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Letter from Zimbabwe

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Robin Lustig | 13:08 UK time, Friday, 30 March 2012

I've spent the past five days in Harare, on a rare, officially-approved reporting trip to Zimbabwe. So I thought you might be interested in my impressions, ahead of my radio report, which we hope to broadcast next week. (And by the way, there were no restrictions on where we could go or whom we could talk to, nor were we accompanied at any point by government officials.)

First, it was peaceful. I saw scarcely a single soldier on the streets of the capital, not even outside government buildings - and the only police I saw were on traffic duty, waving down motorists and imposing euphemistically-named "spot fines" for such esoteric offences as not carrying a fire extinguisher.

Second, it was relaxed. We were greeted warmly, people were happy to talk openly, and to voice long lists of criticisms of the government of President Robert Mugabe. (Mind you, Harare has long been a stronghold of the former opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, which has been in an unhappy coalition with the president's ZANU-PF party since 2009.)

So everything in Zimbabwe is fine now? Er, no, not exactly. The economy is in a shambles, the country is producing less electric power than it was at the time of independence 32 years ago, and the government of national unity is anything but united. There are deep-seated fears of renewed violence in the run-up to elections due within the next 12 months, and there are plenty of reports of intimidation and worse of opposition supporters in rural areas.

If you calculate Zimbabwe's national wealth in terms of economic output per head of population, and adjust it to take account of the cost of living, the country comes almost at the bottom of the list of the world's poorest countries, right down there with Liberia, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. More than half the population live below the official poverty line.

As for the national unity government, well, when I interviewed the prime minister and former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the garden of his Harare home, he described his relationship with President Mugabe as "a working marriage, not a happy marriage". They meet once a week, and the PM insists that the 88-year-old president does pay attention to his views.

But that's not the impression given by pro-Mugabe hardliners like the justice minister Patrick Chinamasa. We met in his office, where he harangued me about the "puppets" of the West, which is how he described the MDC. As for the demands from the European Union and the Southern Africa regional grouping SADC that he introduce sweeping reforms of the police and judicial systems, he brushed them aside. No need, he said, everything is working fine.

Tell that to the former MDC MP Munyaradzi Gwisai, now a university law lecturer, who runs the Zimbabwean branch of the International Socialist Organisation. He and five others were arrested and charged with conspiring to commit violence at a meeting where they were watching a video showing the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

They say they were severely beaten while in custody - Gwisai told me he was taken to what he called a "torture chamber" in the central police station -- but they were spared the 10-year jail terms to which they could have been sentenced. Instead they were fined 500 US dollars each and ordered to do more than 400 hours of community service.

Why, you may wonder, were they fined in US dollars? Because the greenback is now Zimbabwe's official currency, after its own currency imploded three years ago beneath the weight of a hyper-inflation nightmare which reached an annual rate of 230 million per cent before they gave up and stopped counting.

As a result, there is now food in the shops again, and teachers and doctors are being paid. At Harare's central hospital, the clinical director, Gan Vera, told me they've made great strides since the worst days of 2008-9, but they're still not back to where they were a decade ago.

And that just about sums up the country as a whole. Zimbabwe is a better place than it was three years ago, when post-electoral violence claimed the lives of at least 200 people, and thousands more lived in terror of ZANU-PF thugs. But many people told me they are still waiting nervously for what a post-Mugabe era might bring. Politics is on hold pending "the transition" and it's making a lot of people jittery.

One woman I met spelt it out with brutal simplicity: "We just want the president to die," she said.

We hope to broadcast my reports from Zimbabwe and South Africa on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week, so do try to tune in.


  • Comment number 1.


    "euphemistically-named "spot fines"

    But is this any worse now than it was in the past? The whole of sub-Saharan Africa seems to run on 'tea money' to a greater or lesser extent. Is the prominence that you gave to this observation due to you being surprised or were you just confirming what any half-informed observer knows?

    Corruption from petty to grand is once of the most corrosive and damaging influences on the rate of development of much of the World.

    Questions that come to mind:

    Are the schools running?

    Are girls being educated?

    We know the judiciary is not very independent, but how bad is it?

  • Comment number 2.

    Place of birth seals one's fate....the constant in all countries is corruption..in the West the banks steal trillions in Africa they take your food and maybe your life. That is why the West calls itself civilized...higher forms of corruption...impersonal. At least the African might get a blow in.

  • Comment number 3.

