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Philip Barclay and Grace Mutandwa

Zimbabwe

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Tuesday 21 April, 2009

Only politicians find something to celebrate

On Saturday the 18th of April, Zimbabwe celebrated 29 years of self-rule. Politicians made a big deal of their newly found "inclusiveness".

To show that the Global Political Agreement between ZANU PF and the two MDCs was alive and well, we had various government ministers and officials bombard us on radio about the importance of us all celebrating our independence anniversary together as a people.

For the past 28 years, ZANU PF has commandeered national events and most Zimbabweans have stayed away because they felt unwanted and demonised. Now we are suddenly told we should all pretend we are one big happy family!

We had MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, now Prime Minister, his two deputies and  ministers attending the main independence day celebrations alongside Robert Mugabe. The whole thing was simply a charade. It remained the ZANU PF leader's event. Tsvangirai was not even given the opportunity to address the people.

Twenty-nine years after attainment of majority rule, most Zimbabweans are living in abject poverty, unemployment continues to soar and basic human rights are trampled on.

A day before the celebrations, a journalist and two members of the main MDC were released from prison. They are being accused of banditry. I guess their release was something to celebrate.

In 1980 we gained independence from Britain. There was so much hope. We had such high expectations. We believed in our political leadership. There was so much goodwill and we believed nothing could go wrong. But we were wrong, we were so wrong.

We had a "people's government" and everything that could go wrong went wrong. Our government brooked no disagreement. Criticism was not tolerated. Refusing to be a  member of the ruling party meant your safety and freedoms were not guaranteed. Political detentions and persecution of the private media took a more sinister form. The people's government fought against its own people.

The shaky arrangement we have now does not inspire confidence in many people. And those  people are right to be skeptical. There is no evidence of genuine goodwill on the part of  ZANU PF. Agreements are not respected or honoured.

Zimbabweans are tired of empty promises. They are tired of listening to pompous politicians who think the world owes them a living. Independence is not just about raising a flag or singing a national anthem. It is not about a bunch of politicians agreeing to sit together for once. It should mean much more than that.

It should mean better education and health for all. It should mean employment opportunities. It should enable us to create opportunities for the whole nation and not just a select few. It should mean the respect of property and individual rights irrespective of race, colour or creed.

During the war of liberation we were told independence would bring milk and honey. To most Zimbabweans it has only brought pain and suffering. Politicians must be told that watching your people suffer is not a virtue, giving people a better life is. No one  should be proud of the fact that Zimbabweans have shown resilience in their day to day survival.

Leadership in this makeshift outfit that we call an inclusive government must be told that people cannot be taken for granted forever. The politicians must act in accordance  with expected norms of democracy and good governance. They must be told that there will be no free lunches. The international community will not give its money to people who do not respect their own nationals' property rights. No sane country will give money to a country that does not uphold the rule of law. You have to have a hole in the head to invest in a country where there are no guarantees and impunity is the order of the day.

We need the world. We cannot go it alone without the international community. Our politicians need to grow up and start proving that they are serious about getting this country working again. Beating our chests about our sovereignty will not create jobs or set our economy straight.

If we do not act in good faith, we will be celebrating our 30th independence  anniversary next year as a real failed state and we will have no one but ourselves to blame.

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Monday 28 April, 2008

Firearm imports and broken limbs do not inspire hope

When I tire of my administrative duties I always find that going out on a tour of some of our community development projects rejuvenates me.

Under normal circumstances we would have visited and handed over at least 10 community projects from January to date. This has not happened because the whole country is at a standstill.

A presidential election whose results remain a secret, unless of course we go by what is in the public domain, but is not "legally ours as citizens to know or announce" does not create a conducive environment for the continuation of normal business.

Everytime I go out on a project handover I come back feeling that we actually make a difference to the people who benefit from our partnership with them. My colleagues in the Britain and Zimbabwe Community Partnership Programme do all the groundwork of assessing the viability of projects and how needy the community is. I just go to talk to any press there and enjoy the fruits of my colleagues' work.

On project tours you meet some of the most down to earth and warm Zimbabweans. People who only want to get on with their lives and crave the opportunity to give their children a better future.

Last Saturday I thought of the communities throughout the country who have had boreholes sunk, schools built or received textbooks and just how these same people might be faring with the news filtering in of violence.

Until Saturday, the news was just news. In the morning of that day I visited a friend who had been taken ill and was in a private hospital.

On our our way out a relative of the friend who was with me drew my attention to a young boy who was in the same room as my friend.

The boy was being treated for malaria and had become one of the several people who have been rendered homeless by the political turmoil in the rural areas.

The boy told us how their home in Mudzi, Mashonaland East had been razed and how his mother had managed to keep him and his three siblings together and escaped from the scene. He said they had been accused of being sellouts. They spent two days in the bush, moving on towards Harare when they felt safe to do so.

We soon discovered that there were several middle-aged men and young men with broken limbs. Women had severely bruised thighs and buttocks from the beatings and they all told stories of terror and mayhem.

No one in authority is of course admitting that this is happening. And while this goes on, a vessel carrying an enormous load of dangerous weapons is coasting the sea looking for a "friendly docking" point. The South African Transport Workers' Union saw it off the shores of Durban.

News reports say Mozambique and Tanzania have also refused to accept this valuable cargo. Reports say it is headed for Angola.

The An Yue Jiang has come all the way from China. The people in such great need of this military hardware are of course starving Zimbabweans who also have no drugs in their major hospitals. How very thoughtful!

While this drama is playing out, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, has urged China to; "Play a useful role in Zimbabwe without using firearms." He is also reported to have said he was happy that Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries had denied the ship permission to dock.

We have done community projects in the country's various provinces. It is a part of my job that keeps me fulfilled. It is a part of my job that I will always cherish. Our development agency DFID does sterling work in HIV/AIDS and runs supplementary feeding schemes that have in the past helped save lives.

The joy on the faces of those we assist is what even under very difficult political conditions keeps us going. The glimmer of hope in the eyes of those we help is what makes our jobs worthy.

Weapons and broken limbs will not rebuild this country. Destruction will do nothing for our children's future. Pain and fear have no room in a God-fearing democratic country. We need to restore hope and our dignity.

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