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Zimbabwe: Symptoms of Decline

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Dec 12, 2006 (061212)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Zimbabwe was once the publishing capital of southern Africa. It used to host the best book fair in Africa. But years of neglect, as with Zimbabwe itself, [have revived the saying]: 'We cannot eat books.' With few visitors and even fewer sales, neither can the publishers."

This comment from a visitor to the Zimbabwe International Book Fair in August parallels other symptoms of the crisis in Zimbabwe. Despite the creativity of ordinary Zimbabweans in finding ways to survive, and a wealth of civil society energy both inside the country and in the growing diaspora, multiple signs of decline are still visible.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin, in addition to the report on the book fair, includes short reports on Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa, on a government review of economic problems, and on a new study by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum on Operation Murambatsvina, last year's campaign to demolish slum housing.

For earlier AfricaFocus Bulletins on Zimbabwe, and for links for more information, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Zimbabwe International Book Fair 1-5th August 2006

A Report by Lizzy Attree

November 2006

[Published in hard copy in Britain Zimbabwe Society newsletter -; reposted with author's permission.]

This year's Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF) may well have been its last. Like the once beautiful Harare Gardens in which it was held, it was in sad disarray. When I arrived in Zimbabwe in July one community publisher thought it had already happened, other small publishers and Non-Governmental Organisations with publishing units had no idea the Fair was still on. Over the last six to eight years dilapidated dusty Harare has lost the support of the international community. Corruption, mal-administration, over-dependency on donor funding and the assumption they would pick up the tab, has forced donors from Norway, Sweden, Holland and Britain to leave contracts un-renewed. Independent publishers from South Africa have reluctantly stopped exhibiting and Frankfurt has withdrawn its official link and considers it "not worth a penny". However one bookseller from South Africa (UNISA), Ethiopia and Pakistan respectively still came to join what was a valiant effort by Zimbabwe's publishers to keep active against the odds.

The annual Indaba, which once hosted Nobel prize-winning authors such as Wole Soyinka and Nadine Gordimer, was reduced to a one-day conference entitled 'Africa - the cradle of conversation'. Not only was security and ticket-selling diligently performed by school children, but the overwhelming irony of the title was lost on nobody in a nation where conversing too freely about Mugabe and the heavy-handed ZANU PF ruling party is forbidden under tight media laws. The devaluation of Zimbabwean currency on 1st August 2006, dubbed the Zero to Hero project in the national press, for which according to finance minister Gono "failure is not an option", meant the dominant topic of conversation was the ridiculous state of the national economy, which had already begun cracking the heads of locals and visitors on the first day of the Fair.

There are not many countries in the world where you are not encouraged to trade in your own currency. On the first day of the Fair twelve million Zimbabweans were given just 21 days to switch to an entirely new currency. With over 1000 per cent inflation, members of the Zimbabwe Women Writers (ZWW) group scrutinised the new sample bearer cheques printed in the government-run Herald newspaper and wondered whether, if carefully cut out, these too would soon be valid currency. Or indeed whether their electricity bills despite daily eight-hour power-cuts would be cheaper if paid in the new currency. If Zimbabwe is a state of mind, at present it is a state of constant confusion and stress-related paralysis. A bemused shaking of heads was quickly followed by nervous laughter.

There was little evidence at the Fair of the deep paranoia induced by the CIO (Central Intelligence Organisation) whose undercover agents are present in all walks of life from local buses to pubs and universities. But the fear of violence soon became evident when GALZ (Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe) were chased away from their stall on day three in what is becoming an appalling annual tradition at the Book Fair. In an unrelated incident soldiers wearing the infamous red berets of Mugabe's militia were seen beating people in the streets of Harare later that evening. The large security presence around the perimeter seemed more concerned with keeping people who couldn't afford the $2m (œ2-4) entrance fee out, than ensuring the safety of those within. With books at a similar price I soon became a mobile library service for cab drivers, security guards, hotel maids and nurses. Real libraries make a substantial contribution to Zimbabwe's intellectual development, but due to fuel shortages Rural Libraries and Resources Development Programme (RLRDP) is raising funds for more donkeys to pull their mobile cart to villages they have yet to reach. Indicative of the devastating problems facing one in five Zimbabweans, HIV/AIDS information, was freely available on almost every other stall.

The laudable attempt on the ZIBF website to pitch the continent as "The cradle of civilisation and culture; education and philosophy; medicine, science and technology; world religions; the alphabet, ancient scriptures and modern literature; philosophies of the environment and the discourses of ecology" is sadly undermined by the situation Zimbabwe finds itself in today. Without trying to talk down a nation and its people, whose patience and tenacity in the face of absurdity, poverty and hunger defies belief, the idea that these topics could lead to fruitful discussion of an international calibre is laughable. Last year's Indaba descended into a racist, anti-colonial, nationalistic exercise in speech-making and grandstanding that past participants are now unwilling to repeat.

