Sunday, December 7, 2008
Most of us have seen it coming for many months, if not years. It seems like the few individuals who actually had the power to prevent it were the only ones blinded to the inevitable unfolding of events that now see Zimbabwe teetering on the brink of cataclysmic collapse.
Of these, former South African President Thabo Mbeki springs to mind, who just a few short months ago felt comfortable declaring that he did not consider the Zim situation a crisis, as he continued his biased policy of Mugabe appeasement. The power sharing agreement that he brokered is now, just a few weeks on, officially considered defunct as the main players continue to squabble over political power and protocol.
Today, the cracks beneath the long-shattered economy are finally opening, and the people of this dismally failed state are slipping into a yawning abyss. Inflation is estimated at 2.8 quintillion percent - that's 2.8 followed by 18 zeros. Government troops have boiled over into anarchy, expressing their discontent through the riots and raids witnessed in Harare last week. The capital itself has been without fresh running water for a month, and now the deathly scourge of cholera - normally a preventable and treatable disease - is taking hundreds of lives as it slithers across Zimbabwe's borders, revelling in unmanned, unsupplied hospitals.
Zimbabwe's implosion had to reach this stage of mass death and disease before local leaders felt comfortable saying "enough". And only, it seems, because the threat of an epidemic on their own soil has now been felt. While the rest of the world spluttered impotently at the horror gradually unfolding before their eyes, southern African leaders, with few notable exceptions, could not bring themselves to openly criticise the Mugabe regime for fear of offending the despot's status as an African liberation hero.
The "liberated" people of Zimbabwe are now digging for roots and scratching for grain in an instinctive, but often vain, struggle to cling to their impoverished, disease-threatened lives. Last week, the official announcement was made by South African authorities: the Limpopo River is contaminated with cholera. Raw sewage is flowing through the streets. People no longer shake hands in greeting for fear of catching the disease. Aid agencies have warned that, even in the best case scenario, hundreds or thousands more are likely to die because the tipping point has already been reached. The dam has burst. And as the rainy season looms, bringing with it the promise of unprecedented levels of death, there is no medicine or clean water or sanitation - or strength - to stem the flood.
Mugabe claims that the sanctions imposed by his eternal enemies, the Colonial Masters of the West, are solely to blame for the liquidation of his country. However, even other African leaders frown sceptically at the idea that these limited sanctions - which targeted Mugabe and his inner circle, freezing their personal overseas assets and restricting their travel - can be at the root of the cataclysm.
From our position south of Zimbabwe's infested border, we watch helplessly as this humanitarian tragedy that has slowly been unfolding before our eyes for many months, accelerates into a full-blown meltdown.