A Winter of Discontent

The Beginning of Winter
The 15th of May is generally regarded as the start of winter here in Zimbabwe. In Matabeleland we can expect frost any time from this date and right now the weather is just out of this world - clear blue skies, crisp mornings and brilliant moonlit nights. Most people do not appreciate that we on the highveld of Africa often have days when the temperature will drop to well below zero - frozen bird baths and garden hoses. But apart from that it bears little resemblance to winter in the north.

For Zanu PF this past week has shown many signs that this is going to be a long winter for them. Perhaps their last winter? First they suddenly postponed the publication of the inflation data for April. We all knew why - as expected, it went over the barrier of 1000 per cent per annum. In fact in April the month on month inflation was 21 per cent. Most of us think that the real inflation rate is much higher, I wonder if they are still using the controlled prices for goods that are supposed to be under price control for example?

Then suddenly interest rates fell dramatically in the markets - on Monday they were over 300 per cent per annum, Friday it was difficult to place money at any interest - the overnight rate was a paltry 5 per cent. This is a sure indication that government is not borrowing money to meet its obligations - it is just printing it. If that is true, then we have only seen the start of the inflation storm - very rough weather ahead.

We then heard from the SADC Secretariat in Gaborone. The 'melt down in Zimbabwe' was 'damaging the prospects' of a whole raft of SADC initiatives - a Customs Union, a standardized currency for the region, harmonized inflation and macro economic policies among others. Where have these guys been all these years - I would have thought that these were prima facie implications of Mugabe's policies and that the region should have recognized that a long time ago.

Botswana has a foot and mouth outbreak in the border area next to Zimbabwe and is vaccinating 100 000 head of cattle and closing of a significant part of the country for the delivery of cattle for slaughter at its export factory in Lobatse in the south west of the country. The problem came from Zimbabwe where discipline and control in the cattle industry has been eroded by lawlessness and theft. Can anyone imagine any other sort of outcome of such a situation?

Just 6 weeks ago I was told a story by a businessman who operates in Beitbridge. He said that a group of about 60 adults and a few children tried to cross the Limpopo below the bridge. During the crossing a woman with a baby was washed downstream and lost - her baby was snatched from her as she was washed away and carried to safety on the South African side. There a debate ensured - what to do? The mother was no doubt dead - drowned in the river, which was in flood. They were on their way to an uncertain future in South African slums and shanties, they still faced the threat of being found and deported by the South African army or police. Eventually it was decided - the baby was thrown back into the river to meet the same fate as its mother. I have no reason to doubt this story - its source was a mature man who has lived in the area all his life. What it reveals is the growing desperation of people in Zimbabwe as they seek to flee the hardships of a collapsing economy and a repressive regime.

With hundreds of thousands of people fleeing south, the South African authorities are just starting to appreciate what the implications are for their own country. Zimbabweans and other foreign nationals who are in the country illegally have become the backbone of a criminal element that saw 18 700 murders in South Africa last year. Armed robberies and hijackings are endemic. Men with families displaced and starving in Zimbabwe will kill you for your cell phone if this is what it takes to make a few Rand to send home. Men who will callously throw a baby into the Limpopo and then walk on into South Africa are capable of anything.

The current Secretary General of the UN also gave Zanu PF no comfort. In a major interview with the Observer in the UK he said that he was ashamed of much of the leadership in Africa. He also said that there was no longer any safe hiding place for leaders who commit atrocities and genocide anywhere in the world. He called on Africans to put their house in order and give the continent some hope for the future.

This past week we were ranked as number 5 in the list of least free countries in the world. Every week we seem to break new ground - the lowest life expectancy in Africa among other accolades for Zanu PF rule.

Finally, the worst nightmare of Zanu PF is starting to happen. The people are just beginning to make their demands known. Every day there are demonstrations - students, women from WOZA, the members of the NCA. Many are arrested and they promptly go back onto the street. Next Saturday the Churches across the whole country are going to march in a series of parades to remembers and stand in unity with those displaced by Murambatsvina in 2005. You will recall that Zanu PF launched this campaign on the 18th May 2005 - just in time to catch the coldest time of the year. Hundreds of thousands have died in the past year - victims of a calculated political act designed purely to protect the regime from the consequences of their own misgovernance.

Civil rights leaders are now calling for a massive combined effort to get our people out on the streets to demand that those in power step aside and allow others to take over and get the country back on its feet. Again the SG of the UN stepped in - he is engaged in an urgent exercise the media claimed, to persuade Mr. Mugabe that it is time to go - and then to arrange a transition back to sanity very similar to the one being demanded by the MDC.

The regime is still brash and arrogant on the surface. Underneath they are simply terrified. It was fascinating to read Jonathan Moyo's disclosures the other day that in every election since 2000, the Zanu PF leadership has been terrified of a defeat. I can well recall the discussions at the airport in Harare with the late President Kabila in 2002, when we were right in the middle of the presidential elections. They were talking about what to do if Zanu was defeated. Well this time its for real - no rigging this time round, just a straight fight - a small frightened band of aging ogres against the rest of us. I once said to Ian Smith in 1973 that he couldn't win a war against his own people and the rest of the world. This is still true.

Eddie Cross
14th May 2006