Open Letter from Zimbabwe

Dear Family and Friends, – All eyes are glued on developments to the far north of Zimbabwe. First in Tunisia and then in Egypt we have witnessed what happens when people finally reach the end of their patience with leaders who have been in power for too long.

In Tunisia Mr Ben Ali had been in power for 23 years and protesters said they’d had enough of corruption, nepotism and a leader and government out of touch with the lives of ordinary people. People complained of high unemployment, a lack of political reforms and impunity. Weeks of repeated protests by thousands of people in Tunis ended with President Ben Ali fleeing the country. The people called it the Jasmin Revolution and woke up to a new era in the country and a new chapter in their lives.

Hardly was the revolution in Tunisia over when protests erupted in Egypt. Multiple thousands of protesters took to the streets. They said the wall of fear had been broken and that they were inspired by what they had seen in Tunis. In Egypt the protesters were met by teargas, rubber bullets and water cannons. Running in alongside the protesters were secret police in plain clothes, wielding fists, boots and baton sticks. Egyptian protesters kept on coming, walls and walls of them: bold, chanting, determined and fearless. Egyptian protesters said they want freedom, jobs, an end to corruption and a change to genuine democracy. They kept pushing forward, demanding an end to President Mubarak’s 30-year rule. A glimpse of a news clip from Egyptian state television caused a moment of déjà vu when the country’s leader was described as "the President of the country and commander in chief of the defence forces."

Everything from the reasons for the uprisings, to the reaction by the authorities, is chillingly familiar to Zimbabwe. Tear gas, baton sticks and water cannons; boots, fists and rubber bullets—all are methods of control well known to Zimbabweans. Familiar too are the complaints of the protesters; in fact, they are so similar that they may have been describing the situation in Zimbabwe. Leaders who have been in power for two and three decades, corruption, high unemployment, lack of political reforms and impunity are at the top of the list of protestors’ complaints.

While these dramatic events were going on in North Africa, President Mugabe was in Addis Ababa for an AU summit and Prime Minister Tsvangirai was in Switzerland attending a global forum in Davos. Captured for a moment by a top BBC reporter, Mr Tsvangirai was asked a few pertinent questions and his answers left raised eyebrows:

"What are your feelings about a free and fair election being possible?" he was asked. The Prime Minister replied that as long as the AU and SADC played their part, then the "Zanu PF dirty tricks will be minimized."

Asked about the 51% indigenisation of businesses, Mr Tsvangirai said changes had been made to the law, that plans were being drawn up and that it was not a ‘compulsory takeover’ but one of mutual agreement.

Asked about land reform and if farmers were going to be able to return to their properties to farm, Mr Tsvangirai said: "That is gone, we are past that."

And, back at home while Tunisia and Egypt exploded, and while Zimbabwe’s President and Prime Minister were both out of the country, the independent press were full of shocking headlines. In the Zimbabwe Independent came reports headed: "Violence flares in Harare,""MDC T can’t stop Zanu PF abuses," "Elections—propaganda, lies and deception." From NewsDay came screaming headlines: "70,000 government ghost workers exposed." Of 250,000 civil servants in Zimbabwe, the newspaper reported that a recent audit "has revealed there are about 70,000 ghost workers." These are apparently people on the payroll who "cannot be traced." The US$ 14 million dollars paying ghosts every month is being swept under the carpet when it could be used to support genuinely employed civil servants who are continuing to pour out of the country in search of a living wage.

As I write this letter the situation in Egypt has not been resolved and what is being described as a "political tsunami" continues. Where to next?

Until next time, thanks for reading.