Doctors without Borders and other relief groups, which deal with refugees from Zimbabwe that have fled into neighboring South Africa, widely condemned the decision to close a major camp close to the border by the South African Department of Home Affairs.
As the Sowetan reported yesterday (here), the South African government “was shutting down the “showground”, a large open field where more than 4000 Zimbabweans would queue to apply for asylum and seek refuge each night.” Voice of America reported (here) that “officials warned that all improvised shelters would be demolished, putting many refugees and asylum-seekers without proper immigration documents at risk of arrest. Between 3,000 and 4,000 Zimbabweans have congregated on the site in recent months, many having fled the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe to seek treatment in South Africa’s Limpopo province.
Medecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) called the move inhumane. “This ill-conceived decision by South African authorities will place Zimbabweans seeking refuge in South Africa at incredible risk – especially considering that many have serious illnesses, including HIV and tuberculosis,” MSF Head of Mission Rachel Cohen said.”
Allegedly, the government will be moving these refugees to a nearby military base, but it does not seem as if the South African government has much interest in being overly sympathetic with this latest group of refugees seeking asylum from Zimbabwe’s currently cholera epidemic. The BBC has a full length article here.
Desmond Tutu had an excellent editorial in the NY Times yesterday (here) calling for African leaders to stand behind the impending ICC ruling that will call for the arrest of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan. Part of the beauty of his commentary is its directness and simplicity, he wrote:
“Because the victims in Sudan are African, African leaders should be the staunchest supporters of efforts to see perpetrators brought to account. Yet rather than stand by those who have suffered in Darfur, African leaders have so far rallied behind the man responsible for turning that corner of Africa into a graveyard….[and yet] African leaders argue that the court’s action will impede efforts to promote peace in Darfur. However, there can be no real peace and security until justice is enjoyed by the inhabitants of the land. There is no peace precisely because there has been no justice. As painful and inconvenient as justice may be, we have seen that the alternative — allowing accountability to fall by the wayside — is worse.”
Hopefully, this sentiment across Africa and will put the feet of several African leaders to the fire. It would seem nearly impossible for anyone to defend Bashir given what has happened in Darfur over the last 8 years. And yet, there are claerly some leader in Africa that try and justify such a defense based on the tragic legacies of the slave trade, colonialism, imperialism, externally supported cold war dictators, etc., when in reality there are much more afraid of the ICC or some other international body issuing them a summons or a subpoena next.
And for those who think this has been Desmond Tutu’s only focus lately, he has been pushing Obama to issue an apology for the war in Iraq (here) and calling for Mugabe to step down and face justice for the better part of the last year once it became clear that he stole the most recent elections in Zimbabwe (here).
Keep on fighting the good fight Mr. Tutu.
It came as little surprise to anyone paying attention to the ongoing and deepening crisis in Zimbabwe that Mugabe went ahead with his lavish 85th birthday bash for around 3,000 people. The celebration cost over $250,000 USD and was largely paid for through donated funds by the wealthy allies of the aging dictator in the country, allegedly one man, Phillip Chiyangwe, a Zimbabwean business man donated almost half of this ($110,000). What the NY Times (here), BBC (here) and other don’t mention, partially because the emphasis of the coverage is on Mugabe, is that Mr. Chiyangwe is Mugabe’s nephew, one of his top advisers, and part of the ruling elite that has plundered Zimbabwe’s assets and resources over the last three decades (the Independent has an older article covering this topic, here).
What has been more surprising is Mugabe’s insistence that more lands seizures from white owned farms will continue in the near future, regardless of what African courts have rules or international opinion. In country where more than half of the population is receiving international food assistance and a major cholera epidemic has been spreading due to the collapse of the public health system, this is preposterous. Zimbabwe’s economy has been reeling since 2000, when Mugabe initiated the first major wave of land redistribution program and one of the most fertile countries in Africa rapidly began to run out of food. Even though the white owned farms were a legacy of colonialism, Mugabe’s politically motivated solution has been an unmitigated disaster. His closest allies took large swaths of the best land, but unlike the white farmers, they had no real interest in making the land productive, this was just plunder. Furthermore, the way in which these seizures have happened have turned Zimbabwe into a pariah state where no one, outside of the Zimbabwe’s ruling elite, would even want to attempt to run a business, farm or enterprise. Regardless, Mugabe is undeterred to continue down this self-destructive course and none of Zimbabwe’s neighbors seem motivated to get involved and put an end to this madness.
