Robert Mugabe is facing allegations of faking a flood in Tokwe-Mukorsi, south-east Zimbabwe, obtaining cheap labor to serve the government’s business interests. Human Rights Watch (HRW), alleged that this fake flood, reportedly created in February, forced the evacuation of 3000 families to arrange for labor for a sugarcane and ethanol production plant.
In February 2014, the Zimbabwe media reported floods caused by the partial collapse of a dam wall in Masvingo province by incessant rain. Terming it a “natural disaster,” Mugabe had the military in Zimbabwe conduct a settlement operation. Around 20,000 people were resettled into a camp near Nuanetsi Ranch, 80 miles from Tokwe-Mukorsi, to work in large sugar cane fields to make ethanol. The ethanol facility is jointly owned by Billy Rautenbach, a businessman locally known as “Africa’s Napoleon,” and the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). The families were told to work in the facility and advised that distribution of their donated food was dependent on their work.
Contradicting Mugabe’s reports, interviews by HRW with three senior staff from JVC say otherwise. The Italian firm Salini Impregilo JVC, who is currently working on the dam, indicated that the wall was never damaged. Requesting anonymity, one of the senior officers quashed this report, calling it false information. The flood was caused by backing up flood waters after shutting the gates on the sluice that joins two rivers. They reported that neither did the wall collapse nor was it ever in danger of collapsing. The staff even went as far as reporting that even with the gates open, the dams will take at least five years to reach its full capacity. In this case, the dam was closed because the villagers had resisted relocation, causing Mugabe to fake the flood to create cheap labor.
HRW officials called the “flood,” a water management issue and speculate that the flood gates must have been laid open causing the waters to flood. HRW pointed out that the evacuation caused several issues with the people Mugabe forced out. Children from Chingwizi were hit the worst, having lost out on attending school regularly. The school set up at camp is neither staffed sufficiently nor maintained adequately. HRW monitors also reported aid for Masvingo being diverted to Triangle and Chiredzi, to be sold for profit. Kasambala intends to investigate the local official to find out why the aid intended for the refugees ended up in the markets, insisting that the government in Zimbabwe should have monitored the delivery all along.
Tiseke Kasambala, from the South African chapter of HRW, said that the circumstances under which the 3000 families were displaced was dubious and forcing them into cheap labor for a better lack of options. Members and officials of the ZANU-PF denied these allegations and claimed them to be false. These allegations come in the light of the fact that ZANU-PF recently won the elections in July 2013, following a highly contested vote. In a bid to avoid the involvement of the media in this issue, Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, the minister for Masvingo, banned five journalists from visiting the camp and surrounding areas, on charges being biased. Calling comments made by the HRW mischievous and ridiculous, Bhasikiti said that the floods were common in Africa as is it in U.K. and Canada. He also denied Rautenbach’s involvement in the issue, although its known that Mugabe and Rautenbach share close ties sanctioned by the U.S., U.K. and the European Union since 2008.
Mugabe has been accused of being the mastermind behind a fake flood that enabled his government to quickly evacuate 20,000 people with no apparent compensation under the guise of a national disaster. Attracting international sympathy and aid from donors, Robert Mugabe’s allegedly fake flood turned the refugees into cheap labor for an ethanol plant.
By Rathan Paul Harshavardan