As a consequence the Indaba was an inward looking, navel-gazing exercise, which adopted the less ambitious subtitle Promoting Authorship. Similarly un-ambitious were the orators heralded by the programme as experts in their field, who made trite and predictable comments about the submission of manuscripts, which belonged in writers' workshops rather than podium based lecturing. One speaker who claimed to be a copyright lawyer declared that "copyright was invented in 18th Century Britain, before printing" and that "a king" passed a law to prevent illegal copying. His 40-minute ramble was hard to stomach (lunch was not provided) and left unchallenged despite some chuckles and a dwindling audience. However ZWW's Virginia Phiri did usefully remind us that writers' associations do have a stake in ZIMCOPY (the Reproduction Rights Organisation of Zimbabwe) and must make use of this to receive royalties and prevent piracy.

Introducing the Zimbabwe Book Publishers Association (ZBPA) literary awards evening the deputy dean of linguistics, University of Zimbabwe, misquoted Macbeth, painfully failing to rhyme 'in thunder, lightening or in rain'. He went on to announce ominously "we've gathered this evening like the witches in Macbeth but don't worry, we are not planning to kill people."

Awards night laughs continued with statements such as: "The author, like every other service provider, has been de-motivated by inflation." No doubt Beckett and Joyce would agree. The head of the EU Commission, Xavier Marchal, donated money at the last minute to enable the literary awards to go ahead. Despite only 42 entries in 12 categories, top prizes were given to 'Ama Books, Lleemon Publishers, Mambo Press, Weaver Press, and Zimbabwe Women Writers. College Press, Longman and Zimbabwe Publishing House (ZPH) shared textbook awards, which had by far the highest entrants. Citations of startling blue cover designs, and excellent tables of contents revealed perhaps more than the judges intended about the selection process.

The ZBPA also failed to speak out against the curbing of intellectual freedom and publishing that has occurred recently - with journalists, artists and writers prohibited from freedom of speech and expression - in the case of Chenjerai Hove this has resulted in a retreat into exile in France and Norway. Hove is one of the few writers published by almost all the publishers in Zimbabwe: Baobab Books, College Press, Mambo, Weaver Press and ZPH. Perhaps if the Association or the Trust had taken a stand, using his case as a precedent, there would be some basis for continuing to support a non-governmental venture that provides a platform for publishing and defends fundamental freedoms in a much-depleted environment. Without this reassurance, the ZBPA/ZIBF appears complicit or at least obedient to a defunct regime that rules by manipulation and fear.

Zimbabwe was once the publishing capital of southern Africa and the glossy brochure still boasts that Harare is "now recognised as Africa's book capital". It used to host the best book fair in Africa, complementing the more commercial book fair in Cape Town with a lively forum for debate, discussion and performance which the predominantly white Cape Town fair always lacked. Cape Town hosted its first official international book fair in June, but sub-Saharan Africa must now fit its enormous creativity into a handful of fairs: the Ghana book fair is every other year; Nigeria has an annual fair; Kenya and Uganda both have successful annual book weeks run by the East African Book Development Association. But years of neglect, as with Zimbabwe itself, have rendered it obsolete. As many a wise African has said: "We cannot eat books." With few visitors and even fewer sales, neither can the publishers.

The Gnarls Berkeley song playing as I wrote this in Harare speaks volumes "I can tell you know how hard this life can be, but you keep on smiling for me". Behind those smiles is a profound tension and sadness. Publishing was once the key to liberating the people of Europe from the tyranny of Bibles they could not read for themselves and publishers in Zimbabwe still have that goal in mind. But, having educated a generation, Mugabe has switched to an Ian Smith-style racism: "If you want to keep truth from a black person, put it in a book." The 2006 ZIBF was a masquerade etched in dust on ironed recycled tracing paper, blowing in the wind.

Zimbabwe: Women refugees in South Africa claim rape and torture at home

7 December 2006

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)

[Excerpts only. This material may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]

Johannesburg, 7 Dec 2006 (IRIN) - The South African government has been condemned for its "complete silence" over the high level of rape reported by Zimbabwean women applying for asylum, at the hands of the security forces in their country.

At least 15 percent of the Zimbabwean women refugees who visited a counselling centre run by the Zimbabwe Torture Victims/Survivors Project (ZTVP) in Johannesburg over the past 20 months alleged they had been raped.

"The most frequent perpetrators reported were supporters of the ruling party, Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) ... state agents - police, army and Central Intelligence Organisation [CIO] - were reported too, with the police being the most frequent state agency reported," said the study by the ZTVP.

