Zimbabwe. A Country Where Hope Has All But Disappeared.
In July, I once again had the privilege of re- visiting my beloved Africa, only this time I found that it was a slightly sobering experience. A pessimistic mood seems to be hovering over South Africa like a dark and sinister cloud. That country, once a beacon of immense hope has somehow slipped into a quagmire of corruption and dirty deeds, perpetrated by those who once promised so much for the people who elected them.
However, it was to the north my gaze turned to witness what the future for South Africa could hold if, as is widely predicted, the country follows the same devastating road that Zimbabwe has followed for the past few decades.
In short, Zimbabwe has become Africa’s ‘basket case; its pariah leader, Robert Mugabe has, over the years systematically raped, pillaged and driven the country and its people into a state of total despair. There are now an estimated 2-3 million Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa and some four million worldwide who have fled a region that was once considered the continent’s breadbasket.
To put this into context, those numbers equate to one quarter (25%) of the population of the entire country who have been forced to flee the state’s dysfunction, appalling repression and economic failure that is nothing short of spectacular.
President Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF party, after failing to push through a new constitution in February 2000 began a policy of sweeping land seizure without compensation from the 4,800 white commercial farmers.
Prized and immensely profitable farms were distributed to Mugabe, his corrupt sycophants and his leading generals in the military while the remaining, less profitable farms were divided up and redistributed to his legions of followers.
The catastrophic result of Mugabe’s ‘largess’ ensured that the county’s economy shrank by more than half over the next eight years! Inflation began to run rampant until hyperinflation took hold and reached 89.7 sextillion percent by November 2008
To put this into context, inflation at those runaway levels meant that prices for everyday goods and services doubled each and every day!
Even with the introduction of the American dollar to replace the worthless Zimbabwean dollar a few years ago, the economy has continued to contract and has fallen by a further quarter since 2013. This scenario could be considered almost comical except that, for the citizens of this beleaguered country it has meant untold hardship and devastation.
Unemployment has risen to a staggering 90% of the population, which, for any government is a recipe for disaster. Mugabe counteracted, knowing that jobless millions could, and would be a recipe for revolution, by bolstering government employees.
In 1980 the country had a civil service of 68,000 consuming one third of government revenue. Today that self same government employs over 300,000 with a further 200,000 citizens drawing pensions and social security benefits. Again, Mugabe’s mismanagement of the economy has meant that, by swelling the civil service to unsustainable levels government jobs now swallow up 100% of revenue.
This maniacal strategy requires massive offshore borrowings to create and sustain jobs in the only way it can, by the government becoming the country’s leading employer. The system is not only broken, it has basically been systematically smashed to pieces.
These catastrophic turns of events have meant that Zimbabweans are fleeing the county in droves. For many, South Africa is seen as their only salvation as they seek job opportunities in order to feed their families ‘back home.” For many though, South Africa often provides only more disappointment as they face xenophobic retribution from South Africans who see these economic ‘refugees’ as stealing jobs. This year alone over 1400 illegal migrants have been deported back to Zimbabwe each and every week.
They return to a country where it seems every service has simply collapsed, particularly the health system. The compounding effects of a system on the verge of collapse, coupled with poor nutrition and the spread of disease, particularly HIV/AIDS, has meant that life expectancy has fallen to just 40.7 years.
President Mugabe, at 93, naturally avoids all of this by receiving excellent health care at some of the finest clinics in Singapore and elsewhere.
Income per capita stands at a pathetic $900 P/A, which ranks in the bottom 30 worldwide with one third of Zimbabweans now requiring food aid. This, for a country that in the 1980’s was a massive exporter of wheat and grain and more than able to feed its own population.
To add insult to injury, the breakdown of the rule of law has permitted the ransacking of the economy in the interests of a small, politically connected elite. It is almost as if failure has been deliberately engineered to permit enrichment of the Mugabe family and their cronies, for they would not have been able to amass their obscene wealth without deliberately destroying the country that provided it.
The problem now is that they seem to have exported this system of failure to South Africa.
Leaders in sub Saharan Africa seem unwilling to speak out about Mugabe’s contempt for his own people, perhaps because dysfunction in their own countries is precisely what they desire in order to enrich themselves.
The international community outside of Africa seem to be increasingly disinterested in Zimbabwe’s and, latterly South Africa’s woes as perhaps the prospect of the riches, in terms of minerals is far more important than people. Corrupt governments willingly trade their nation’s wealth to the likes of China and other states, desperate for Africa’s riches for the obligatory thirty pieces of silver.
Across the world we watch almost bemused by Africa’s plight. An example of this was the West’s almost indifference to the recent arrest of the Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, on trumped up charges, which barely made news in European and American papers (I guess they must be dealing with their own set of problems)
What is the answer?
Perhaps it’s for the disaffected to vote with their feet and dispose these corrupt and evil politicians and hold them accountable for their heinous crimes. These are ‘democratic’ counties and if democracy cannot save them, then perhaps its time to say,” abandon hope all ye who enter here’
My thanks to Tendai Biti , the former finance minister of Zimbabwe for many of the statistics quoted here.
Paul v Walters is the best selling author of several novels. When not cocooned in sloth and procrastination in his house in Bali, he scribbles for several international travel journals.