MDC: Zim crisis is world’s worst

The humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe has become the world’s worst but is still largely ignored by the international community, a member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said on Monday.

David Coltart, one of Zimbabwe’s leading white politicians and member of parliament for a mainly black constituency, said the crisis in the former British colony had far outgrown the ability of any single nation to tackle.

He accused United Nations food and health agencies of a gross dereliction of duty in keeping silent on the issue.

”Zimbabwe is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis — but no one is talking about it in public,” he told Reuters on a visit to London. ”It is absolutely catastrophic. The UN must act.

”Not only are people starving to death every day, but the collapse of the economy is starting to destabilise the region.”

Inflation in the country once known as the breadbasket of Southern Africa is running at above 6 000%, unemployment is at 80% and price controls have stripped supermarket shelves bare.

Even staple foods like bread and maize meal are virtually impossible to get hold of and people have been reduced to scavenging.

President Robert Mugabe, in power since independence in 1980, blames the economic disaster on meddling by outside countries, including former colonial power Britain.

They in turn deny the accusation and blame Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF party for incompetence, nepotism and corruption.

”What we need is a massive humanitarian relief effort. Mugabe is deliberately using food as a weapon,” said Coltart, who is secretary for legal affairs for a faction of the MDC.

”The trouble is that on the surface everything is quiet — it is in the hospitals and in the morgues that you see the truth,” he added.

Coltart said mediation talks with South Africa were making some headway on issues like a new constitution, electoral law, security and relaxing draconian media restrictions, but there was still a long way to go.

And time was running short with presidential and possibly parliamentary elections expected in March next year.

”We need to get agreement on a new constitution by then, and it doesn’t give us much time to finish an awful lot of work,” Coltart said.

He urged his divided party to end internal feuding and prepare to fight the elections with a united front.

”If we fight the election still divided it will be a gift to Zanu-PF and a disaster for Zimbabwe,” Coltart added.

Warning

Meanwhile, planned legislation that would place the majority share of all listed firms in the hands of indigenous black Zimbabweans will lead to a fall in foreign investment and worsen Zimbabwe’s economic woes, business leaders warned on Monday.

Members of a parliamentary committee that is currently debating the controversial Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Bill were told that the proposed law was both ill-timed and outdated.

Cain Mpofu, chief executive of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, said the correction of the historical imbalances should have been tackled by veteran President Robert Mugabe’s government when the former British colony gained independence in 1980.

”It, however, must be appreciated that 27 years down the road there has been an evolution and there is now significant change in ownership of business in Zimbabwe,” Mpofu told the MPs.

”The timing, therefore, does not appear appropriate for the following reasons: the economy is in a tail spin, international perception about proprietary rights protection in Zimbabwe is at its lowest and inflation is the highest in the world.”

”There is a likelihood of a 30% drop in foreign direct investment following passage of the proposed act.

”A decline in gross domestic product is also to be anticipated after implementation of the indigenisation programme,” he added.

Jack Murehwa, president of the Chamber of Mines, said the government should not try to force through changes of ownership.

”Government should facilitate the operations of the sector and not impose themselves on the sector operations,” he said. — Reuters, Sapa-AFP

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