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A SPEECH BY ROY BENNETT,
TREASURER GENERAL OF THE MOVEMENT FOR DEMOCRATIC CHANGE,
TO THE LONDON INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS CONGRESS,
23 NOVEMBER 2011
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen
At first glance, the decision to invite me to speak at this conference might seem somewhat unusual. The theme of the conference— immigration and integration in an age of austerity—is a theme that ostensibly focuses on the impact of migration in the West in this time of global economic stress. But on closer examination, my participation is not so strange. I come from Zimbabwe; indeed, like many of my countrymen, I am a political exile living in the West— and so I can speak with some authority about the other side of the equation. I can provide some insight into push factors, some insight into the reasons why people leave places like Zimbabwe and come in numbers, both legally and illegally, to countries like Britain.
In other words, it is not my objective to engage substantially in the debate over multiculturalism—what it means and how to manage it. That is to talk about the end product or the last link in a chain of events and processes. Rather, I want to take a step backward and look at some of the origins. I do not pretend to reduce all migration issues to the type of experience that Zimbabweans have faced.
International migration is, of course, a complex phenomenon. But the Zimbabwean experience is the one I know and—apart from its own importance in terms of scale—I believe there are a series of lessons to be learned from Zimbabwe that apply to many countries and situations around the world.
So, to Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans are, by and large, reluctant migrants. It is critical to grasp this point. Of the millions of Zimbabweans who have left the country over the last 10 years, the majority have done so because they felt they had to, not because they wanted to. Most Zimbabwean migrants live in South Africa.
There are an estimated 3–5 million Zimbabweans who have set up camp within the borders of our southern neighbour. That figure represents somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of Zimbabwe's total population, including the diaspora. During my own time as a refugee in South Africa, I have spoken to hundreds of Zimbabweans and nearly all of them want to go home. South Africa is not their place; they feel like strangers and are treated as such. Often they meet with open hostility and sometimes with violence. Further abroad and in more comfortable settings, Zimbabweans have perhaps become more ambivalent. Some want to return, others don't. Some have created new lives and new opportunities and have lost the hunger to go home. Yet even those in the West—and these are the minority—initially left under compulsion.
What are these powerful push factors? What caused Zimbabweans with homes and families to leave these things behind and cast out into unchartered waters? Demographers typically like to make a distinction between economic and political migrants, but the distinction is somewhat artificial in the case of Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans. The root cause of Zimbabwean migration, even where it seems to be economic, is political. The great Zimbabwean migration of the 21st century is directly and indirectly political.
Many Zimbabweans have fled under direct threat to life and limb; others have been forced to leave as a consequence of systemic collapse, but it is a collapse that has occurred for political reasons.
Allow me to provide some background. The Zimbabwean state is the result of a long history of inequality, racism and exploitation.
The authoritarian, repressive and violent structures and groups that we now have are the logical outcome of such a history. If you plant the seedling you will grow the thorn tree. Zimbabwe is now ruled by a mafia—a criminal syndicate that dresses itself in elaborate forms of propaganda, but make no mistake, it is a criminal syndicate. This lot, Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, strut around in the vestments of anti-colonial liberation, but they are a bunch of felons, pure and simple. Zanu-PF is the operatic performer among Africa's Cosa Nostra. All frills and shrills but at heart a common crook and criminal, no less. She must be dragged kicking and screaming to the penitentiary.
But I digress. Zimbabwe became independent in 1980. The authoritarian strands of black nationalism and white supremacy were interwoven beneath a Zanu-PF government led by Mugabe.
The most obscene kinds of violence and brutality soon surfaced during the drive for a one party state, culminating in a massacre of the Ndebele people in 1983 and 1984. The first major post independence dispersion of Zimbabweans occurred in this period.
Tens of thousands were internally displaced, fleeing to the second city of Bulawayo, while others left for Botswana and South Africa.
Yet this crime against humanity was forgotten by the world as quickly as it had arisen. Riding on the coat-tails of the international anti-apartheid movement, Mugabe was viewed by many as the poster-boy of the so-called Frontline States and it was years before reality set in. Sadly, it took the brutalisation of the white community in Zimbabwe to awaken the Western media to a problem that had begun in 1980. It is shameful that we should remain unmoved by black-on-black violence, beginning only to make noise when whites are involved, either as victims or perpetrators. I will return to this point a little later. For now it is enough to note that Zanu-PF nailed its true colours to the mast decades before the globally-publicised land invasions of 2000.