    Visiting South African business delegation says it is not discouraged by the country’s political risk & therefore will not stop doing business in Zimbabwe as it remains a major market in the region. The delegation, which comprised players from the infrastructure, medical, information & communications technology, manufacturing, agro-processing & mining industries, held a one-day investment seminar for Zimbabwe and South African firms in Bulawayo Friday.
    Leader of the delegation and South African deputy Industry and Trade minister Elizabeth Thabethe said there was a great need to increase economic relations between the two countries and it was the responsibility of the governments to create the enabling environment for business.
    Thabethe, who did not talk about government’s recent effective expropriation of South Africa-owned platinum giant Zimplats, under the controversial INDIGENISATION CAMPAIGN, told the seminar South Africa, the continent’s biggest economy by far, was one of the most sophisticated & lucrative markets in the world & in fact encouraged Zimbabwean businesses to tap into existing investment opportunities.
    Since 2009, Zimbabwe has had positive growth rates above 5% per annum, reaching 5,9 % in 2010. Investment in the development of infrastructure in Zimbabwe will have high rate of return as this will lead to an increase in demand for manufactured & capital equipment. Since 2003, South African companies have undertaken 12 investment projects in Zimbabwe totalling R10,87 billion, creating more than 2 000 jobs in the metals, minerals, tourism & financial services sectors.

  • Comment number 4.

    Govt will NOT pay for 51% shares it is forcing mining companies to surrender to locals under the controversial INDIGENISATION PROGRAM, a move analysts say is tantamount to expropriation or nationalisation. Indigenisation & Economic Empowerment minister Kasukuwere told the Zimbabwe Independent GOVT was currently working on means of ensuring that the state does not, for instance, pay for equity in platinum mines it has targeted for indigenisation such as Zimplats and Mimosa, despite initially promising that there would be an exchange of cash for shares. Implats is expecting an average of US $500m for its 87% equity in Zimplats.
    Kasukuwere said that Zimbabwe Govt will not pay for the resources . This will apply to all companies and is not just confined to platinum mines. We are converting mineral resources in the ground in exchange for equity in mines. Where we are going to have shareholding, we are not going to pay.
    Government is already in the process of doing a due diligence exercise into Zimplats to determine the value of the mine. This will help govt when it quantifies platinum resources in the ground at Zimplats. While government has virtually concluded its take-over of Zimplats, other platinum mines operating in Zimbabwe, Mimosa and Unki, are also under pressure to accept a Zimplats expropriation model whereby a 31% stake would be housed under or sold to the bankrupt National Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Fund (NIEEF), 10%ceded to a community trust and another 10% to workers through an employee share option scheme. Critics fear govt will run down mines in much the same way Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC), presided over the demise of mines under its ambit such as Mhangura Copper Mines & Kamativi (tin) Mines. ZMDC was only resuscitated after the discovery of diamonds at Chiadzwa in Marange.
    Yet, I can't help but feel these resources belong to the people, should never have been expropriated, and Zimbabwe is proceeding correctly.

  • Comment number 5.

    As with many ex-British colonies --Zimbabwe is the rule rather than the exception.


    The Lancaster house ´agreement´was a farce and is difficult to defend-- as the British Secret Service had ´bugged´ the rooms and knew the discussions of the participants.

    Mugabe still speaks of ´absentee landlords´ in the old Colonial sense --who are they?

    While the British government was ´laughing up its sleeve´ at cheating Mugabe, he saw ( and obviously still does see) it as British treachery.

    The ´harvest´need not have been --the wrong seeds were sown.

  • Comment number 6.



    Welcome back! I trust you are well?

  • Comment number 7.

    #6 Scotch Git

    To misquote the WWl poem,

    "I had a rendezvous with (Cyber) Death
    At some disputed (intellectual) barricade"

    --Thanks -- Hope you are also well !

  • Comment number 8.

    Robin Lustig's report is the typical lies you get from the BBC on Zimbabwe. The usual partial information, slight of hand, and of course the mandatory campaign against 'Mugabe', which is really a defense of the colonial economy, and it's massive exploitation of the Zimbabwean people by not only 'white farmers', but by the trillionair bankers who are the shareholders of the mining companies.

    Lustig writes: "The economy is in a shambles, the country is producing less electric power than it was at the time of independence 32 years ago, ...".

    And why is that, Robin? Could it be because of the economic sanctions that the BBC refuses to talk about, or assess the damage done to the Zimbabwean economy?

    Zimbabwe has been under a credit freeze by the IMF/WB, US and EU governments. This credit freeze is euphemistically referred to as 'targeted sanctions' against (hundreds) of individual members of ZANU-PF. You know, to stop their wives from shopping in Paris and Rome?

