Zimbabwe, the former "breadbasket of southern Africa," is a country in economic ruin.
The national currency is worthless. The average laborer makes 500 million Zimbabwean dollars (ZWD) a month, while two pounds of meat costs 150 million ZWD and public transport costs 60 million.
A decent cab ride from one part of Harare, Zimbabwe's capital city, to another might cost as much as 1 billion ZWD. In this economic reality, any politics beyond the politics of securing one's next meal might seem irrelevant, but for the 40 percent of Zimbabweans who participated in last week's elections politics is front and center.
Zimbabwe's elections were the biggest in the country's history, and likely the most important elections in southern Africa this year. For the first time since independence, Zimbabwe held presidential, parliamentary, senatorial and council elections on the same day. March 29, 2008 signaled the end of a Zimbabwean Era, regardless of the elections' outcome.
This Zimbabwean era has been marked by a sharp economic decline as a result of the legacy of imperialism, 28 years of disastrous neo-liberal economic programs prescribed by the World Bank Group, and the failure of leadership from Zimbabwe's ruling elite. But the story of Zimbabwe and of Robert Mugabe did not begin this way. Soon after independence, Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) gave priority to human resource investment, and from 1980 to 1990, infant mortality decreased by 50 percent, child malnutrition fell 10 percent and life expectancy increased from 56 to 64.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Mugabe and the ZANU-PF were seen by many in the U.S. and across the Pan-African World as a beacon of hope in the fight for African Independence. Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's president for the last 28 years, rose to prominence as an acolyte of Kwame Nkrumah, and Zimbabwe provided material and diplomatic assistance as well as sanctuary to its still colonized neighbors and their revolutionary leaders. Unfortunately, this is only part of the legacy of Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF.
Between 1982 and 1985, the Zimbabwean military crushed armed resistance from Ndebele groups in the provinces of Matabeleland and the Midlands, killing more than 20,000 Ndebele civilians during the Gukurahundi massacres. In 1991, the government of Zimbabwe, short on hard currency and under international pressure, embarked on the austerity program which initiated Zimbabwe's decline.
In 2005 the Zimbabwean government's ''Operation Murambatsvina" (or "Operation Drive Out the Rubbish'') demolished the homes and business of poor, urban ''illegal shelters'' who were suspected of supporting the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), an opposition political party. This resulted in the loss of home or livelihood for more than 700,000 Zimbabweans and negatively affected 2.4 million more.
On March 29, as the people of Zimbabwe cast their votes and the world watched, and today on April 4, as they wait for the results of a deeply flawed elections process, people around the world who support Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwean people are clear in their role: to support the right of the Zimbabwean people to self-determination.
Zimbabweans are seeking a government, regardless of political party, that will invest in health services, education, and public welfare. They are calling for the development of a new constitution which will allow citizens to fully engage in the political processes of their government. They are calling for transparent and accountable economic policies that foster the transformation of the national economy, a national audit of debt, the repatriation of Zimbabwe's stolen wealth, and equitable and sustainable land redistribution.
The true test of solidarity with Zimbabwe should not be where one stands vis-à-vis Robert Mugabe or ZANU-PF, but rather where one stands in relation to Zimbabwe's people and their critique of their own government. TransAfrica Forum continues, as is our tradition, to stand in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe.
Nicole C. Lee is the Executive Director of TransAfrica Forum.