The ZTVP is a partner project of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, an NGO that helps communities deal with violence. The project offers medical assistance, counselling and limited social assistance to Zimbabwean survivors of torture now living in South Africa.

Ahmed Motala, executive director of the centre and a human rights lawyer, lashed out at the South African government for its alleged tacit approval of attempts to block moves to censure Zimbabwe at the United Nations, the African Union and in the Southern African Development Community. "We urge the South African government, now that it is also a member of the UN Security Council, to become more vocal against Zimbabwe."

The ZTVP report, 'Women on the Run: Female Survivors of Torture Amongst Zimbabwean Asylum Seekers and Refugees in South Africa', was released on Thursday to coincide with the global campaign, '16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence', which ends on International Human Rights Day on 10 December. The report based its findings on interviews conducted with 102 women assisted at the centre between February 2005 and September 2006.

Zimbabwe, once a middle-income country, has become the world's fastest shrinking economy outside a war zone. An inflation rate of around 1,200 percent has pushed the price of even a basic shopping basket beyond the reach of many Zimbabweans, who have sought refuge in neighbouring South Africa. An estimated three million Zimbabweans are now live abroad: one-quarter of Zimbabwe's domestic population.

About 32 percent of all alleged torture survivors who were sought out by the ZTVP during the 20-month period were women. At least 67 percent of the women at the centre said they had been politically active in some way when they lived in Zimbabwe, and 43 percent described themselves as members of the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Last month, a Human Rights Watch report alleged that the systematic abuse of rights activists, including excessive use of force by police during protests, arbitrary arrests and detention, had intensified in Zimbabwe in the past year.

The ZTVP report contained harrowing accounts of sexual violence. The most recent case was a woman, identified as 'X' to protect her identity, who claimed she had been raped by the police after she attended an MDC meeting in April this year, in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare. She was allegedly held in a police station for three days without food and on her release was forced into a van and taken to a isolated area and raped by a policeman. ,,,

In a snap survey by ZTVP in 2005, 30 percent of the women complained that they had suffered political violence, and 44 percent reported having been denied access to food because they were opposition supporters.

Only 36 percent of the women interviewed for the report had been given asylum seeker status, and a mere two percent had been given refugee seeker status (an asylum seeker is a person who has applied for refugee status). The report commented that these figures should cause the "South African authorities serious embarrassment".

Jacob van Garderen, national coordinator of the Refugee and Migrant Rights Project at Lawyers for Human Rights, a South African NGO, said South Africa was struggling to clear a backlog of 7,000 applications by Zimbabwean asylum seekers. "This is besides the 11,000 fresh application filed since the beginning of this year [2006] until June."

He described the process of granting asylum or refugee status as "difficult" and long. "It can take a year to get an appointment with the department of home affairs to fill in the form to apply for asylum or refugee status." During that period, many asylum seekers end up being deported back to the country where they feared prosecution, which was against the South African constitution, van Garderen said.

Vincent Hlongwane, a South African government spokesman defended Pretoria's failure to tackle Zimbabwe over its rights record. He said South Africa did not "believe in talking down" to Zimbabwe, which was a "sovereign state". "It is for the people of Zimbabwe to resolve their problems themselves," he said. "We can only assist them. Besides, the former Tanzanian president [Benjamin] Mkapa has been mandated by the AU to help Zimbabwe, and we have full confidence in his abilities."

IRIN was unable to get comment from the Zimbabwean government, which has consistently denied claims of torture and abuse in the country.

Zimbabwe: Government reports 150% drop in living standards

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)

[This material may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]

Harare, 6 Dec 2006 (IRIN) - Zimbabwe's living standards have declined by 150 percent within the last decade, says a poverty assessment survey complied and published by the public service and social welfare ministry.

"The period 1996 to 2005 was marked by accelerated deterioration in the socio-economic situation," the survey said. "In contrast to the development achievements of the first ten years of independence (granted from Britain in 1980), the decade of the 1990s witnessed a turnaround of economic fortunes as economic decline set in and structural problems of high poverty and inequality persisted."

The social welfare ministry survey revealed that between 1995 and 2003, more than 63 percent of rural people could not obtain enough money to meet both basic food and non-food requirements, while the figure in urban areas was 53 percent. The survey covered 58 rural districts and 27 urban areas across the country's ten provinces.

Minimum monthly incomes of urban dwellers declined sharply during the same period because of the "deteriorating macro-economic environment, characterised by hyperinflation, negative GDP [gross domestic product] and shrinking formal job opportunities".

Gender was also recognised as having an impact on poverty levels. "Female-headed households, who are already mostly very poor, are moving towards the bottom limit," the ministry said. Since the last survey in 1995, malnutrition in children under five increased by 35 percent, people without access to clean water increased by 25 percent, and the number of people without access to healthcare went up by 48 percent.

