Mugabe's Birthday: Zimbabwe Imperiled
In the days leading up to his 83rd birthday, Robert Mugabe was busy planning a bash for himself-at the cost of a mere $1.2 million dollars. That was before the leading opposition candidates decided to hold a rally. Mugabe's response was a massive police crackdown and a ban on any further public assemblies in the benighted country.
There were unconfirmed reports that three people died in skirmishes between the police and an estimated 50,000 supporters of the Morgan Tsvangirai-led faction of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) who had congregated. Police said they were investigating.
The rally was to have seen the launch of the MDC presidential campaign at the Zimbabwe Grounds in Highfields, a township known for political activism since the 1950s. The running battles with the police spread to nearby townships like Glen View and Glen Norah.
The MDC has good reason to protest. The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe reports that a survival basket of goods for a family of six sold for under $1000 U.S dollars in December, but cost over $1800 this month. In a country where the average wage is a mere $100, such inflation is catastrophic. And according to the Council, many basic foodstuffs cannot be had anywhere, for any price, even in the underground economy.
Zimbabwe, once the bread basket of Southern Africa, has seen its prosperity and its lifespan decline to almost medieval levels. Women live for 34 years, on average. Men live to 37. To add to the country's woes, water and sanitation services no longer work, and a full scale epidemic of cholera may be in the offing.
The sick and the wounded need not seek medical care- doctors and nurses have been on strike for over a month, and other civil servants may soon follow. As Mugabe's 83rd birthday approaches, the occasion is certainly not a happy one. His country is on the verge of a revolution or of a famine,or both. His increasingly desperate measures signal that he knows it.