Starving billionaires, thriving despot

The ruling clique continues to harp on its role in the liberation war against colonialism and white minority rule, which ended in 1980, and squeeze it of every penny it is worth even after three decades of independence. The former “liberation fighters” view themselves as an elite deserving of special financial, economic and political privileges.

(Daily Times, 27 March 2013) 

From the town of Livingstone in Zambia, it is a very short ride to the Zimbabwe border, just 2-3 kilometres away. The no-man’s land is the famous 128-metre high, 198-metres long rail-and-road bridge over the Zambezi River which divides the two countries.  It was opened in 1905 by George Darwin, son of Charles Darwin. From the bridge, one catches a glimpse of the magnificent falls, just enough to swell the feeling of anticipation.

Victoria Falls has to be viewed from both sides to be fully appreciated.  If the Zimbabwean side reveals its full majesty, offering a nearly 180-degree view, from the Zambian side one gets a full measure of the furious descent of the mass of water. The sheer force of the fall and its ear-splitting sound makes one feel puny, and the volume of water gushing forth into the huge chasm below makes one wonder about this plenty in the midst of paucity.  For, not far from here, every day of their lives women walk many kilometres to fetch water for their daily needs.  

There is no need to change money as one enters Zimbabwe, because the American dollar (US$) is the official currency here. But why, you may ask, would US$ be the official currency of a country whose leader is famous for his anti-Western tirades? President Robert Mugabe’s crazy policies and the corruption of his cronies resulted in one of the worst rates of inflation in the history of the world. At the time of independence from the UK in 1980, one Zimbabwe dollar (Z$) was worth more than one US$. In September 2007, after 27 years of Mugabe’s rule, the exchange rate had fallen to Z$ 253 against US$1.

Just over one year later, in December 2008, it fell to Z$ 60,623, a decrease in value of 23,861 per cent. Zimbabwe’s annual inflation rate reached 516 quintillion per cent. Yes, 516 quintillion per cent, which is 516 followed by 18 zeros!

As people were now required to carry sacks of money to buy anything at all, in May 2008 the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe issued a Z$ 500 million banknote, which was worth US$ 2 at the time of issue. So rapid and massive was the loss of value of the Z$ that the bank felt compelled to print even higher denomination notes for the “convenience of the public”: 10 trillion, 20 trillion, 50 trillion and, finally, 100 trillion (100,000,000,000,000). Money was not worth the paper it was printed on.

Shops were empty, for prices were doubling or tripling every hour. Bartering had replaced a money-based economy. Every Zimbabwean citizen was a billionaire or a trillionaire, but most of them were starving. I am now able to count myself as a trillionaire, for I brought back from Zimbabwe a Z$ 10 trillion note as a souvenir, bought for a dollar or two on the street.

A few years ago, Air Zimbabwe flew from Dubai to Harare with just one passenger. Beating its own record in November last year, it resumed its Johannesburg to Harare flight without a single passenger on board.

And all was thanks to the liberation hero Robert Mugabe and his clique, which was determined to rule and reap profit no matter what, ruining a beautiful country in the process.

One of the first steps of the new coalition government formed in February 2009 with the intervention of South Africa, which included the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was to scrap the Z$ altogether and make the US$ the official currency of Zimbabwe.

Under the terms of the coalition agreement, Mugabe continues as president with the MDC’s Morvan Tsvangirai becoming prime minister with just enough powers to save the country from total collapse. With the army and police behind them, Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party clique shamelessly stay in power.

Some readers may recall the picture of Morvan Tsvangirai appearing in court a few years ago with fresh head wounds received at the hands of Mugabe’s police. He later went on to beat Mugabe in presidential elections but was cheated of victory, although the MDC won the parliamentary elections nevertheless. With a record such as this, Mugabe is gearing up to stand for yet another term as president. Should he succeed, he will complete his new five year term at the age of 94! It appears that nothing short of intervention by God himself can rid Zimbabwe of Mugabe.

The ruling clique continues to harp on its role in the liberation war against colonialism and white minority rule, which ended in 1980, and squeeze it of every penny it is worth even after three decades of independence. The former “liberation fighters” view themselves as an elite deserving of special financial, economic and political privileges, in exchange for which they act as Mugabe’s storm troopers.

Skulduggery is nothing new to Mugabe or his ZANU-PF.  Within two years of independence, Mugabe began to regard Joshua Nkomo of ZAPU party, his erstwhile ally in the liberation war, as an obstacle to his grab for absolute power. His task was made easy by the fact that Nkomo was from the minority Ndebele people of western Zimbabwe, while Mugabe is from the majority Shona tribe. In a public statement Mugabe said, “ZAPU and its leader, Dr. Joshua Nkomo, are like a cobra in a house. The only way to deal effectively with a snake is to strike and destroy its head

With this declaration of war, Mugabe unleashed his notorious North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade upon Nkomo’s supporters in his stronghold of Matabeleland province, killing perhaps up to 20,000 civilians in order to destroy ZAPU and create a one-party state. Nkomo fled the country but later returned to live quietly in Zimbabwe, dying in 1999. To exploit the dead man’s memory for his own political gain, Mugabe posthumously declared him a national hero. Before his death, Nkomo had made this telling comment: “Nothing in my life had prepared me for persecution at the hands of a government led by black Africans.” 

By Razi Azmi


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2 Responses to Starving billionaires, thriving despot

  1. Adnan khan says:

    I didn’t realise the kind of treatment melted out by Mugabe to Nkomo. I can vividly remember the picture of late Gen Zia and his large wife attending Mugabes swearing in in 1980.

  2. Javed Agha says:

    Interseting snap shot on Zimbabwe. I never knew that the official currency is USD. I can imagine the plight of people when the Z$ devalued by 23,861 per cent. You visited recently, but did not describe, what is the current rate and has the situation improved since South Africa brokered a deal among its politicians.

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