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If You Can Survive in Zimbabwe, You Can Survive Anywhere

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Message Charles Rukuni
"If you can survive in Zimbabwe, you can survive anywhere in the world." This is the popular feeling in this troubled Southern African country which currently has the highest inflation in the world and is in its eighth successive year of recession.

It has lost half its national wealth but continues to defy all odds. Analysts have predicted an economic collapse for more than a decade, but the country teeters on, rudderless perhaps, but it is refusing to get to its knees.

With annual inflation at 1,281 percent, the majority of its citizens are now so hard-pressed that one is left wondering how they make ends meet.

Children think in millions. Most American television programmes do not make sense to them. Take the television series, Judge Judy. Someone takes a colleague to court over a debt of US$1 000. In Zimbabwe Z$1 000 only buys a loaf of bread. It is not even enough for a one-way trip to court.

Some programmes even give tips on how to save money. In Zimbabwe saving money is throwing it down the drain. As a senior journalist I earned Z$5 million a month two years ago. It was equivalent to US$1 000. My salary has increased 80-fold but in real terms I am now earning just over US$100. Put simply, you must be crazy to put your money in the bank.

What is even more amazing is how people make ends meet. When my salary was Z$5 million, I could afford to pay a term's school fees for my three children then attending a fairly expensive private school from just a month's salary. Now I need six months' salary to pay for just two, because the other has since graduated. Our school year has three terms.

A graduate school teacher does not even qualify for a loan to buy a bed on higher purchase. A teacher's starting salary is only $84 000 a month (US$23.33, half a day's minimum wage in the US). The bed costs more than five times that.

In January last year a family of six, the average family size in Zimbabwe, needed only Z$21 000 to survive. It now needs Z$351 630.

The situation is so bad that a quarter of the population -some three million people- has left the country. South Africa and Botswana are paying dearly for their sound economies as they have to deport thousands of Zimbabweans every month only to see them flock back.

The International Organisation for Migration says South Africa deported 80,000 illegal Zimbabweans between May and December last year, 950 of them unaccompanied minors.

Botswana said it spent P600 000 (about US$132 000) on repatriating illegal immigrants last year.

When one asks how those who have remained in the country survive, the answer is often: "inokorera payakasungirirwa"- Shona, the majority language, for a cow gets fat by grazing around the area where it is tied. Sometimes cattle are tied to a tree to prevent them from straying to neighbours' fields, or to keep them close by in case they are needed for an urgent chore.

In plain language, this means most people are stealing from their employer. This could be either cash, products, time or resources. Most have resorted to moonlighting, or they depend on their relatives in the diaspora.

There is even a joke about a couple that was querying why its phone bill at home was so high. The husband said he made most of his calls at work. The wife said the same thing. Their domestic worker chipped in: "I also make all my calls at work."

Sanctions imposed by the West to force a regime change in Zimbabwe only seem to be hurting the ordinary person and not those targeted. President Robert Mugabe may have been barred from travelling to New York, London or Paris, but he hardly spends more than two weeks at a stretch in the country.

One of his cronies, Philip Chiyangwa, even built an 18 bed roomed house with 25 lounges, 15 carports, nine servants' quarters and three heliports when he does not own any helicopter.

Lord Howell of Guildford aptly put it on January 8 when he told the British House of Lords that the so-called targeted sanctions were not very effective in hitting the right target.

"It appears on the contrary that, while the ruling tyranny in Zimbabwe is maintaining its position and even strengthening it, more women and children are dying..... Should we not try to refocus the whole of our operation vis-├-vis Zimbabwe in ways which hit the criminals who are ruling the country and not hit the poor people who are starving in very large numbers and longing for greater help?" he asked.

That is the question Zimbabweans ask everyday. Why is the West hurting the poor rather than the targeted politicians?

The answer is simple. The West does not care about the average Zimbabwean. It is more worried about its business interests in Zimbabwe.

The British have more than 400 companies in the country. There is no record that the number has dropped over the past five years that Zimbabwe has officially been under European Union targeted sanctions. British Airways now dominates international flights from Harare.

American investors own 20 percent of Impala Platinum (Implats), the world's second largest producer of the precious metal. Implats is on record as saying its future growth is hinged on Zimbabwe.

So when push comes to shove, the average Zimbabwean is fodder for the local politician who continues to thrive under the present chaos and the Western investor who is waiting by the fence for better times to come.

John Perkins sums it nicely it in his book: "Confession of an Economic Hit Man". Corporatocracy has taken over in the United States and is increasingly exerting itself as the single major influence on world economies and politics. "Words like democracy, socialism and capitalism (are) becoming almost obsolete," he says.
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Rukuni is currently the Bulawayo Bureau chief of the Financial Gazette , a weekly paper. He has freelanced extensively for The Voice (South Africa), Gemini News Service (London) , Africa Magazine (London), The Daily Nation (Kenya), Radio (more...)
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