    The truth is that Zimbabwe has been starved of credit - the actual reason for the hyperinflation that took place from Jan. 1st 2002 onwards. I quote from the never reported on by the BBC, Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 (ZDERA), S494 of the 107th US Congress. Through Section 4C, they froze the lines of credit of the Government of Zimbabwe (a term mentioned twice). Not 'targeted individuals', but the government as whole. Imagine what would happen to the UK economy if from one day to the other, they could no longer get credit for their exports. Do you think that would have a very drastic effect on the British economy? It certainly did on the Zimbabwean economy. From ZDERA, Section 4c:


    (c) MULTILATERAL FINANCING RESTRICTION- ... the Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the United States executive director to each international financial institution to oppose and vote against--

    (1) any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the Government of Zimbabwe; or

    (2) any cancellation or reduction of indebtedness owed by the Government of Zimbabwe to the United States or any international financial institution.

    (Google: s494 107th govtrack)

    The 9 banks mentioned in ZDERA are in Section 3 (Definitions), and include the IMF, WB, African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, African Development Fund, the Multilateral Guarantee Agency, and more.

    The year this legislation came into being the Zimbabwe trade surplus crashed from a rising $322 million surplus in 2001 to a -$18 million deficit and falling in 2002. That is the effect of ZDERA, in the year it was introduced. 2002 is also the year the Zimbabwe Dollar fell more against the US dollar than in the previous 6 years combined.

    Now the reason they and Robin Lustig must lie about this law, is because economic sanctions are extremely unpopular with the Zimbabwean people. This is because Zimbabwe is a democracy, and the second the Zimbabwean people associate the disappearance of their savings and wages through hyperinflation with the shenanigans of the MDC, whose rhodesian elements helped draw up the law for maximum damage, will be the moment they lose their seats in parliament.

    That is why the MDC, the US and UK governments, and of course the BBC must lie about the existence of economic sanctions against Zimbabwe.

    So why did these governments want to replace the land reform and indigenisation polices of ZANU-PF, with the neoliberal deregulation, privatisation and 'free trade' policies of the MDC? I think the answer is obvious. The British and US governments are run by the very same bankers that are drooling at the opportunity of getting their hands on 20% of the world's known diamond reserves.

    Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC's backers' Baldrick, is too stupid to think for himself. He will do whatever his backers tell him to do. That is why he is so popular with them, in fact far more popular than he is with the Zimbabwean people.

    What is also never pointed out, including by Robin Lustig, is that Zimbabwe owns 20% of the world's known diamond reserves. The local diamond mining monopolist is Anglo-American De Beers, which mines and trades 40% of the world's diamonds (used to be 95% during most of the 20th century), and has the national diamond mining monopolies just across the border from Zimbabwe, in South Africa and Botswana.

    By the way, according to his biographer Sara Huddleston, Morgan Tsvangirai had his start in life at Anglo-American, and 'loves them very much'.

    After Iraq, after Libya, no one can trust the BBC or the UK or US governments in anything they say that involves getting their hands on trillions of dollars of other people's raw materials for free.

    Zimbabwe is not a rogue state, the US and UK are.

  • Comment number 9.

    " Tell that to the former MDC MP Munyaradzi Gwisai, now a university law lecturer, who runs the Zimbabwean branch of the International Socialist Organisation. He and five others were arrested and charged with conspiring to commit violence at a meeting where they were watching a video showing the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. "

    For conspiring to cause Egyptian style violence, Munyaradzi Gwisai and others were found guilty, fined $500,- and given 420 ours of community service. The humanity!

    Would Robin Lustig care to compare that with the human rights record of the UK and US's great friend and former head of Ugandan Army intelligence, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda? Because his opposition members are in jail, denying the genocide (or at least the historic version of events) is a criminal offense, and President Kagame was himself almost wanted for war crimes at the ICC in The Hague. And then the lead prosecutor was fired. You see, Paul Kagame can kill at will, because, to use the parlance from the movie Donnie Brasco, Paul Kagame is 'a friend of ours'. He 'made his bones' killing his way into power and into the DRC, where his militias are committing atrocities on behalf of the mining companies.

    So he's a good guy. President Mugabe committed the crime of saying no to austerity and ESAP, and the economic destruction that these policies ALWAYS bring. (Google: tragic imf zimbabwe juhasz)

  • Comment number 10.

    One more thing on the international campaign of villification against Zimbabwe.

