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In a dramatic protest at the on-going economic and political tragedy in Zimbabwe, Simon Fogarty, a Biomedical Sciences student at Lancaster University shaved his head in Alex Square on 10 March 2008. Several members of different advocacy and civic awareness groups, including SPEAK and Zimbabwe Solidarity witnessed the event which brought into sharp focus the problems facing ordinary Zimbabweans at the hands of the selfish and dictatorial regime of Robert Mugabe who at the age of 84 has led the country with an iron grip for 28 years since independence in 1980.
Later on that night in a graphic presentation entitled ‘Politics, Power and Poverty’ Reverend Graham Shaw, a former Methodist Minister in Zimbabwe, invited to Lancaster University by SPEAK, recounted how the country has descended from being the breadbasket of Africa to the present begging basket story. Zimbabwe currently holds some unenviable records including an inflation rate of over 150 000%, 80% unemployment rate and a falling life expectancy of 37 years for men and 34 years for women. Tragically over 3 million Zimbabweans are facing starvation while another 3 million have fled brutal repression or economic misery to live and work as labourers in neighbouring countries as well as around the globe including United Kingdom. At a time when a quarter of the population are either infected with HIV or suffering from full-blown AIDS, the medical services have all but disappeared for the ordinary person.
The Zimbabwean dollar is calculated to be losing value at the astronomical rate of $78 per minute and professionals like teachers and nurses survive on a salary of less than Z$1 000 000 000 equivalent to less than £10 per month or less than 4 bananas per day. Graham Shaw demonstrated how in a country faced with such mind-boggling figures poverty and misery, the Mugabe regime clings to power using a cynical combination of ruthless repressive tactics and communist style propaganda. The army, the police and a hopelessly brainwashed youth militia are alternately used in the brutal silencing of any opposition to Mugabe. Food handouts and other patronage tactics create a culture of cronyism where Mugabe characterises himself as the ultimate hero. The independent press is routinely harassed and the government owned newspapers together with the national radio and television services shamelessly praise the government without interrogating its policies. Meanwhile the Zimbabwe Solidarity Group is mounting a campaign where it urges people to Wear the bead pin badge, Put pressure on government, EU and UN for stronger action – sign the petitions, send letters to MPs etc., Tell others about the situation, Pray for Zimbabwe.
Elections of 29 March 2008
The window of hope offered by the harmonised elections held on 29 March 2008 is all but receding as Mugabe seeks to fraudulently cling to power. For the first time in 28 years the ruling party has lost its majority in parliament to the opposition MDC. In the presidential poll MDC and independent observers claim that Robert Mugabe has lost the election to Morgan Tsvangirayi. In worrying circumstances the ruling party has instructed the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (the body that supposedly has the constitutional authority to run the elections) to stop announcing the result in the presidential contest. A government spokesperson has made the ridiculous claim that the ZEC has rigged the election in favour of the opposition, notwithstanding the fact that the government has complete and illegal control on the functions of the Commission. Indeed some ZEC officials have been arrested and the whole country is in a tense limbo. Even more disturbing is the deployment of riot police, armed troops and the so-called war veterans on the Zimbabwean streets. Morgan Tsvangirayi has accused ZANU PF of declaring war on its own people. Political analysts predict that Mugabe is resorting to his traditional brutal methods of forcing people to support him. The environment is likely to be further constricted as unemployed youths are plied with alcohol and drugs to wreak havoc on an innocent electorate. In the past rape, murder and other instances of political violence have been used to secure ‘victory’ for Mugabe. The electoral register is in total shambles and is used to skew the results in favour of the ruling party. To date the electoral laws of the country have already been breached and the government only invited ‘friendly’ countries and organisations to monitor the elections so that it can commit violations with impunity.
Given that the MDC has still managed to secure an unprecedented victory under these circumstances, Mugabe should be urged to concede defeat and step down so that the country moves forward in reconstruction and reconciliation. The international community (particularly neighbours in the Southern Africa Development Community) should press for the immediate release of the presidential poll results, disbandment of government militias, return to rule of law, freedom of the press and an independent judiciary. Elections on 29th March.
As Simon’s hair grows back, Lancaster University and the whole world watch in frustration and hope at the mushrooming humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe. The important question: Are we doing enough to reign in the madness of power-hungry maniacs in Zimbabwe and in the world.