Another element that allowed Mugabe to retain a sanitised image in the West was the strength of the economy he inherited. For many years, corruption and human rights abuses sat alongside relative economic prosperity. The white-dominated engine room of the economy, principally built around commercial agriculture and agri-processing, was left intact—and violence was also geographically confined to the Matabeleland provinces of the southwest. The beast in the basement, though busy, was out of sight and out of mind. Internationally, the racial element also came into play in the economic sphere because most Western economic interests were left intact. Not only was the white community being left alone, it was making money, as were the subsidiaries of Western companies. And it was not only whites abroad who were guilty of ignoring the screaming next door. These were the years when whites in the north referred to Mugabe as 'good old Bob', the Great Satan of the war years who had turned out to be their best friend. Or so they thought.
The catalyst for the second major Zimbabwean migration occurred in 1997 when the economy went into a rapid downward spiral. I say 'catalyst' because it was not an isolated event; it had been a long time coming—and it also set off a domino effect that will take a generation to overcome, if we are lucky. First, the context. The events of 1997 were all the more devastating because they occurred against a backdrop of grand corruption and nepotism that had sapped the nation's economic strength. The coup de grace was both a decisive moment and a symptom of a bigger problem. Black veterans of Zimbabwe's independence war, joined by a motley crew of opportunists, engaged in a series of aggressive demonstrations against the government, saying that they had been living in poverty since independence while the top dogs had become rich. When Mugabe capitulated to their demands for gratuities and pensions—payouts that the fiscus could not afford— the economy went into freefall. Ironically, the chairman of the war veterans association, Chenjerai 'Hitler' Hunzvi, was later prosecuted for embezzling from a war victims compensation fund that allowed veterans to claim for disabilities suffered during the war. Hunzvi had been paid out $43,000 (US) for a rating that put him as 117 percent disabled. Brain dead would be more accurate.
Under this scheme, Mugabe's brother-in-law had been awarded $70,000 for a 95 percent disability that derived from a scar to his left knee and alleged ulcers. The current Commissioner of Police, Augustine Chihuri, was granted about $10,000 for 'toe dermatitis of the right and left foot', while current Vice President Joice Mujuru took around $35,000 for 'mental stress disorder' and 'poor vision'.
Those Zimbabweans who had wanted to forget about the country's politics after the war—and that was most of us—could literally no longer afford to ignore the problem. As inflation, taxation and unemployment began to rocket out of control, Zanu-PF had become too expensive for those in the formal sectors of the economy. A political opposition began to coalesce rapidly and organically. But we were about to re-learn the lessons that had been learnt by some during the war—that arbitrary and egregious violence was the Zanu way—a lesson that the Ndebele had had banged into them after 1980 while the rest of us preferred not to know. This was to be no polite debate over the economy, followed by a democratic change of government. To threaten Zanu-PF's grip on power was to threaten their raison d'etre—power and the things that come with it are the very essence of their existence. The enormous scale of the second Zimbabwean dispersion is a direct function of the extremes to which Zanu-PF is prepared to go to retain power and to plunder the nation's wealth. These extremes have been truly radical in nature. Many have few parallels in modern history. The land invasions that began in 2000— effectively a government-sanctioned looting spree—were a desperate election ploy in reaction to the rapid rise of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC. Zanu-PF was prepared to annihilate the vital organs of the economy to win an election. Agricultural productivity declined by 80 percent between 2002 and 2008. There were three years of national food deficit in the 20 years from independence until the beginning of the land invasions—and these three years were years of severe drought. In the other years, the country had maintained an export surplus. Since 2000, there have been 11 consecutive years of food deficit.
This pattern of megalomania and pathological self-centeredness was repeated in almost every sphere of national life. Our infamous hyperinflation—which is thought to have reached 89.7 sextillion percent—was not simply the result of a collapse in productivity and poor monetary policies. The regime actively used the printing press to generate enormous fortunes for a small elite in a way that they knew was destroying the remnant of economic life for normal Zimbabweans. Money was pushed on to the black market by the Reserve Bank and used to buy gold and foreign exchange for a privileged few. This was money for jam if ever there was. Paper and ink was the only cost to those with their hands on the levers and they received vast quantities of gold and real cash in return.
