Wither Zimbabwe?

If you are not confused by what is going on in Zimbabwe then you simply have not heard enough of all that is happening. It is astonishing that this small central African State should be in such turmoil - just short of a civil war situation - the only plus is that we are not killing each other. We have the fastest shrinking economy in the world - perhaps even an historical record in that respect. We have a population that is experiencing enormous shifts - shrinking by at least 3 or 4 per cent per annum, with thousands leaving the country every week and hundreds of thousands dying quietly in their homes each year from every disease and malady imaginable. Half our population is starving and the other half is walking to work. The ruling Party, Zanu PF, has been in power for 26 years, has no idea of what to do to halt the collapse and turn things around. They are deeply divided into three camps - one centered on the old "liberation heroes" around Mugabe, all in their late 70's and early 80's. Another centered around General Mujuru, who is trying to be king maker in the race to succeed Mugabe and perhaps a third group centered on Munangagwa who are trying to set up a succession strategy that will take their particular interests into account.

The MDC now seems to be split down the middle on the Senate issue - there are other issues behind the scenes in this conflict, but it is the Senate issue that has caused the divide. It's not ethnic in character - there are both Shona and Ndebele and white leaders involved on both sides. It does not involve any real dispute about leadership in that Morgan Tsvangirai is unchallenged as President of the Party. But both sides are slugging it out and the media loves it, as do the hyenas in Zanu PF.

The international community is divided on the issue of what to do in Zimbabwe. Regional leaders want a reformed Zanu PF government with new policies that will stop the internal hemorrhaging in Zimbabwe and reverse the flood of economic refugees into their countries. The major democratic States want action by the UN and by the region to curb the excesses of the Mugabe regime. China, Malaysia, Libya and Cuba - virtually the only friends Mugabe has left in the world are just hoping the local nutters will not further embarrass them.

Then if you live here you can be justified in being even more confused because of the constant propaganda that pours out of every pore in the skin of government. Radio, television, the print media are all controlled by the State. It is only when you go into the electronic media that you can get anything like a balanced view on what is happening on the ground and where things are going. Zanu PF has been at this game for 45 years - they know how to handle the media and how to put a spin on a story that will resonate with their constituencies.

Even the administration of Government is in a shambles - the Governor of the Reserve Bank and the Vice President (Msika) say that the invasions of farms must stop, that they are "criminal in character" and are damaging the national interest (all true). The regime in some areas is quietly trying to allow certain farmers back onto their land and to restart productive activity. At the same time the Minister responsible for the land issue and for security - Mutasa, says that all white farmers are to be dispossessed and driven off the land. Dozens of commercial farmers who have survived the past 6 years are now being forced off their farms. While in other areas farms are being quietly re-occupied by original farmers and farming is starting again.

The net result is that there is very little land preparation. Many small farmers who started farming on land that had been given to them have abandoned their holdings in frustration and we are going to produce the smallest summer crop on record this year - whatever happens to the rain.

One Minister says this, another disputes the story, negotiations are on in South Africa for the mysterious loan, progress is being made - but no substantive developments are in sight. The platinum miners get a great deal from the State; invest, only to be told that all the rules are changed. Zimbabwe negotiates a bilateral protection of investment agreement with South Africa and then simply does not sign it. It signs investment protection agreements with France, Holland, Germany and the World Bank and then simply ignores them or violates them at will.

In the midst of all this Mugabe declares 2005 as the "Year of Investment" - bizarre in any circumstances, but laughable in Zimbabwe. Who in his right mind would invest here at present and under these conditions? The disease of "confuse and divide" seems to have even invaded the cricket pitch with radical elements and the CIO intruding into meetings of cricket officials and trying to overturn an administration that has created the only internationally competitive sport regime in the country. Even violence is being used to achieve certain ends - violence in that most hallowed gentleman's game! Perhaps this is also because cricket just generates too much money?

So wither Zimbabwe? I think we are in a most interesting situation. It is clear that the reformist elements in Zanu PF are slowly winning the struggle for more rational policies in government. This was evident in the recent monetary policy statement by Gideon Gono and subsequent events. It is also evident in the quiet negotiations going on for that illusive loan from South Africa - there seems to have been a welcome shift in the conditions attached to it - a new constitution, more rational and legitimate land policies, a return to the rule of law and the re-establishment of all human and political rights.

Maybe, just maybe, quiet diplomacy is working - accompanied by more strident statements by the UN and the major powers - especially the USA and Europe. It is long overdue and we must watch for signs of a break through in these areas rather than simply worry about the shambles all around us. In fact the situation in the MDC and the almost certain humiliation that Zanu PF is expected to inflict on the MDC rebels who are standing as candidates may in fact encourage the process of reform and concession that is already underway in the ruling Party. Then watch out for the unintended consequences.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 8th November 2005.