As for the birthday, Al Jazeera has some coverage of the event in the short report below:
The Guardian has another excellent and harrowing report (here) on conditions in Zimbabwe, this time with a focus on the growing cholera epidemic that Mugabe has been trying to keep under wraps as much as possible.
According to the World Health Organization’s most recent figures, which are used in the conclusion of this article:
” 79,613 suspected cases of cholera have been reported by the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare of Zimbabwe since the epidemic broke out in August 2008. Health experts had previously estimated that, in a worst-case scenario, the number could reach 60,000. Of the reported cases, 3,731 led to death, an overall fatality rate of 4.7%.
All 10 provinces in Zimbabwe are affected by the outbreak. Roughly 365 cholera treatment centres and units are now in operation across the country. However, about half of all cholera deaths are still occurring within the community, rather than in health facilities.”
Already 2/3 of the people in Zimbabwe are surviving on food assistance and the country’s health system has collapsed along with the economy.
What is the African Union, the UN, and the rest of the world going to do about this? The epidemic has already been spreading for over 6 months, while Mugabe negotiated his power sharing agreement with the opposition. It is clear that conditions have reached a breaking point and if something is not done soon, then the people in Zimbabwe are destined to suffer in medieval ways for even longer.
I recommend watching the video as well.
Zimbabwe’s economic collapse started in earnest after Robert Mugabe went forward with a controversial land seizure program in 2000, which may have been popular with the poor, but has led to the empty shelves across the country. Now it appears that Mugabe has plans to see if the sequel turns out any better than the original.
The Telegraph UK has an article today (here) that reveals that the aging dictator held meetings with his party loyalists to strip the few remaining white farmers in the country of their remaining lands.
The memos revealed that Mugabe has decided at these gathering that “lands officers together with law enforcement agencies must do everything in their power to assist in the eviction of former commercial farmers”, according to the notes.
Another similar gathering was held a few days later in Mutare, south-east of Harare.
Fewer than 300 white farmers are left in Zimbabwe, as opposed to 4,500 when the invasions began, and even then they have only small portions of their original landholdings left.”
How much longer will Mugabe allow to get away with such things? He already managed to celebrate his 85th birthday over the weekend in high end style and had one of the leading figures from the Movement for Democratic Change arrested days after finally agreeing to forming a power sharing government with Morgan Tsvangirai.
Does this sound like power sharing? How much worse things can get depends on whether the international community, especially in Africa, actually decides to put this madness to an end.
The Mugabe's Go Shopping
The UK Times has another investigating article revealing the depth of Robert Mugabe’s corruption. It seems that Mugabe and his wife are now the proud owners of a house in Hong Kong valued at £4 million. All of this while Zimbabwe “struggles with hyper-inflation, mass unemployment and a cholera epidemic” as the article points out.
The article discusses how reporters sent from the Times were roughed up when they tried to discern more facts about the Mugabe’s new residence in the Far East. While it is well known that the Chinese have been expanding their business ties and interests across Africa, it will be interesting to see if they also become the new Switzerland for Africa’s dictators. Mugabe knows that his days are numbered, as do other dictators, and could see China as the perfect destination to retire in the lap of luxury. Unlike rogue states, such as Burma, Sudan, or North Korea, China is a single party state that is stable, carries worldwide influence and knows how to keep a secret.
As with the details the Times provided of Mugabe’s impending 85th birthday celebration, finding out that the Mugabes have spent “£55,500 on marble statues in Vietnam and £8,700 on a handbag in Singapore.” In addition, “she and her husband have enjoyed some of the region’s finest hotels… [and] in Hong Kong, [Grace Mugabe] discussed a venture to have Zimbabwean diamonds cut and polished in China, her aides paid one hotel bill with a bag of cash containing £10,500.”
This certainly sounds a lot more devious than the old Rockerfeller mantra of the business of business being business to me.
The Guardian UK has an uploaded video about the current living conditions in Zimbabwe and the growing sense of desperation spreading across the country. Considering that Morgan Tsvangirai was finally sworn in today as the new Prime Minister after months of negotiations with Mugabe, hopefully things have finally hit bottom – though I doubt it. As long as Mugabe is allowed to stay in power, the people of Zimbabwe will continue to suffer and the country will remain isolated internationally.
Here is the video –