Another Chance

Will we ever get a chance to show what we can really do?

Zimbabwe is a fantastic country - with wonderful people living in it. It has a diversity of climate, some areas are quite high and temperate with good rainfall and there are the bits down below 500 m above sea level that are hot and dry. They all have their own charm.

April and May are my favorite months - the wet season is over but the veldt is still green and lush, the days are warm and the nights cool and it is mostly bone dry. Blue skies and fresh mornings complete the picture. We are also a rich country - we produce 32 minerals, of which 4 have global significance. We used to have an advanced and progressive agriculture supported by a sophisticated supply chain and marketing agencies and supported by world renown research and extension services. Until 2000 we were largely self sufficient in basic goods and over 90 per cent of what we bought in an average store will come out of our own farms and factories.

Our people were the best educated in the region and were accepted as motivated and hard working. We played hard and produced many individuals with world-class skills. Migrants from this country were highly regarded wherever they went and were quickly absorbed into the economic structures of the countries they went to. There was no real class system and race relations were by and large, very good.

So why are we now so far down in the scheme of things? We are cited as a frightening example of just how quickly a country can be destroyed by bad governance - I guess that has some value as a warning to others not take such things for granted. We are now the subject of global concern as a country that is unable to feed itself, support its own health and education systems and where the quality of human life is at best, short, nasty and blighted.

But then we need to remember that this country has never had it easy. My father who spent his life here said to me once that he could hardly remember a time when we were not dealing with a crisis of one kind or another. The Shona and Ndebele rebellions at the end of the 19th century, the Boer War, the First World War, the Great Depression, the Second World War, the aftermath and then a brief 10 years of stability and growth during the Federation followed by the crisis in 1962 then UDI and that was followed by 15 years of sanctions and the civil war from 1972 to 1980.

When finally the country obtained democracy in 1980, we should have seen better days - it was not to be. In 1983 the struggle between Zanu and Zapu came to a head and was only settled when Zapu was absorbed into Zanu in 1988 under the "Unity Accord". Even then there was little real peace and progress. The new government ran up a huge public debt and experimented with all sorts of economic policies - none of which really worked.

Faced with a faltering economy and growing unrest in the labor unions and in civil society, the ruling elite - growing older but reluctant to allow any sort of succession or real democracy simply clamped down on the peoples freedoms and rights until eventually the MDC was formed and successfully challenged the ruling elite for power in the year 2000. That experience triggered an outburst of violence and repression that continues today and which has led to the country being increasingly isolated internationally and it put the economy into a steep decline.

So today we look back on 25 years of independence under a government which has held onto power by the skin of its teeth in the past 5 years and in the process become ever more unpopular and myopic. It is a tragedy of enormous proportions that the great promise of 1980 has not been realized and to appreciate that our failure as a country is due entirely to our own bad governance.

The country is still great - the people terrific but we just do not seem to get it right. A business leader I once worked with said to me that in real life you need a bit of luck. We seem to have been unable to find that singular ingredient in our search for a better life and prosperity for our people.

I have no doubt that our leaders are entirely to blame for this state of affairs - we cannot blame the country as it has all that we need to succeed. The question is how do we change them and get ourselves a new set of leadership that will allow Zimbabwe - the real Zimbabwe, to stand proud again.

We - the democrats - have given democratic principle our very best in the past five years with little or no help from anyone outside and certainly not from the region. We have won all the democratic contests in the past 5 years starting with the referendum which we won by a 5 per cent margin - I estimate that the real margin was closed to 20 per cent. We won the 2000 election - we actually got 52 per cent of the vote but if you factor out the rigging element, we actually won handsomely. Then in the 2002 presidential election we won again - I estimate that Tsvangirai was actually elected by a margin of 65 per cent to 35 per cent. Now in the 2005 election there is growing evidence that we took close to 75 per cent of the real vote. But none of this makes any difference - Mugabe still took the elections by rigging the final counts and there is absolutely nothing we democrats can do about it except suffer the consequences.

We are all agreed that there will be no chance of the legal route yielding any sort of justice to the efforts of the MDC and its supporters to elect a new and more accountable administration. So what do we do? More of the same is not enough this time, there is simply no way we can accept another 5 years of Zanu PF misrule and corruption. Perhaps the economy and the deepening food and foreign exchange crisis will do it for us, but in the end I suspect we are going to have to do something more to put our beloved country back where it belongs.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 18th April 2005