The ZANU-PF government has experimented with six different economic policies since 1996, with dire consequences: hyperinflation has been hovering around 1,000 percent - the highest in the world; unemployment levels are above 70 percent; the industrial base has contracted by a third since 2000; foreign currency is scarce; shortages of basic commodities, such as food and energy, have become commonplace.

The poverty assessment cited the country's economic problems after the withdrawal of international donor support "following the implementation of a controversial land reform programme" as a contributing factor to the economic meltdown.

In 2000 President Robert Mugabe's government embarked on a fast-track land redistribution exercise that sought to give land to thousands of blacks from impoverished communal areas by removing more than 4,000 commercial white farmers from their farms. The European Union and the United States subsequently imposed limited sanctions on top government officials for human rights violations and Mugabe's disputed re-election in 2002.

According to independent analysts, the farming sector, once one of the main foreign exchange earners, has shrunk by about 65 percent as a result of the land reform programme.

The survey said poverty, already growing, had been worsened by recurrent droughts and floods, as well as an 18.1 percent HIV/ AIDS prevalence - one of the world's highest - which compounded non-productivity in the farming sector, as a recent ministry of agriculture study had concluded.

Farming communities were among the majority of areas that did not have access to health centres, with people having to travel more than 10km to the nearest clinic or hospital.

Rising medical costs forced about 30 percent of pregnant women to deliver at home, and skilled personnel attended to only 72 percent of those who went to health centres to have their babies, mostly due to an exodus of health workers in search of better salaries and working conditions.

Falling standards of living have made basics seem like luxuries. "I bought a wardrobe, bed and radio with my first salary but these things are now a pipedream for most people - even those with the so-called executive jobs," Sibangani Nkomo, 45, a teacher now employed as a human resources officer at a leading wholesaler in the capital, Harare, told IRIN.

Nkomo takes home Z$200,000 (US$800) a month, most of which is absorbed by rent, leaving him with no option but to borrow from friends and loan sharks. His wife went to Britain three years ago, where she works as a child minder and sends home the occasional US$200.

He has not been able to visit his elderly mother in rural Masvingo, about 250km south of Harare, for the past three years because he cannot afford the cost of transport. "When I can, I send her [my mother] a packet of sugar and a bottle of cooking oil through the driver of the bus that gets to my rural home, and I know she thinks I no longer care about her."

Before the country's economic meltdown, Nkomo said, weekends were spent with friends, when they would drink beer or attend local soccer matches. Nowadays, economic restraints keep him housebound.

According to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ), in October the basic monthly cost of living for a family of six was Z$141,706 (US$566); in November it cost at least Z$208,000 (US$832) - a 47.3 percent increase.

"CCZ is greatly concerned about the general price increases, especially in the month of November, which recorded significant increases compared to other months in the year," the consumer watchdog said in a statement.

Zimbabwe ignores UN over urban demolitions

Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum

December 01, 2006

The NGO Network Alliance Project - an Online Community for Zimbabwean Activists


Some 18 months after launching a brutal campaign of urban demolitions and forced evictions, the government of Zimbabwe has ignored all the recommendations contained in a highly critical United Nations report, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said in a report entitled "Political Repression disguised as Civic Mindedness: Operation Murambatsvina One Year Later" which it published on 30 November 2006 (

The Forum, in a 45-page audit of events since the so-called Operation Murambatsvina or Operation Clean Up Filth (, urged international action over the Mugabe government's long record of disregarding international conventions. Zimbabwe must be discussed at the UN Security Council, it added. ...

UN Special Envoy Anna Tibaijuka, in a report released in July 2005, said the demolition of thousands of dwellings and makeshift stalls was a "catastrophe" which had robbed 700,000 people of their homes and livelihoods. She made 12 recommendations, including prosecutions of those responsible, a proper reconstruction programme, compensation for victims, and that the Zimbabwe authorities facilitate humanitarian operations.

The Forum said that none of this has happened: the authorities have obstructed humanitarian aid; the official reconstruction programme is a "complete fiasco" riddled with corruption and nepotism; hundreds of thousands continue to live in deplorable conditions in camps; and evictions have continued.

The Zimbabwe government's argument that the operation was for the benefit of the people is shown to be false, said the report. The informal sector remains as it is, corruption has increased at all levels, there is no meaningful rehousing, and the economy has worsened.

But, said the Forum, if the real motive was to suppress opposition, then it had succeeded by making it more difficult to organise anti-government protests.

"For the ordinary Zimbabwean, it matters little whether the Zimbabwe government is malevolent or incompetent, or both; all that they can look forward to is a life of extreme hardship, and the certainty that any complaint about their lot will be met with brutal repression and denial from a government that few believe has a legitimate right to be in power," the report said

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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