The Continuing Collapse
After the rigged 2005 election, things continued to spiral downward. Words cannot do justice to the devastation.
Harare, the capital, began to reach a state of complete collapse. In one suburb of Harare which was home to 100 000 people, there was no water or fuel for weeks, there were power blackouts often lasting half a day, and burst sewage pipes were not repaired. Residents survived on water from boreholes and streams which were considered a health hazard. The water supply was interrupted in six other residential areas in and around Harare.
Harare used to be known as Salisbury, when Zimbabwe was Rhodesia. It was a modern, clean, efficient, beautiful city, that arose out of the African wilderness by the ingenuity and expertise of white settlers. My parents and grandparents, who worked so hard to make Rhodesia what it was, would doubtless not recognise it today. Perhaps it is a good thing that the city and the country were renamed. At least then those who built Rhodesia can know that it is not Salisbury, nor Rhodesia, that has collapsed. It is another country.
Farms Destroyed, the Nation Starving
Zimbabwe faced widespread starvation, the result of Mugabe’s insane destruction of the agricultural sector by violently throwing all but a handful of the farmers off their land. White farmers and their black workers were murdered, agriculture collapsed, land was seized and occupied by black squatters. Yet Mugabe assured his people that the land seizures were necessary, and that millions of people would benefit! Yet after the 2005 rigged election, Mugabe castigated the new black landowners for not making use of over half of the land. Vast tracts of prime farmland lay idle, the new occupiers both unable and unwilling to make productive use of it. Mugabe finally admitted that millions of acres of prime agricultural land had not been used since the white farmers were driven off. It was an admission that his violent, illegal, anti-white land grab policy had been an utter failure.
Basic food commodities ran out in Harare. Bread, maize meal, sugar, salt, and cooking oil – staples for poor Zimbabweans – could no longer be found on supermarket shelves. The shelves were empty. Such food as was produced, or imported, was used by the regime as a political weapon. It was distributed – but only to Zanu-PF supporters.
The new, illegal black “farmers” had no idea what to do, and were rapidly destroying what was left of Zimbabwe’s farms. According to the Reserve Bank governor, on resettled farms the people who were supposed to be the new farmers were chopping down productive orchards to sell the wood as firewood. They were chopping down mature coffee plantations in order to plant a little maize. They were stripping assets, destroying infrastructure, and selling whatever they could. “He spoke of massive environmental degradation and a rape of the land so widespread that there would soon be nothing left for Zimbabwean children to inherit.” “The people who have the power to stop it, the Ministers, politicians and government officials continue to do absolutely nothing. They do nothing about… widespread felling of decades old indigenous trees. The rape of the environment has become so widespread that it is now a huge treat to see anything whatsoever in our world famous African bush – even a guinea fowl is a huge treat”.
When Zimbabwe was Rhodesia, it was the breadbasket of the region. By 2005 it was the basket-case. From bread basket to basket case! Rhodesia was a massive exporter of food. Zimbabwe had to rely on food grants from international charities.
And as the population starved, what did Mugabe do? In an utterly insane and hideous move, he directed the county’s national parks officials to kill the wildlife in the world-renowned conservation areas, to provide meat for the four million starving rural Zimbabweans! When the farm invasions occurred, wildlife was slaughtered all over the country and the parks were devastated, as party militants poured into game parks and wreaked havoc; and now Mugabe sanctioned the lunacy to continue.
And of course, in true African style, the country’s resources were viewed as being there solely for the entertainment and usage of those in power: in 2005, ten elephants were slaughtered for barbecue meat at festivities to mark Zimbabwe’s 25 years of independence!
The Destruction of the Street Vendors
Next, under orders from Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s police swept across the country, destroying and burning the stalls of thousands and thousands of black street vendors in cities and towns, in what was called “Operation Drive Out Trash.” Smoke continually filled the skies from this massive destruction. The poverty-stricken people, trying desperately to make a few dollars just by selling vegetables, curios, and other goods at makeshift stalls, had even this feeble means of livelihood taken away from them. Not only street stalls, but hundreds of houses were bulldozed to the ground. Many of these were not squatter shacks, but solid brick houses. In Bulawayo, utter chaos reigned on 5th Avenue: stalls trashed, produce destroyed, rats running everywhere. The stall operators were not illegal, they had licences to run their businesses and paid rent for the sites. In Harare there was “a trail of destruction and burning”, with residents of one suburb milling around afterwards, “stunned by the speed and ferocity of the attack”. “At Victoria Falls the police burnt a 10 km long line of curio stalls that have been there for as long as anyone can remember”.
The United Nations estimated that over 200 000 people were left homeless in the middle of Zimbabwe’s winter, and 30 000 street vendors were arrested, according to police. And the purpose of this madness? According to the opposition MDC, it was designed to drive MDC supporters – the urban poor – back to the rural areas, where Zanu forces could more easily control them by denying them access to food supplies.
The Zimbabwe dollar was utterly worthless, and there was rampant inflation. The prescribed wage for a domestic worker was a million dollars a month; a retired person who received a pension of $8000 was unable to use it to buy more than a single Coca-Cola!