The cost was borne by others. For everyone else, the value of life savings and pensions was entirely wiped out and most of the businesses that had survived the knock-on effects of the land invasions went to the wall. Wage payments, banking and other transactions that are usually taken for granted became completely impossible. It is no exaggeration to say that many Zimbabweans were driven back to the stone age. Barter took over and 80 percent of our people were out of a job and out on the streets. Accountants and school teachers traded cigarettes for tomatoes—and sweets for matches. Others dabbled in the black market, much of which was controlled and fed by those who had created the problem. Some simply starved and died quietly in huts and shacks. The budgets of public institutions were wiped out by hyperinflation within days of their announcement. Hospitals and schools shut down because there was no money for equipment and no money for wages. Most of our public servants, those who supposedly had jobs, did not go to work because the cost of a trip to the office was more than they would make in a day or even a month. And Zanu-PF watched on— and continued to loot.
These people drove over the ever-increasing potholes in their Mercs and Hummers—and were unmoved by the sight of the country falling down around their ears. Patriotism and pride meant nothing to these people. But it was their hardness to human misery that was most telling and most disgusting. And what misery it was.
Life expectancy plunged to the lowest in the world—37 years for men and 34 for women. An estimated 3,000 people were dying weekly of AIDS because they were not provided access to antiretroviral drugs. There are now one million AIDS orphans out of a resident population of around 12 million. One child in four has lost one or both parents to AIDS. Meanwhile, up to 500,000 of the one million farm workers booted off white farms died of a combination of malnutrition and inadequate health services. Water supply and sewage systems fell over and one of the largest outbreaks of cholera in world history occurred in late 2008, infecting 100,000 people and killing over 4,000. Mugabe blamed the outbreak on the British and airily advised the populace to avoid shaking hands. The country's jails became concentration camps. I know—I spent 8 months there in 2005 and an horrific 40 days in 2009. For many, a petty offence or a false conviction became a death sentence. In 2009, six people starved to death in cells around me during my stay as a guest of government. When queried over the state of the jails and the prisoners dying like flies, Mugabe replied laughingly that those who had been sentenced were getting what they deserved.
Is it any wonder that Zimbabweans fled this tsunami? And I have not yet described the violence unleashed during every election since 2000. Political violence in Zimbabwe usually waxes and wanes in relation to the electoral cycle. It accelerates during campaigning and reaches a crescendo before the vote. Then it is often reduced during voting days when observers and the media are on the ground. Afterward, it is brought to another peak as revenge attacks are made on those who have voted the 'wrong' way. The reason it follows such clearly identifiable patterns is that it is carefully orchestrated and planned by the state. Mugabe's war veterans and plain-clothed state agents coordinate militia groups that consist mainly of unemployed youth and trained thugs. In the four elections since 2000, these groups—often numbering in the hundreds—have terrorised the rural population, setting up torture bases, raiding villages and attacking opposition rallies. Candidates and activists for the Movement for Democratic Change have been prime targets. Many have been savagely beaten and maimed; many have been killed. In April 2000, two MDC officials, Tichaona Chiminya and Talent Mabika, were stopped in their car and burnt to death by state agents. These were two of the early tragedies— and there have been scores since. At least 35 people were murdered during the 2000 parliamentary elections and 60 were killed in 2002's presidential election. Observers noted that the 2005 elections were less violent than their predecessors—but they spoke too soon. A few months later, 700,000 people had their homes flattened or livelihoods destroyed by government bulldozers—that is a UN figure—as retribution for urban support for the MDC. This operation occurred in the middle of winter—the poorest of the poor, tens of thousands of men, women and children driven out into the elements. It is unknown how many died. More faceless victims of the Zanu-PF killing fields.
