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Home | ZimCrisis#144 -- Eddie Cross, Zimbabwe this Week, August 29th

Date: Wed, 30 Aug 2000 00:05:00 -0700
To: "Zimbabwe Crisis Mailing List":;
From: Zimbabwe Crisis
Subject: ZimCrisis#144 -- Eddie Cross, Zimbabwe this Week, August 29th

Two images stick in my mind from this past week on Thursday evening two government trucks dumped 50 people on the side of the road near our home on the outskirts of Harare. There were both men and women and a dozen small children. They were left on the side of the road at about 17.00 hrs and spent the night out there in the cold, without water or shelter. I heard about their plight and went over to see them they were from the area where the police were destroying illegal homes built on land "appropriated" by the "war vets". I called a couple of people including the local Baptist Church and asked if something could be done for them. Their furniture was damaged and they complained that food had been burned and building materials broken. They are a small sample of the 2 million urban homeless in Zimbabwe. They are still there, poorer and wiser than they were a week ago.

The government, which has created the urban homeless problem with studied indifference over the past 15 years (it takes up to 5 years to get the OK for a housing scheme and bribes are often the only way these are eventually cleared). Then for political reasons, they allow the thugs who have been conducting the farm invasions to spread their efforts to the plight of the urban homeless and are allowed to take over farmland on the outskirts of the cities. This is then divided up into plots and sold to hapless families like our new neighbours. These take this new opportunity at face value (often a senior Zanu PF official or MP is present at the allocation ceremonies as are the faithful Zimbabwe Television cameras) and start building the first homes that they have had in years of urban life. Then suddenly, Thabo Mbeki comes to town and demands action on this lawlessness and the government has the IMF team to appease, the police arrive, knock down the structures without warning and pitch these poor people out into the bush.

The second image was equally stark; I was down at Beitbridge doing a stocktake at a business the family owns and left on Sunday morning for Bulawayo where I was scheduled to do some business. 40 km down the road we started to see small groups of young men walking. "War vets", my wife muttered and we left them to their fate. For the next 50 km we went past dozens of such groups and eventually curiosity got the better of us and we stopped and asked two of them where they were coming from and why were they walking. "We were arrested in Johannesburg last week" they replied "and now we are walking back to our home in Bulawayo from the station at Beitbridge" (its three hundred km). We picked up 4 and took them to a small country hotel for a drink and a wash (they had been walking for more than 24 hours). They were very foot sore and could hardly move when we dropped them off in Bulawayo two hours later. They said there had been 600 of them on the train.

They are a small part of the flood of young people who are becoming economic refugees within the region. They walk across the border into Botswana or South Africa and then trek to the big cities where they work illegally until caught and deported. We have an estimated one million people in South Africa two thirds of whom are illegal immigrants. Shona is spoken in most parts of Johannesburg and the young Ndebele, Venda and Shangaan people blend in very well with their South African cousins. As the situation in Zimbabwe deteriorates daily, so the tide swells and if nothing is done, it will swamp South Africa.

Whatever else the politicians who run our countries may say they cannot escape responsibility for these tragic situations. We can house our people properly and affordably, we showed that after independence when Zimbabwe had an excellent record in this respect, before greed and corruption took root. We could give our young people a decent future in the land of their birth if we followed sensible political and economic policies there are plenty of examples to follow in the world. We do not even have to discover what makes a country develop rapidly its all been done before, so why can we not get down to the real business at hand and give our people that which is within our power and resources to do? There is only one answer and its not stupidity (we have more Doctors and Professors in our government than almost anywhere else in the world), its not resources (we are richly endowed) and its not some international conspiracy (everyone wants us to succeed). For the majority of Zimbabweans the problem is one man Robert Mugabe.

I always thought that Zaire was an astonishing example of how one man can hold a whole nation to ransom. Now it has happened to us, and the reality is very painful. In 1976 we had a similar situation with Ian Smith. Then we had Kissenger in the State Department and a President in Pretoria who put South Africa first, they recognised that the one man holding up progress in the region was a stubborn entrenched politician and they removed him in a surgical operation that took a few weeks. No such help is available to us today and it seems as if we have to remove him ourselves. The question is how? It would be so much easier and less painful if we could rely on South Africa and Mozambique to help.

We have been holding a series of meetings in the farming districts trying to get the farmers to work together to combat the illegal invasions and to get them to use the legal means at their disposal to hold up the process of the compulsory farm acquisitions. The meetings have often been tense and it was very moving in the one meeting to see several of the farmers present in tears when they were told that the great majority of ordinary Zimbabweans were on their side.

We explained to them that when one million workers downed tools the other day in a national strike, it was not to impress Mbeki (we did not know he was coming) but to press the case for a return to the rule of law and respect for the property rights of every Zimbabwean, irrespective of their origins. The stories they told of the threats and the beatings and the provocation were horrific. This past week has seen the first shots fired one by a white farmer who was being beaten by 80 thugs in Karoi and the other by game scouts who had tried to arrest a "war vet" who was poaching. It is extraordinary that this has not happened before now given the extent of the provocation and the nature of those being provoked.

Eddie Cross
29th August 2000

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- BSAP Pursuit of Zimbabwean Criminals -- http://www.bsaphq.f9.co.uk