    There are anti-Zimbabwe Hollywood movies like The Interpreter, with Nicole Kidman, so you know there is big money behind this effort.

    However, I think the piece of propaganda that had the biggest impact in the demonisation process of Zimbabwe, the ZANU-PF and President Mugabe, was a hitjob called "Mugabe And The White African". The number of lies and deceptions in that piece of garbage are too many to recount here. However, there are a few that stand out.

    1) It was funded by The Economist Magazine.

    As Judy Woodruff (formerly CNN, now PBS) points out, Mugabe And The White African was funded by PBS and The Economist Magazine. Now what is the interest of The Economist in the demonisation of the country of Zimbabwe? Who is on the board of The Economist Magazine - Sir Evelyn and lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild. Who is the biggest shareholder in De Beers - the Rothschilds. Connect the dots, and you get a brazen quest for 1/5th of the world's known diamond reserves, owned by the people of Zimbabwe, by the world's biggest diamond miner.

    2) Land Reform Is 'Racism'

    "Zimbabwe, the country where it is a crime to be White", the dvd cover blares. By now you may be familiar with the fad of racists calling black people racist. Freeth and Campbell are of course champion racists. Not only was Campbell a captain in the SA Army, defending apartheid and killing freedom fighters. Freeth himself can't keep a lid on his racial superiority and god complexes, when he states that he believes that Africa should return to white rule. In his book, in his 'open letter to Mugabe', he calls Pan-Africanism "this hatred of the white man you have". In his krypto-pentecostal opinion, African rulers are 'possessed by the Spirit Of The Crocodile'. They can only improve their lot if they 'return to God'. He of course continuously identifies himself and whites with God, and Africans with the Devil. Does anyone really believe that an individual like that could return to power in a democracy, in a country that is 99% African?

    What the movie rabidly tries to hide, is the huge size of Mount Carmel. At 12,000 hectares, it is huge even by Rhodesian standards. By comparison, the average farm in the EU is 90 hectares, before landreform the average white farm was 2,500 hectares and the average African owned 2.5 hectares. After Fast Track, land was redistributed into 250 hectare (A2) and 50 hectare (A1) plots.

    This is not racism, or racial discrimination. This is equitable land redistribution, from which white Zimbabweans or members of the MDC are not exempted.

    In the movie, they try to deligitimize this process by insinuating Perfect Elite Capture - 6,000 white farms going to 5,000 higher ups in the ZANU-PF and armed forces. The lying lawyers do this, by holding up a partial list of land reform recipients published by the ZANU-PF minister (probably minister Flora Buka) themselves, very early on in the landredistribution process, in 2002. The movie was made in 2009.

    In truth, the land has gone to over 200,000 families to date, under Fast Track (2000 to today) and 159,000 under Willing Buyer, Willing Seller. That is nearly 360,000 families, upto 2 million people. It boggles the mind that the BBC would pretend that this would not make the President or ZANU-PF popular with the recipients of land. And of course, the BBC will only on the rarest occasion interview satisfied land recipients, and never without portraying them as absolute paupers. In Africa, the BBC defends the interests of the wealthy and powerful, including the diamond mining corporations. In the following table from 2007 (5 years ago), total Fast Track A1 and A2 recipients are just over 160,000. Clearly, not 5,000 'friends and cronies of Mugabe'.

    Source: Table 3. Agricultural land utilization, 2006/07

    Google (with quotation marks): "Zimbabwe - Key economic indicators, 2000–2007"

    3) The Infamous Title Deed

    The piece of paper that is held up tot the camera, contains two contradictory words: 1979 and Zimbabwe. The problem with that is that this cannot be an official document, because *Zimbabwe did not exist in 1979.* It became known as the Republic of Zimbabwe in April 1980, when the ZANU-PF won the first non-racist democratic elections ever held in the territory. In 1979, from 1 June 1979 to 12 December 1979, Zimbabwe was known as Zimbabwe-Rhodesia.

    Republic Of Rhodesia: 1965- 31 May 1979
    Republic of *Zimbabwe Rhodesia*: 1 June 1979- 12 December 1979
    Southern Rhodesia: 13 December 1979 - April 1980
    Republic Of Zimbabwe: April 1980 - today

    So at no time in 1979, was the country of Zimbabwe called Zimbabwe.

    So what is that 'pretty, pretty important piece of paper' again?

    But this is the rhodesian mentality. The Africans are so stupid that we cheated them once, like the reverend Helms, we can cheat them again.



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