The most recent elections—2008—were worse again. Zanu-PF had written off the MDC, believing that a series of internal ructions had discredited and disordered the party. So they toned down their militia in the lead up to parliamentary elections which were timed to coincide, for the first time, with a first round of the presidential election. They received a rude shock. MDC defeated Zanu in the parliamentary vote—the first time the ruling party had officially been beaten since independence—and Morgan Tsvangirai gained more votes than Mugabe in the presidential race, though he did not receive more than 50 percent (at least according to the electoral commission) so a second round of presidential voting was called.
This is when the dogs were let loose. Using polling station results to target areas of opposition sympathy, huge groups of militia roamed the countryside, beating, burning and killing people at random. Torture bases were established, nightmarish holes where the innocent were afflicted for days at a time. In this period, more than 200 were killed, thousands beaten—hundreds of whom now have lifelong disabilities—and tens of thousands were displaced.
This was revenge and pre-emptive action rolled into one. The message was literally driven home that people had a choice between Mugabe or death in the second round of the vote. Rightly or wrongly, the MDC decided to pull out of the election with a week to go, hoping to spare the people further suffering.
Since then, the MDC has entered a temporary shotgun marriage with these serial abusers—and, of course, the abuse continues.
Mugabe's security apparatus retains full control. MDC leaders and activists continue to be arrested on trumped-up charges. As we speak, the party's Youth Assembly Chairperson, Solomon Madzore, is being denied bail after he and 28 other MDC activists were charged with the murder of a police officer. And in the streets, the people are being harassed and beaten by Zanu-PF militias that masquerade as common criminal gangs. These groups are financed and coordinated by Zanu-PF—and they are becoming increasingly active ahead of elections that may occur in 2012. We are still some way from achieving peace and democracy.
To recap—these, then, are the primary causes of the Zimbabwean dispersion. They are internal and political and are wholly manmade.
I have sketched them in some detail to highlight their fundamentally domestic and political character—and to show how deep and how powerful they have been. These home-grown causes must remain at the front and centre of any analysis of Zimbabwean migration over the past 10 years. Yet there are external factors that have exacerbated the crisis. Some of these have been acutely damaging because they have reinforced the core elements of the problem. It is these reinforcing factors that I will focus on now. In doing so, I do not excuse or minimise the fact that the abuse of Zimbabweans by other Zimbabweans is the principal cause. But outsiders have, in a variety of ways, played a particularly negative role by giving succour (both intentionally and unintentionally) to those maltreating their own people. Thus, to some extent, the size and time-scale of the diaspora has been expanded by the actions of outsiders.
The worst example of these destructive outside influences was the administration of former South African president Thabo Mbeki. A supposedly neutral arbiter, he sided with Robert Mugabe time and again—and then he put massive pressure on the MDC to consummate a unity government in 2008 after Zanu-PF and Mugabe were shown the exit by the electorate. Mbeki was supported by his kleptocratic and autocratic allies in the region.
How dare he second guess the people of Zimbabwe? How dare he put personal loyalties and prejudices before democracy? Always first to shout about outside interference when the West expresses an opinion, Mbeki and his ilk have been the quintessential imperialists when it comes to Zimbabwe. It is now for President Jacob Zuma to deliver on his promises to create the conditions that will allow Zimbabweans to finally choose their own leaders and get on with rebuilding the nation. The Mbeki legacy means that millions of Zimbabweans remain in South Africa and they are placing severe strain on infrastructure, services and an already tenuous social fabric. Zuma must now help South Africa by helping Zimbabwe.
A second negative outside influence has been a group that should have been the first to help. This group have been a negative influence by their absence. Those who formed the backbone of the international anti-Apartheid movement in the 1980s and 90s have gone missing in action during the Zimbabwean crisis. Full of moral outrage back then, they have done little or nothing in the face of equally unspeakable black-on-black violence and oppression in Zimbabwe. It is very difficult to avoid the conclusion that for many of these people the struggle in South Africa was a fashionable moral appendage rather than an enduring set of principles. Time has shown them false. Many times I have spoken to the doyens of this movement and received, frankly, little more than calloused disinterest. They trade on an outdated reputation and do nothing.
