World Vision trip to Zimbabwe

12 February 2015

Mr SPEIRS (Bright) (15:55:16):  During the summer break I had the privilege of being able to travel to Zimbabwe as a guest of the South Australian office of World Vision.

The purpose of this trip was to look at World Vision—

Mr Whetstone interjecting:

The DEPUTY SPEAKER:  The member for Chaffey is warned for the first time.

Mr SPEIRS:  —coordinated projects which South Australians have had input into and which are supported by World Vision Australia and federal government agency AusAID. Travelling with World Vision staff and me was a small delegation from Edge Church International, which has its south campus close to the southern end of my electorate and which the member for Mitchell and I have regular interactions with.

Our trip to Zimbabwe was challenging in many ways. The country is a live example of what happens when the systems of government totally fail. Everything in Zimbabwe is in decline, decaying. Unemployment rates are hard to reliably calculate but, if subsistence farming is excluded from the definition of employment, the rate of people out of work could be in excess of 80 per cent. Of those in actual employment, a huge proportion are employed by NGOs meaning that, in effect, they are part of a necessary but false economy.

There is barely any commerce and free enterprise in Zimbabwe. I took $US400 with me as spending money and came back with $US300. There was little to spend money on. Everything in Zimbabwe is more difficult than it ought to be. Immediately upon our arrival we struggled to get camera gear through customs and had to pay an official bribe or deposit of $US1,000 to get the equipment through. It was the beginning of a web of bureaucracy which we were tangled in for most of our trip.

It was obvious that so disempowered is Zimbabwean society that anyone who has a semblance of personal power—a customs officer, a police officer, a national park ranger, an NGO worker—would inflate their power, complicating life and slowing everything to a standstill. What was most startling for me was the way that fear coursed through the country. The government has the populace right where it wants it—paralysed by fear, entirely apathetic, disempowered and broken. In fact, those who are most depressed and completely trapped by government are those who stay most loyal to the despotic Mugabe regime.

After only a couple days in the country, I felt that fear spread like a cancer into our thinking and our actions. Our conversations became filtered and we began to walk on eggshells. The real tragedy of all this is the needlessness of the situation befalling Zimbabwe. It should be a prosperous country. Its climate is amazing, warm and mild, with decent levels of rainfall. In fact, in 2011 Zimbabwe was rated as having the best climate in the world on the Quality of Life Index. Zimbabwe has fantastic agricultural soils and rarely experiences the natural disasters which often befall Third World countries. It all comes down to leadership or a lack thereof and the great brokenness of the Zimbabwean government, the power wielded by ZANU-PF and its ageing leader, Robert Mugabe.

Despite this difficulty, our trip was good. I had a good time and I enjoyed spending time with warm, welcoming, energetic Zimbabwean people. I enjoyed their smiles and their enthusiasm for life. We spent most of our time in Zimbabwe's second largest city, Bulawayo—a city which has traditionally been seen as Zimbabwe's industrial capital—but mass departures to South Africa in search of employment have hollowed it out and left it a shadow of its former self.

World Vision's approach to development in Zimbabwe is based around area development programs (ADPs). ADPs are established for the long term with World Vision connecting with and supporting a community through its ADP for 15 years. Two years are spent planning how support programs can be rolled out, then over the ensuing decade a sustained effort is made to improve food security, access to clean water, create economic development solutions and develop local leaders. We visited a range of projects across those categories both in Bulawayo and in the country. On one occasion we visited a village where we sheltered under a tree and listened to the villagers' dream of building a new school so that their children did not need to walk a round trip of 30 kilometres—that is 30 kilometres—every day to get to school and back. Their vision to build a school will hopefully be supported later in the year by Edge Church International's Ride for Hope appeal.

We talk a lot about federal cuts in this place, sometimes too much, but I think it is worth mentioning the disappointing reduction of $11.3 billion over five years in our foreign aid program. I have heard people say phrases like 'Charity begins at home' and that we should be getting our own situation in order before helping others. To me, this attitude is at best naïve and at worst idiotic. We need to look at our foreign aid budget and look at ways we can help the most vulnerable overseas as well as at home.

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