Zimbabwe that is a fragile shell. The ship of state? It is not recognizable.

Zimbabwe’s reality resembles a genetic mutation. It is often “more of the same” with increased suffering and alterations to the problems that make it difficult to get out of the hole we are in. A common denominator to all problems in Zimbabwe is currency and how it is used. The U.S. dollar (USD) and the South African rand are the official currencies at present. The use of the USD did put food on the shelves, but at a price. Most people have just a few dollars to rub together, or none. Although bread lines are few and maize meal is available, etc., goods and services can only be had at a very high price. Pricing is a nightmare and a means of exploitation.

HIV/AIDS programs depend on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and church/volunteer groups. Government health and pharmaceutical services have hit rock bottom. Aspirin might cost $3 for 12 tablets in one pharmacy; in another the cost can be 30 tabs for $1. The higher price occurs when the hospital has no aspirin, or when doctors take the aspirin, supply it to pharmacies and split the profit. The result is that few people can afford aspirin. A few nurses have withheld medication for AIDS patients as they capitalize on the fact that some folks do not want to be recognized. The antiretroviral medicines (ARVs) which are available are often sold for a price as nurses take advantage of people too shy to be treated. This is especially prevalent in the rural areas and in small towns.

Politically, a huge stumbling block to unity is the presence of Gideon Gono, the long-standing governor of Zimbabwe’s reserve bank. He makes no secret of wanting to return to the Zim dollar as legal currency. While this would be a repeat performance of past miseries, it would enrich those at the top through the use of the black market (the availability of large amounts of worthless zim currency which, in exchange for USD, provides wealth for the top). Often, ordinary people would prefer a return to the black market because they can get more for their money. Past Gono policies meant there was less to buy, but there was more manipulation to make money -- crossing the borders looking for things to buy and sell, etc.

Both sides in the unity effort are affected by corruption. July and August saw an upturn of shops and businesses making a comeback and of healthy questioning by the public. By the beginning of September, however, there was a downward trend and return to insecurity. ZANU PF, the party of President Robert Mugabe, continues as before with intimidation, torture etc. and the MDC, the opposition party, has not been able to move. (See previous NewsNotes articles on Zimbabwe’s unity efforts.)

The effort of Swaziland, Mozambique, and Zambia to promote unity agreements between the parties continues in frustration. Any deadlines imposed have been met with resistance and verbal and written orders by Mugabe for ZANU youth to take what they want if things don’t go their way.

Peak Mine, a longstanding chrome mine, is now controlled by the Chinese. A regular mine laborer is paid US$20 per month, while many managers are paid US$800 per month. Safety precautions are ignored. In 1988 warnings were given about the need for safety maintenance and it was predicted that in 10 years the mine would cave in. Now people who live over the mine are hearing stress noises and “rocks falling.” In recent weeks, seven houses have fallen into bottomless pits; one mother and son are missing, while others flee their homes, especially at night, when the noises are most evident. People are being moved out of the homes most in danger, but some are being rescued only as their house sinks into a hole, with neighbors grabbing occupants at the last minute.

Illegal diamond mining, involving unemployed people digging in pits, is exploited for control and wealth. Members of the army intimidate miners by tying their legs and hands to trees and then setting dogs on them. Blood diamonds are now a reality in Zimbabwe, with revenue from the diamonds propping up the Mugabe regime. The environment has suffered greatly from all mining at this point.

The increased value of gold has caused chaos in the Midlands. Between Gweru and Shurugwi, miners compete for the illegal diggings and chase one another into towns and villages. As a result, many have died. The miners are rough and manipulative with the gold dust and they take advantage of orphans in the area for labor and sex.

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