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Mary Ndlovu presents some hard truths about life in Zimbabwe and questions those Pan Africanists who fall for Mugabe’s “anti-imperalist rhetoric”. She asks if there is hope? Yes there is but only if Pan Africanism is “turned on it’s head” and “seized by the people” away from leaders not just in Zimbabwe but across Africa who have consistently betrayed the people.

Thanks to Rotimi Sankore for blowing aside the smokescreen which obscures the real issues in Zimbabwe for many well-wishers of a Pan Africanist persuasion. President Mugabe is very clever in his use of anti-imperialistic rhetoric to attract the loyalty of many unsuspecting supporters throughout Africa. It saddens Zimbabweans to see how easily people can be misled by words and ignore the true facts on the ground, thus failing to reach a meaningful understanding of our tragedy. Perhaps their perspective could be improved by a few hard realities:

Zimbabweans have a lower material standard of living now than they have had since the 1940's up to one quarter of the population has fled the country, due either to political harassment and torture or to inability to survive and feed their families tens of thousands of Zimbabweans are dying of treatable diseases because the health system has collapsed teachers earn less than the cost of their transport to work; their monthly salary will buy ten litres of petrol, but none can afford a car chiefs, discredited during the liberation war as supporters of the Smith regime, are being restored and elevated, imposed on the rural population as unelected leaders, and placed on the government payroll a small elite of ruling party cronies, families and relatives, without any evidence of working for it, live at a standard far beyond the expectations of most middle class professionals of the developed world Anyone who wishes to study the situation honestly will have to admit that none of this is caused by western "sanctions".

Our government has systematically destroyed an already troubled economy, for the purpose of staying in power. Rather than respond falling living standards in the 1990's by devising rational policies which could serve the people - or alternatively admitting failure and allowing the opposition to try their own solutions - the government panicked, determined to stay in power at all costs, put politics ahead of economic sense, and the whole descent into repression and chaos resulted.

It is an insult to Zimbabweans to expect that, faced with declining living standards, they would not seek to change a government which might bring them something better. Why should they be used by foreign exploiters - any more than the nationalist movement of the 60's and 70's was being used by communist meddlers?

Here are better explanations of the current Zimbabwean crisis:

There is a shortage of food because government forcibly stopped the most knowledgeable and skilled farmers from growing food there is a shortage of almost everything, including food, medicine, transport, manufactures and services because government has forced everyone to sell their goods and services at less than the production cost people are dying of starvation because government would prefer them to die than to lose control of food distribution to donors Bulawayo, a city of a million people has no water because government, since Independence in 1980, has not constructed a single new source for a population which has multiplied five times; it would prefer to kill a city which has the reputation of being an opposition stronghold those who dare to protest publicly that the situation is intolerable are arrested, battered, tortured, and thrown into lice, flea and excrement infested cells It is also true that there were poor rains in 2007. There have been poor rains before, and much of Zimbabwe is drought-prone. It is the responsibility of governments to deal with this type of problem and develop contingencies. If the government has not found out in 27 years how to deal with recurring drought, then they do not know how to fulfil their responsibilities.

Imperialists have been around for at least two centuries. If government has not found out how to deal with modern day "imperialists" (or globalisation) to protect their own people, they do not know how to lead an African nation. No amount of rhetoric is going to change the world order. But the rhetoric, along with the repression that has destroyed the economy, the society and the polity has killed a once vibrant nation full of hope. The dismemberment of families and the moral and material destruction of an entire society may have kept our government in power; it will never solve the problem of imperialism.

It is one thing to analyse what has gone wrong in Zimbabwe. It is quite another to take action which will promote positive change. Zimbabweans once (only seven long years ago) naively believed that leaders in Africa would understand the true nature of the tragedy which has struck us. No longer. It is now crystal clear that they are cast in a similar mould. Problems in their own countries stem from some of the same causes. If other governments in the region faced the same strength of opposition as Zimbabwe did in 2000 and 2002, they might look very similar to ours. We have only to watch the repression of protesters over housing and service provision in South Africa to understand the true position. Yes Mbeki may succeed in forcing some kind of accommodation between the MDC and ZANU PF. It might just improve the sad lot of Zimbabweans in some small way. But let us not fool ourselves into believing that it will promote any kind of social justice.

Opposition parties are cut from the same cloth and in countries where they have gained power have yet to show that they can deliver to the people Our nationalist movements for independence were led by intellectuals, by petty bourgeoisie, by labour aristocrats frustrated by their own lack of opportunity. They gained the support of the peasantry and the workers. But once in power they became distracted by the comforts of office, the self-importance of command and the prospect of fabulous wealth through corruption. Africa as a whole has been betrayed by nationalist movements, by governments, by liberation movements, and even by the new elite- the NGOs. So let us not expect much from our "leaders". They are not going to bring us social justice, whatever elite-pacting may take place in the secret places behind closed doors.

Where, then lies the future? Must we stop hoping and trying? Does Pan Africanism have any role to play? Of course it does. But only if we claim it away from the rhetoricians and the charlatans and the leaders who have betrayed us. We must turn it on its head and seize it for the people. Only through Herculean efforts of the social movements who demand a share of the wealth, and respect and comfort for the people will we make progress. And for this purpose we must form cross-border alliances at grass roots level to counter those alliances of corrupt leaders that the AU and SADC have become.

No one said this could be easy. Just as the liberation struggle was long and hard, so will this one be. But this time we must be more aware of the reality of not just potential but probable betrayal by leaders. We must develop new styles of leadership based on service not power and privilege. Then we can support each other across Africa, and step by careful step build a new Pan Africanism based on social justice for the people.

* Mary Ndlovu is a Zimbabwean human rights activist.

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