Johannesburg – “Dead people are better off. They don’t need water or sadza (maize porridge). They’re just lying there nicely in their graves.”
Sitting on the stone floor of her bare home in Harare, a Zimbabwean woman poignantly expresses the desperation of millions of Zimbabweans stalked by starvation and disease.
Dinner for this woman, whose name is not given in the 15-minute film on Zimbabwe’s humanitarian crisis screened by Solidarity Peace Trust non-governmental organisation in Johannesburg on Tuesday, is a sachet of juice.
In another scene, a mother holds aloft a wailing baby, its eyes swollen shut, the skin peeling off its stubby legs. The baby is severely malnourished.
The images in the film entitled Death of a Nation, which record the slow strangulation of a population by a government hell-bent on retaining power, were taken between September and November this year.
They show a failed state where women in rural areas pick through withered trees for berries to keep their families alive because they can no longer afford a bag of maize meal.
And families telling of how they spent the day holding up a drip in an overcrowded clinic for a relative infected with cholera only to watch them die for lack of medication.
Over half Zimbabwe’s population of 12 million cannot adequately feed itself, stratospheric inflation means a tub of margarine costs US$9.65 and hundreds are dying of cholera, an easily preventable disease.
“The biggest threat to the lives of Zimbabweans is now the state itself,” Brian Raftopoulos, director of research and advocacy for Solidarity Peace Trust, told reporters at the screening.
Instead of trying to protect its citizens, the government of President Robert Mugabe is focused on maintaining its capacity “to arrest, harass and kill”, Raftopoulos charged.
Several MDC members and civil society activists have disappeared in recent weeks, either after being detained without charge by police or abducted by unidentified armed agents.
The only short-term solution to the crisis, according to Raftopoulos, is the implementation of the unity government to which Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai agreed in principle in September.
The deal has become bogged down in bickering, with the MDC accusing Mugabe of trying to force it into the role of junior partner.
“The only place where the parties are engaged is around that mediation,” said Raftopoulos.
“There are no realistic alternatives to that,” he added, dismissing calls by the West, Kenya and Botswana for Mugabe to step down as wishful thinking.
While the recent rioting by a group of soldiers in Harare has fuelled speculation that Mugabe could also face a military coup, Raftopoulos warned against wishing for such an outcome.
“It (a coup) will take us into an even worse position than we have currently.”
But another prominent Zimbabwean activist, Elinor Sisulu of the Crisis Coalition of Zimbabwe, warned the MDC against buckling to pressure from Zimbabwe’s neighbours to “play the game” and sign up to Mugabe’s terms for sharing power.
One of the sticking points in the negotiations has been which party would own the home affairs ministry, which controls the police.
The MDC is demanding it, in return for letting Zanu-PF retain the army. Zanu-PF is pushing for shared control.
“If (Tsvangirai) doesn’t control home affairs, and people still get hammered (by police) then he will quickly lose his legitimacy and popularity,” Sisulu warned. – Sapa-dpa
December 09 2008 at 06:49PM