25 Jun 2008

“Dying is not a good idea”

Victims of Robert Mugabe's 'Operation Mavhoterapapi'Image by Sokwanele - Zimbabwe via Flickr

Berikut adalah tulisan dari seorang teman, Paul Mundi, yang dikirim melalui email, setelah beliau jalan-jalan ke Zimbabwe, dan melihat langsung situasi di sana. Memang Bung Paul, sudah saatnya menghentikan penderitaan yang ada di sana...

Lucy (not her real name) is a young mother who makes a living selling tomatoes in Harare. A few months ago, her husband left her for another woman. So every day, she buys tomatoes from the farmers in her village, about 40 km from Harare. In the evenings, she straps her 3-month-old baby daughter on her back with a cloth, says goodbye to her other young children, and carries the heavy bag of tomatoes to the road to wait for a ride into town.

When she gets to the city centre, she finds a place on the pavement where there is light. She sets down her daughter, and starts selling tomatoes to passers-by – people who have not been able to do their shopping during the day, or those who have not found anything to buy in the nearly empty supermarkets. After selling as many tomatoes as she can, she goes to buy flour and sugar, then looks for a shared taxi to take her back home, where she prepares a meal for her children.

In Zimbabwe, Lucy is breaking the law. Farmers are allowed to sell their produce in town, she says, but traders like her have to sell from their own houses. But who wants to buy tomatoes in her village, where everyone grows them? So Lucy takes a risk every day. If the police catch her, they confiscate her tomatoes, fine her, and detain her for the night. So if she sees a police lorry coming towards her place on the pavement, she grabs her daughter and her bag of tomatoes, and runs.

So who will Lucy vote for in the election on 27 June? “ZANU-PF”, she says.

ZANU-PF is the ruling party of President Robert Mugabe. This is the party responsible for beatings and lootings, for intimidation and political violence in the run-up to the elections. Lucy says that party thugs have already killed two people in her village. Villagers are forced to attend party rallies and chant pro-Mugabe slogans. ZANU-PF youths go from door to door to find and beat people they suspect to be opposition supporters. People are told to make a note of the serial numbers on their ballot papers so their vote can be “audited”. With five small children to feed, Lucy cannot risk voting for the opposition, even though she would like to. “Dying is not a good idea”, she says. ZANU-PF is also the party responsible for the catastrophic state of Zimbabwe’s economy. The inflation rate is astronomic: prices double every couple of days. The exchange rate last Sunday was 3 billion Zimbabwe dollars to 1 US dollar. This Sunday, it was 16 billion, while today, Tuesday 24 June, the BBC is reporting it has hit 30 billion. Last week, an egg cost ZW$ 900 million; on Sunday, a small chocolate bar cost ZW$ 5 billion.

The government seems to be doing everything it can to stifle economic activity. Selling tomatoes is illegal. The government imposes price controls, but at the same time prints more and more money, pushing prices ever skywards. Police raid moneychangers, who are vital to maintaining the flow of foreign currency that is many Zimbabweans’ only source of income. Legitimate businesses are forcibly closed, while black-market operators with close ties to the government operate with impunity.

In an effort to stimulate agricultural production, the government gives interest-free loans to farmers. By the time the loan is to be repaid, the money is worth nothing – so the loan is free. The government is in effect printing money: the most common banknote now has nine zeroes, but is worth less than US$ 1 or €0.70. Tomorrow it will be worth less, and the day after that, even less. Perhaps in recognition of this, Zimbabwe’s banknotes have an expiry date – currently 31 December 2008. By which time they will be worth nothing anyway.

Unsurprisingly, shops in central Harare are empty. In one supermarket, the only items on sale were bags of “soy-veg mix” and rolls of plastic. All the other shelves were empty. Shoe shop windows display a single pair of shoes. Customers can buy vegetables from vendors like Lucy who squat on the pavement or who wheel carts with bananas or onions along the roadsides, ready to sprint for safety. The roads are free of the traffic jams that plague cities like Nairobi: fuel is rationed, so most drivers have no petrol.

“I wish I could get a job”, sighs Lucy. But would she be better off? On Saturday, she bought a bag of tomatoes each day for ZW$ 20 billion, and hoped to sell them in Harare for $60 billion: a mark-up of 200%. Out of that she has to pay for transport, bribes and fines. She can adjust her prices every few days.

Unlike Stanley (also not his real name), a guard who works for the National Museum of Zimbabwe. He earns $36 billion a month: less than Lucy can make in a single day. On a fixed income, Stanley is seeing his wages dwindle day by day. But at least he has a job; many Zimbabweans do not. Stanley is planning to leave for South Africa as soon as he can, to join his brother and 3 million other Zimbabweans there.

Many South Africans feel overwhelmed by the large number of Zimbabweans and other economic migrants in their country. This exploded into anti-foreigner violence last month, and many people fled: over 30,000 returned to Mozambique. But few Zimbabweans have returned home: they would rather brave the xenophobia in South Africa than face oppression and starvation at home. * * *

Paul Mundi (via email)
Development Communication

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