Living in a Lunatic Asylum

Yesterday we broke a milestone of sorts - the Zimbabwe dollar collapsed to 100 000 to 1 against the US dollar. Just three months ago it was about 25 000 to 1. A businessman in Harare told me that in his business, inflation had been 600 per cent in six months. There is no sign of any stopping this slide - if anything it is accelerating.

We are weeks away from the traditional planting season and there is still no sign of significant land preparation or major movement of fertilizer and other inputs. Last year Mr. Mugabe confidently predicted a 2,4 million tonne harvest of maize - plus high levels of production of other crops including 160 000 tonnes of tobacco. We produced about 600 000 tonnes of maize and 70 000 tonnes of tobacco - half of it very poor quality.

This past week the Minister responsible for Social Welfare quietly signed a letter urgently appealing to the international community for food to feed up to 5 million people until the next harvest. Over the weekend Mugabe stated, yet again, that Zimbabwe had enough food and did not need help. Astonishingly the donor community agreed to keep the formal request for food aid confidential - in deference to the government's sensitivity to the issue and for fear that if it was made public they might not be "allowed" to give Zimbabweans food!

On May the 19th the Zimbabwe government launched "Murambatsvina" and in the subsequent three month period, with Khmer Rouge efficiency they destroyed some 300 000 homes and made 2,4 million people homeless and at the same time they destroyed up to 1 million small businesses and made 3 million people destitute.

Last week the Minister responsible for Local Government and technically, Murambatsvina, wrote to donors asking them to fund the provision of tens of thousands of garden sheds. The purpose - to replace the shacks knocked down - many of which were in fact brick under asbestos or iron dwellings, fitted with electricity and water. The crowning feature of this letter was the suggestion that the government of Zimbabwe would nominate the supplier.

So get this into your head - they destroy the homes of millions of people, destroy their livelihood and then ask donors to bring their hard earned money into the country where it will be converted at a quarter of its real value and then spent with a Zanu PF gravy train thug to give thousands of people a wooden shack - which would probably be "leased" to them by some corrupt official. The only sanity that accompanied this revelation was the laughter of the officials recounting the story to me.

The fact that Chombo (the Minister in question) has the temerity to write such a letter in the first place is astonishing - even more amazing is the fact that he expected his request to receive serious attention. Oh did I tell you that he also asked for aid to fund the clean up of the total mess left in our townships by the campaign!

But I am not at all bemused at these developments for, after all, this past weekend we saw the FAO and the United Nations spending millions of US dollars on a conference in Harare attended by 170 delegates from 50 countries to discuss "food safety". Mr. Mugabe was asked to open the conference - no doubt in recognition of the fact that he now has the world community feeding half his population, one third of his population in exile as economic and political refugees and has overseen the most precipitous decline in life expectancy and life quality in any country in the world in the past 50 years. No doubt the UN thinks that these achievements merit granting the Mugabe regime this recognition. Just like putting Cuba and other totalitarian States in charge of the Human Rights Commission of the UN. If it were not so tragic it would be vastly amusing.

Then you have the specter of this smashed and abused country - like a mugged man lying in the street and being run over by the passing traffic - actually paying money to the IMF. Money taken from private schools and NGO's, food agencies and exporters. $50 000 here, a million there. Money critically required for food, drugs, fuel - all basic necessisities and the IMF has the audacity to welcome the payments! Shown the source of the funds they express shock and promise to investigate - but they still bank the cheques. I wrote to the Fund and said send the money back - we need the stuff more than you do to keep life and limb together - not even the courtesy of a reply.

When will this nightmare end? I said to a friend that we live in a lunatic asylum where the lunatics are in charge and the sane are the inmates. Sometimes I think the UN is a bit like that as well. You can leave the UN - you can walk in the front door and out the back and ignore its lunatic activities but you cannot do that with your country. In fact right now, they are contemplating removing even our freedom to flee. We are locked in and must work things out for ourselves. It does not help however when the rest of the world accepts the lunatics who run our country as sane and sensible people. One day they will appreciate that by doing so they demean themselves and give credence to what would otherwise be a clear case of collective insanity.

Thank goodness for market forces and the fact that no matter what the management of this asylum does - they cannot fool the trade. No matter what Mugabe and his cohorts do, the evidence of their failures are there in the relentless slide in the value of the currency. Like white water rafting, the rules in this game are simple, keep your life jacket tied tight and trust its buoyancy to get you to the surface. Face downstream and put your feet forward first to take any rocks or other obstacles. Enjoy the ride and get back into the raft as soon as conditions permit. Work together and help each other when conditions are really rough. The beauty of white water rafting is that you do not need to know how to swim - just how to float, the water eventually gets you where you want to go. For us - that is just around the bend.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 4th October 2005.