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RIGHTS-ZIMBABWE: Neighbours Remain Mute Amid Flood of Refugees

Davison Makanga

HARARE, Apr 23 2007 (IPS) - The rattling sound of galvanized tins has become characteristic of Patience’s* daily routine which starts at 4 am every day. Patience (43), a single mother, is one of the many who rush in the early morning to the Zimbabwean capital’s Mbare Musika market to buy fruit and vegetables to hawk.

She uses the tins to carry her meagre goods. Her daily net profit is just 10,000 Zimbabwean dollars, an amount which is not enough to feed her family. According to the official exchange rate this amounts to 40 US dollars but on the parallel market it is just more than half a US dollar.

‘‘I do not have any choice. I have to continue fighting, but life is getting unbearable for me and my kids,” says a solemn Patience. She is one example of millions of Zimbabweans who have for the past seven years been fighting for survival while yearning for a better tomorrow. Living conditions are degenerating by the day.

The arrival of the New Year saw a growing discontent in the country’s workforce. Doctors, nurses and teachers embarked on protests over low remuneration. At the beginning of March, civic and opposition leaders were arrested and tortured for ‘‘instigating” violence.

Since then, security force members have been active along all the major highways in the country. The heavy police presence has been called ‘‘an unofficial state of emergency”. Abductions of opposition political members are the order of the day. Ordinary people are constantly terrorised by the police and the militia.

‘‘It has become frightening. We no longer have the freedom to walk during the night in our own country,” says Stanley* of Highfield in Harare.

Indications are that the presidential and parliamentary elections will be arranged at the same time in 2008. Political tensions are set to hot up. This, coupled with economic hardships, will drive scores of people out of the country.

An estimated 50,000 Zimbabweans cross the country’s borders every month searching for better fortunes in neighbouring countries. ‘‘Unless regional leaders fulfil their moral obligation to intervene, an influx of Zimbabweans will affect their own countries and destabilise the region,” says social commentator Ernest Mudzengi.

Stanley confirms that he is also looking for an opportunity to flee. ‘‘My hope of change coming to Zimbabwe anytime soon is fading by the day.”

The minister of information and publicity, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, has chided deserters for leaving the ‘‘much greener pastures” of Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile, the countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have been mute about the Zimbabwean crisis. The only exceptions are Botswana and, recently, Zambia.

For many Zimbabweans, the recent SADC indaba was just another show of massaging Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s ego.

‘‘SADC should have taken a much bolder stance. (South African President Thabo) Mbeki has been there but he has been ineffective. I doubt that he has changed his mind about quiet diplomacy after the summit,” contends John Makumbe, a lecturer in Political Science at the University of Zimbabwe.

The SADC heads of state tasked Mbeki with brokering dialogue between the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and the ruling Zanu-PF. But minister Ndlovu has made Zanu’s position clear. He insists that the MDC is a ‘‘western-sponsored party which will not be given special treatment ahead of home-grown parties.”

Going by events so far, the government’s impervious nature will scupper prospects of earnest dialogue. ‘‘Our government is disregarding the dialogue initiative because SADC was not assertive. If they want to have an effect they have to be clear and insistent,” explains Jacob Mafume, a human rights lawyer.

Former MDC member of parliament, Hilda Mafudze, says problems in Zimbabwe will not only affect the SADC region but Africa as a whole. She argues that bad governance in the country will drive away possible investment in Africa’s development vehicle, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

‘‘If African countries fold their hands on Zimbabwe, the NEPAD project will fail,” emphasises Mafudze. NEPAD advocates good governance as prerequisite for foreign investment.

The Centre for Peace Initiatives Africa (CPIA) views the existing conditions as a major challenge but is positive that SADC’s latest plan will start a new chapter of tolerance in Zimbabwe. CPIA is an organisation that has been facilitating dialogue meetings for the past four years.

‘‘We encourage political parties to compromise for the good of our nation. Dialogue is the key to our crisis,” argues Rena Chitombo, CPIA communications officer.

While many believe that the neighbouring countries hold the keys to the future of Zimbabwe, activists in the social movement, International Socialist Organization (ISO), think otherwise.

They believe that piecemeal demonstrations in the fashion of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions’ (ZCTU) two-day mass stay-away in April will not yield results under the current ‘‘military regime”. Instead, they say, constant democratic protests will drive the message home.

‘‘We cannot wait for someone from outside to help us. We hold our own destiny. We have to organize a series of demonstrations until the government obliges,” exclaims Mike Sambo, coordinator of ISO. * Not their real names

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