Today, I want to challenge those who made much of Apartheid to examine their consciences—and to prove to themselves and to us that it was more than an exercise in self-righteousness. There is a ready-made opportunity for them to get involved through the newly-formed Global Alliance for Zimbabwe, or GAZ, of which I am the chairman. GAZ has been modeled on the international anti-Apartheid front and looks to mobilise funds and political pressure for a democratic transition in Zimbabwe. More information can be found online at globalallianceforzimbabwe.com
I move on now to Western governments. In some ways I am hesitant to do so when many of these governments have consistently supported the democratic cause for over a decade. It is also true that democratic forces in Zimbabwe have often been a disappointment in their disorganisation, their contradictions and their failure to deliver. As such, I will try to speak with some humility and as a friend. But I will be candid nonetheless. In my view, the greatest weakness in Western policy toward Zimbabwe is that assistance is often ill-targeted and it is too often symbolic rather than substantial.
Western countries have given hundreds of millions in humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe. We are grateful for this. Thousands owe their lives to this generosity. But a sizeable portion of this aid should have been directly targeted at political change. It is a false economy to pour billions into aid over an extended period when a fraction of those resources could be used to deliver change in a fraction of the time.
The rub, of course, is that many Western governments are petrified of the neo-colonialist tag. Yet I make no apologies for the call to directly empower opposition groups. Zanu-PF and its supporters will shriek and wail about imperialism and regime change, but this is about empowering normal Zimbabweans to make or break governments when they want. We must never be ashamed of democracy or principle. Neither will we roll back the frontiers of autocracy on an lasting basis by pussy-footing around and tinkering at the edges. The groups capable of confronting authoritarian regimes must be directly funded and resourced. Many countries have a tradition of not funding political parties—but times and needs change. No tradition is sacrosanct. Whether the democratic change agent is a civil society movement or a political party is immaterial—resources must go to the most effective quarter. It should have been bleatingly obvious to any observer that the MDC has enjoyed majority support in Zimbabwe and has, till now, been the group most capable of overthrowing the regime.
And yet the MDC has been starved of resources while millions have gone toward band-aid solutions. If a judgement is made that the MDC is no longer capable of delivering democracy, then fine—resources should go elsewhere. But all-too-often the criteria for directing aid is not broad-based effectiveness, long-term value for-money and long-term self-interest but the dictates of outmoded traditions and the fear of short-term diplomatic fallout.
To put it differently, a by-product of these weaknesses is that we end up with the politics of symbolism as opposed to the policies of positive change. These symbolic interventions go beyond overblown humanitarian aid budgets. The deficiencies of sanctions on Zimbabwe are a case in point. I am all for sanctions that avoid punishing normal people for the sins of those standing on their backs. But smart and targeted sanctions can be much smarter and better-directed. Prominent figures in the regime have been hit with asset freezes and travel bans since the early 2000s, but this intervention has remained frozen in time. Adaptation has been needed—and it hasn't really happened. Here, one of the glaring issues is that nationals of countries that have applied the sanctions—both individuals and companies—have continued merrily supporting the regime and nothing has been done about them. Therefore, you have the British and others punishing Zanu-PF while failing to police their own citizens and—more often than you would care to imagine—neglecting activities that are going on in their own countries. Companies like Old Mutual were allowing Zanu-PF functionaries to externalise huge quantities of funds through share swaps between the Zimbabwe and London Stock Exchanges. Always keen to make their filthy little fingers dirtier again, Old Mutual also have joint ventures with the Government of Zimbabwe—and this occurred before the formation of our pathetic unity government—and yet nothing is done. What is more, these are investments that are directly connected to gross human rights abuses. Old Mutual has shares in a joint venture on the diamond fields where over 200 panners in rags were gunned down from helicopters in order to clear the decks for investors. There are also numerous reports of ongoing abuses. And Old Mutual have the gall to claim that any regrettable events pre-date their involvement!
Shame on them. Their corporate responsibility claims are a catalogue of lies. And spitting in the other eye, they remain invested in a number of Zanu-PF-controlled newspapers, filthy little propaganda tools that spew out hate speech day-after-day. I wonder that they didn't invest in Adolf Hitler's 'Der Sturmer.' Old Mutual has raised the skull and crossbones and kept them there in spite of repeated warnings. Pirates in suits, we will not forget or forgive them.
