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State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Zimbabwe

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 11 March 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Zimbabwe, 11 March 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48a7eada2.html [accessed 12 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

In 2007, the Zimbabwean crisis continued to accelerate, with grave implications for its citizens and for the region. In a September 2007 report, International Crisis Group reported 3,000 Zimbabweans per day crossing into South Africa, as well as other Southern African countries. High levels of violence continued – targets were political, economic and social. They ranged from teachers, students, street vendors and journalists to villagers trying to sell grain, human rights activists and opposition politicians.

As the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum details, human rights abuses range from torture to violations of freedom of expression, movement and association, disappearances, unlawful arrest and unlawful detention. The economy continues to be in free-fall. According to the BBC in November 2007, the country's chief statistician indicated that the inflation rate was incalculable, but official reports in February 2008 put it at near 100,000 per cent.

South African-led quiet diplomacy continued to try to build fences between the main opposition MDC and the Zimbabwe government. By the end of the year this approach had not yielded significant benefits. President Mugabe continues to enjoy strong support from leaders of regional governments, unwilling to criticize the liberation-era leader, despite spreading effects of the country's implosion.

In this atmosphere of crisis, there is a strong risk that existing ethnic and racial tensions could be even more gravely inflamed – especially with presidential and parliamentary elections slated for 2008. This is reflected in the MRG's Peoples under Threat table (see pp. 161–7), where Zimbabwe is one of the fastest risers. Although, as indicated above, the Zimbabwe regime attacks a wide range of targets, two minorities are particularly at risk: the Ndebele and the Europeans. The former particularly because there has been a previous episode of mass killing, targeted at this community.

The Ndebele's heartland is the south-western territory of Matabeleland. In the years, immediately before and post-independence, divisions between the majority Shona and the minority Ndebele were evident. The main resistance movements opposing the racist regime of Ian Smith were the Ndebele's ZAPU, led by Joshua Nkomo, and the Shona's ZANU, led by Robert Mugabe. After independence, the Shona-dominated ZANU won the country's first free elections. Mugabe then moved to crush opposition among the Ndebele, embarking upon the 'Gukurahundi' pogrom. The killings, which continued from 1983 to 1987, resulted in an estimated 10,000–20,000 deaths.

Nevertheless, discrimination against the Ndebele continued. The Minorities at Risk (MAR) project notes that: 'There is massive unemployment and general social destitution in the area. Furthermore, although there are no restrictions to high office, civil servants in Matabeleland are disproportionately Shona, and do not even speak Ndebele' (see www.cidcm.umd.edu/mar). These issues have become particularly acute since the emergence of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC); Matabeleland is an opposition stronghold. MAR reports that in 2002, prior to the elections, ZANUPF allegedly threatened the Ndebele with starvation, and a document surfaced which allegedly contained a plan to exterminate the Ndebele. In the heightened tensions in the run-up to the spring 2008 elections, similar incidents may yet occur.

The leadership of the MDC – now split – has been Shona, in the shape of veteran leader, Morgan Tsvangirai and now the breakaway leader, Arthur Mutambara. But there has always been a strong contingent of Ndebele in the senior ranks of the MDC. The 2006 split within the MDC further emphasized the opposition's ethnic dimensions, with the Ndebele led by Secretary-General Welshman Ncube generally siding with the Mutambara faction.

Historically, Europeans owned half the arable land in country, and the large commercial farms supplied 80 per cent of the national agricultural product (Minorities at Risk project, 2000). However, when the Mugabe government embarked on its forcible land seizures policy, ostensibly to redistribute it to landless black Zimbabweans, this group came severely under attack. Many fled the country – those who remain are still extremely vulnerable. The white population of Zimbabwe is vastly reduced as farmers have fled to destinations including South Africa, the UK and Australia. Of some 4,000 white farmers in the 1990s, only around 400 remained in 2007, and the government announced that their farms would be taken in August 2007. Many whites have lost everything they owned. In addition to farmers, white civil servants who worked for the independent Zimbabwean state have been abandoned by their government and left impoverished. Much of the land seized has gone to individuals connected to the Mugabe elite, rather than to the landless.

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