Nothing to loose

I have just been into the largest wholesaler in Bulawayo. We are quite large buyers and the staff greeted me cheerfully. Then I collected a trolley and started to walk through the company premises - I came out in a state of shock. Whole rows of shelving were absolutely empty - to the roof. There was no soap powder, no bath soaps, no cooking oil, no fats, no sugar and no maize meal, no flour and no rice, no milk products of any kind and no children's foods.

We walked out empty handed and I said to the floor manager that I was shocked - he simply nodded his head and said, "what can we do?" Frankly, I find this situation very scary.

We need 36 000 tonnes of basic food imports a week, these will cost about US$20 million. One of my friends sat in a fuel queue yesterday for 13 hours to get a tank of petrol. Most garages have queues outside their premises - even if they have no fuel. It has never been so bad as now. To top this serious situation we have started to experience load shedding by the State controlled electricity utility.

When we had an economy to speak of, we used about 5,5 million liters of petroleum fuels a day - I would guess that today we use about 3 million liters. Even that will cost about US$700 000 a day - or nearly US$5 million a week - so just for the basics we need US$25 million a week. In fact we earn about that from our exports each week but that leaves no margin for anything else.

Yesterday I saw the new Chinese fighter jets fly over - we have just spent US$400 million on these plus some Mig 23's, attack helicopters and military vehicles. Most of it from China. We have also just purchased two Chinese passenger jets for regional routes to augment the three remaining aircraft still flying for Air Zimbabwe.

These ill-advised purchases have flattened our foreign exchange resources, in fact I hear that we have sold 25 tonnes of gold forward (US$500 million) and we have also sold our tobacco production forward. The main problem with these transactions is that we no longer can produce 25 tonnes of gold in a year and we have produced a very small and inferior tobacco crop.

Last year Gideon Gono was the local hero when he succeeded in herding all local foreign exchange resources into the coffers of the Reserve Bank but in doing so he has effectively spelled the death of the export industries that fed the system. His hope of harnessing the US$75 million a month that comes back to local families from Zimbabweans working abroad has flopped totally - after handling a mere US$45 million in the past year, receipts are now virtually zero.

The election results and the aftermath have not helped - we remain completely isolated, people have no faith in the future, capital flight is accelerating and the parallel market has taken off into the stratosphere. The fact that the Reserve Bank was going to devalue by nearly 100 per cent was leaked last week and there is a sudden frosty silence in that quarter. The first month of sales on the tobacco floors - always an important period in Zimbabwe, has yielded prices in Zimbabwe dollars below last years. This simply puts paid to any hopes of a tobacco led recovery this year, or next.

The reaction of President Mugabe to these shocking facts was to hold a "Silver Jubilee" celebration, which costs billions. Undertake a spending spree for the air force in a country where we have no external or internal threats and a vague promise by a muted Gono that a "recovery plan" is being prepared. Oh yes - they fired the poor GM of the Grain Marketing Board and kept that idiot Made (Minister of Agriculture) in an enlarged Cabinet.

We have had confirmation from official sources that the maize crop now being reaped is a disaster - our estimate of about 400 000 tonnes seems about right. There is a flurry of activity going on to try and get a wheat crop into the ground before the 15th of May but it is unlikely they will get more than the 50 000 tonnes or so they grew last year. So we are now faced with a severe famine and no foreign resources with which to buy the food and other products we need. In fact, if we had the resources we could hardly move this volume given the parlous state of our infrastructure.

Official UN sources estimate that we have nearly 6 million people who need food aid - donors are feeding about 1 million people at present - mainly children. This leaves 5 million people at risk of starvation out of a population of 11 million. The rest of us will simply have to fend for ourselves - faced with rising prices, shortages and other problems. It seems to me that South Africa will have to step in and pick up the pieces, as it is very largely responsible for this sorry state of affairs.

The big question is what do we do about this situation. The one thing that sticks out a mile is that Zanu has no solutions and we simply cannot let things stand as they are. The MDC has put its own plans into action and at this stage they are saying: -

1. The MDC does not accept the results of the election.
2. The MDC now accepts that neither democracy nor the legal system here offer any way forward at present.
3. The MDC demands the resignation of the new government and the negotiation of an interim administration to begin to resolve the immediate crisis situation we are in.
4. The MDC demands the convening of a constitutional conference involving all civic groups to draft a new constitution for the country with fresh elections to be held under the new constitution and under the supervision of the international community.

To back up these demands a broad coalition of civic groups is being formed and will be charged with taking mass action against the new government. The MDC will employ all forms of political action required to support the efforts by civil society to rescue the country from the grip of a small, self-seeking elite that simply refuses to allow the people to select the government of their choice. It will call on the armed forces to support this initiative in the broader interests of the country and its people.

The Ministry of Defense has stated that it will "crush" any mass action launched by the opposition or civic society. On Monday last week thousands took to the streets in Bulawayo after a football match on Independence Day - it took the Police and the Army 7 hours to stop the rioting. To local observers the policemen involved had little heart for the activity they were involved in - next time it will be worse.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 26th April 2005