Zimbabwe’s opposition, which split in 2005, is launching a reunification campaign—called the Save Zimbabwe Campaign–to prevent President Robert Mugabe from extending his rule to 2010 and to stop the national economic crisis. Mugabe has turned over most civilian ministries to army and intelligence officers, and he continues to print and circulate Zimbabwean dollars. The factions leaders have agreed that “the year 2007 is a year of action to bring political and economic change to our country…we are saying no to the illegal extension to Mugabe mandate beyond 2008” (source). The campaign is likely to invoke rallies, marches, and boycotts.
Riot police with batons, teargas, and water canon arrested dozens of opposition protesters on February 18, 2007, despite a High Court order permitting the opposition’s event at the Zimbabwe Grounds in Highfield township. The state-run Herald reported that opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) youth threw rocks at the riot police, injuring four. Ten trucks of heavily-armed police squads arrived after the arrests to seal off the grounds; police also erected road blocks and questioned motorists. The MDC had planned to launch leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s presidential election campaign during the rally.
Humanitarian and Economic Crisis
Doctors in Zimbabwe’s state-run hospitals, used by a majority of Zimbabweans, remain on strike over sagging pay, leaving waiting rooms crowded with sick patients, since December 2006. Doctors are demanding a 400% raise. Medical treatment in Zimbabwe was poor before the strike due to medicinal shortages; it is abysmal now. This is primarily because Zimbabwe is undergoing upward of 1,600 percent inflation hikes, precluding most citizens from purchasing needed goods and illustrating the “country’s economic meltdown.” This is the second such doctors’ strike in seven months. Other strikes and boycotts—likely by teachers, unions, and civil servants–should be anticipated as workers try to survive a national recession.
The country is plummeting toward chaos, much stemming from the 2000 land seizures and mass currency production. Unemployment is above 80 percent and is rising. The country suffers from widespread blackouts that frequently last longer than eight hours. Garbage mounds are ubiquitous. Cholera has plagued the Mabvuku township, and dysentery plagues the country, due to degraded water treatment facilities. Life expectancy is the lowest in the world at 36. And, the IMF portends inflation will plateau at 4,000 percent in 2007. Yet, Mugabe supporters plan an extravagant 83rd birthday celebration, funds for which will be siphoned from already failing state-owned utilities–for him on February 21.
Widespread desertion within the police and army threaten Mugabe’s iron rule as strikes appear increasingly likely due to the economic disaster Mugabe has brought on his people. Officers are leaving their employ to find ways to feed their families. Reports estimate upward of 10 percent have resigned. Additional desertions can be expected, especially from lower level officers who do not earn enough to buy food now.
Zimbabwe is in the throes of a brain drain. Three million Zimbabweans are expatriates. Health care providers and emergency responders are fleeing to South Africa for sanctuary from the outrageous inflation rate. Foreign investment is near zero.
Freedom of Expression
The Zimbabwe Independent and Zimbabwe Standard newspapers, the remaining independent newspapers, are under threat of closure by Mugabe’s administration. Trevor Ncube, the papers’ owner, may be stripped of his Zimbabwean citizenship in a ploy by Mugabe to close the papers because foreigners—Ncube is accused of Zambian heritage–cannot own newspapers under Zimbabwean law. Various journalist watch groups have petitioned the government to reverse the effort, saying “this deplorable and indefensible persecution of Mr. Ncube must cease” (source). An article of questionable validity indicated that Ncube could have his passport confiscated yet remain in control of the papers under the 2002 Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which allows foreign ownership of a paper in circulation at the time (source). Regardless, this censure is the most recent case of a string of Mugabe efforts to limit freedoms by the press.
The Way Ahead: World Cup 2010
Zimbabwe is funneling money into renovating the Motor Action Sports Club stadium and building two new stadiums in anticipation of the soccer tournament, which will be held in neighboring South Africa. Ironically, the country is banking on tourism and tournament support (ie hosting lower level matches) revenues from the competition. Mugabe will claim any successes gained as successes by his administration; any failure will be pushed onto Tony Blair in particular and the White West in general. In the meantime, Mugabe is unlikely to do anything to reverse the hyperinflation that besets his people, as he sits pretty in his gated, 25-bedroom mansion north of Harare.