From the October 2002 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 49, No. 10)

International Editor of the Year Award

'Sanction's Rage' Turned on Citizens

Iden Wetherell, Zimbabwe Independent (pro-opposition weekly), Harare, Zimbabwe, Aug. 2, 2002

The government’s threat this week to take action against its domestic critics by restricting their movements will compound the impression of a rogue regime punishing its opponents. Home Affairs Minister John Nkomo said the government was considering “a range of measures which will include the withdrawal of passports and the introduction of exit and entry visas against our opponents in the country who have campaigned for sanctions.”

At first glance this may seem a justified tit for tat. Except of course the sanctions in question are being imposed by foreign governments, not Zimbabweans, and are directed against those in this government who have advocated or supported political violence and coercion and shown contempt for the rule of law. In cases where Zimbabweans may have supported such sanctions—and Nkomo offered no evidence of this—they have broken no law.

It has been a fundamental part of government propaganda to portray the opposition as directly involved in drawing up the United States’ Zimbabwe Economic Recovery and Democracy Act and European Union (EU) measures against the Harare authorities. But anybody familiar with the passage of the U.S. legislation through Congress last year will know the measure was very much the product of deliberations between American congressional leaders themselves. The decision by certain African-American congressmen to throw their weight behind the bill was the deciding factor in its successful passage, not Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) lobbying.

Similarly, the EU measures came only after intense pressure from members of the European Parliament. It does not require any effort by the MDC for the true nature of ZANU-PF’s (Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front’s) damaging misrule to be known abroad. The appointment of army and intelligence officers to run the March poll, the last-minute manipulation of electoral rules, the addition of 400,000 people to the voters’ roll after it had been legally closed, the partisan role of the police, and the arrest of poll monitors were all given extensive coverage in the international media, despite clumsy attempts by the Ministry of Information to prevent such news getting out.

So was the failure of the police and the attorney general’s office to prosecute those state agents identified in court as responsible for the murder of political opponents. In his court papers opposing [MDC leader] Morgan Tsvangirai’s petition to have the March poll results overturned, President Robert Mugabe claimed that the MDC lost because it did not campaign with sufficient energy. He didn’t mention the roadblocks mounted by his supporters, the no-go areas, or the role of the police in refusing permission for opposition rallies.

But people overseas know how the political playing field was tilted in his favor. More than anything else, they know about the political violence directed against MDC candidates, election agents, and ordinary supporters. They know about the militias based on farms, about polling stations located near them, and the denial of the right to vote to tens of thousands of people in Harare.

They also know that since the election, political retribution has caused internal displacement of thousands of rural folk. That the prohibition of farming—directed solely by a racist and partisan agenda—has led to food shortages and starvation.

The whole world is now aware of the government’s role in Zimbabwe’s man-made crisis. The government media fatuously claimed at the opening of Parliament last week that “the EU has accused the government of being responsible for the drought.” In fact everybody has accused the government of being responsible for the famine that now stalks the land. Drought has only compounded the crisis.

If land reform had been sensibly conducted, agricultural resources wisely harnessed, and less-downright-stupid ministers placed in charge of land acquisition, the country would have survived on its own resources. Instead, the government has been obliged to depend upon the charity of governments it routinely abuses as part of its self-defeating propaganda offensive.

Yes, the whole of Southern Africa is experiencing a drought. But Zimbabwe, for 22 years self-sufficient in food production, is experiencing unprecedented shortages. A country that destroys the means of its survival will understandably be regarded with little respect on the world stage where its leaders once strutted with such confidence. The sanctions now being adopted are an understandable response to a leadership which, surrounded by the wreckage of its policies, still refuses to adopt measures that could save its people from disease, destitution, and death.

Penalties against its opponents will not spare ZANU-PF and its allies the consequences of their misrule. Instead they will simply add to the tightening of the net which, despite assurances to the contrary, seems to be discomfiting those members of the regime who thought they could behave as they liked and then continue to be received with open arms in countries they publicly scorn.

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