These corporate hypocrites are far from being alone. We had CAMEC, a mining company led by former English cricketer Phil Edmonds (what a fine ambassador he is)—in 2008, this mob purchased from government a chunk of land extorted from another mining company and in doing so poured tens of millions into the pockets of the regime at a time when it needed election resources.
Like many other foreigners, they also cooperated with Zimbabwe's white trash—in this case a long-time supporter of the regime, Billy Rautenbach. This scoundrel and their ilk continue their dirty work, dining out on corrupt relationships with Zanu-PF identities, while riding roughshod over anyone unfortunate enough to be in the way.
Then we have foreigners resident in Zimbabwe who are involved in all sorts of vice and crime, but who remain under the radar. For example, we have an Australian citizen who has been deeply involved with Zanu-PF groups that were plundering the treasury and assisting the militia to inflict massive violence during the 2008 elections.
Part of the problem here is that foreign ministries, treasuries and other organs of state in the West do not have the resources to police all these reprobates. The answer is to give them those resources. A small investigative team on Zimbabwe could, in many cases, be paid for by cutting or re-directing a fraction of humanitarian aid. It is, again, a question of efficiency and prioritisation. Given that many of these companies and individuals have played a crucial and very practical role in keeping the regime afloat, measures against them would be a genuinely effective way of assisting the democratic process.
Drawing all this together, what are the basic reasons and lessons that can be gleaned from a study of Zimbabwe's diaspora? We have seen that the overwhelming cause of this migration has been internal and political. Zimbabweans have reluctantly left Zimbabwe because of a regime that has raped, beaten and killed a people and an economy in the pursuit of power and money. This situation has been further exacerbated or elongated by outsiders who have either failed to engage effectively or who have deliberately supported the regime.
There seem to me to be a number of lessons that can be drawn from the Zimbabwean problem and applied more generally— including by policy-makers and thinkers in the West:
(1) Much international migration continues to have its roots in misgovernance and oppression. Even so-called economic migrants are, in effect, often political refugees given that they are commonly running from the devastating impact of systemic collapse caused by abusive regimes. Combining governance violations with political violence, these regimes are a major driver of migration flows and associated problems.
(2) In this day and age of globalisation, most people still want to live and prosper in the land of their birth. Dealing with migration is not simply a question of keeping undesirables at bay. Undoubtedly, there will always be people who are temperamentally mobile, but most people in most places want to stay at home. The best way of giving them what they want—and of easing the burden of migration on Western economies and societies—is to help them to choose and change governments whenever they want to.
(3) It is incumbent on neighbouring nations to recognise that their own self-interest lies in providing such help. Sacrificing such common sense on the altar of personal loyalty, ideology or partisan political gain will only serve to exacerbate core problems and increase migration flows and the serious difficulties these cause in their own countries. In Africa, solidarity among autocratic elites is still a key reason why vicious regimes survive and export human misery to the rest of the world.
(4) The West requires moral consistency and a clear-eyed long-term vision of self-interest. Here, the choices are not simply between soft and hard power. We often hear of the use of force versus the provision of aid, as if these are the only alternatives.
More needs to be done to explore the use of what might be termed 'the hard edge of soft power'. Indigenous and effective democratic change agents must be given resources to remove authoritarian governments. Cancer is not removed by massage, nor are brutal elites pushed out by drilling boreholes or conducting seminars.
Committed people on the ground who are prepared to bleed for freedom are the only ones capable of doing that job. Far too often, they are neglected and sidelined in favour of compatriots whose roles are palliative or completely useless. For as long as this neglect continues, the West must continue to expect a poor return on their investment across the developing world and increased migration pressures at home. Put differently, the West must jettison traditions and practices that are symbolic but insubstantial and inefficient. To the extent that wisdom is about long-term self interest, I question the wisdom of assistance that is geared to showing that 'we are doing something', or the wisdom of gearing 99 percent of aid to development and humanitarian issues, or the wisdom of placing short-term diplomatic relations before democracy, or the wisdom of adhering rigidly to age-old conventions such as a prohibition on political funding. Western foreign policy is too often incapable of adaptation and innovation in a world that is changing rapidly. It is good and right—and, over the long haul, expedient—to stand for what is right, but it is foolish to become methodologically inflexible.
Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for taking the time to listen and hope that some of it has been useful.
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Source: Roy Bennett
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