Tiger Fishing

Swirls in the Water.

A few years ago I spent a marvelous time on the Chobe River flood plains on the boundary between Namibia and Botswana. For those of you who do not know the area, the Zambezi River runs down the western border of Zambia for several hundred kilometers and then hits a basalt ridge where it backs up and spills over into the flood plains on either side of the river creating huge seasonal wetlands.

In the south, these wet lands drain into the Chobe River and then back into the Zambezi River at Kazungula. This gives the river its May flood that makes a visit to the Victoria Falls so spectacular. When this process is underway from April to July, the waters of the flood plains drain into deep gullies that are kept open by Hippos and these run for up to 30 to 40 kilometers into the Chobe River.

We spent a wonderful day on the flood plains with a local guide armed with light fishing gear. We went up to the head of a system of drainage channels and then drifted down with the current. As we did so our guide showed us how to cast our lures into spots on the edge of the channels where a swirl indicated the presence of Tiger fish. These were hunting the smaller fish emerging from the reed beds where they had lived for the past few months.

The results were spectacular - about every third cast saw a fish rise and strike and of these we landed about one in three. We fished all day in wonderful surroundings, lush swampland as far as you could see, beautiful clear blue skies and a temperature of about 25 c. Not much game but we had to watch for Hippo and Crocodiles.

Swirls in the water. That is what we have seen all week in southern Africa. Brief statements from South African leaders about the crisis in Zimbabwe, statements from the UN in Geneva and New York. Tantalizing stuff, but what does it all mean? It probably points to political Tiger fish hunting smaller prey in Zimbabwean waters.

There is no doubt in my mind that Thabo Mbeki has tried hard in the past 12 months to achieve a break through on the Zimbabwe crisis. He failed because of two things - he was not prepared to use his power against Mugabe directly and secondly, Mugabe simply refused to accept a deal that would leave him open to subsequent threats. Hurt, Mbeki has retreated from the field and is now supporting an initiative by Kofi Annan.

This is a welcome development quite frankly, because Mbeki always had an ulterior motive in seeking a resolution to the Zimbabwe crisis. He wanted a solution that would help him deal with the stresses and strains within his own political alliance in the ANC. This took little account of either the issue of real democratic practice or of the need to protect human and political rights in Zimbabwe. The Mbeki solution would have also left large segments of the present regime in charge of the post Mugabe situation and I never saw much chance of those people being able to resolve the many difficult problems that Mugabe will leave behind him when he finally goes.

Kofi Annan seems to have chosen his bait carefully - he has loaded his line with a Murambatsvina and the whole issue of democratic governance, human rights and the need for change. In respect to the latter his position is much more principled - he has stated that the UN road map follows a similar route to the MDC road map, a transitional government, followed by a new constitution and then fresh elections under international supervision.

The great advantages of such a road map is that it allows for the process of reconstruction and rehabilitation to start as soon as a transitional administration is in place. It also gives the people of Zimbabwe the right to determine how they will be governed in the form of a new people driven constitution and it also then allows the people to decide who will take over.

I have no doubt about the outcome of such a transition and am sure that it would put new leadership in charge here. Zanu also has no doubts about that and for that reason they will fight like a two-kilo river bred Tiger fish to prevent being hauled out of the water and forced to face change. You can almost feel the tension in State House as all this is going on and our local Tiger fish are warily watching that lure on the surface with its offer of relief to the constant struggle below.

The conditions on the flood plains do not last for long and when the floods are over and the wetlands revert to dry land, time runs out for the fish of the delta and they must retreat into the main river systems to breed and survive until the next wet season. Time is running out for Mugabe - he faces the growing threat of a street revolt that will eventually force change or retreat and flight while his own administration is simply running out of resources.

They are buying maize at the GMB for Rand 1250 per tonne (Z$56 million dollars at market currency rates) and Z$31 million dollars locally. They are selling it for Z$600 000 a tonne - a direct subsidy of between Z$37 and Z$63 million dollars a tonne after meeting all GMB costs. To compound their difficulties they are also now faced with corrupt managers selling cheap maize to others who then promptly sell it back to the GMB as local maize - taking a huge profit on the turn. A single truckload handled in this was will yield a profit of nearly a billion dollars - even in local currency that is a rich reward.

At ZESA - the local power utility, they are buying power at a cost of up to 8 US cents per unit and selling it for one or two cents - another parastatal going down the tubes with trillions in debts growing daily. The National Railways now has gross revenues that will not even pay net staff salaries and it too is simply sinking in debt.

Prices soar on a daily basis - firms last week suspended trading, as they simply did not know what to charge for goods. Fuel prices rose 50 per cent in a week. Market determined exchange rates collapsed to new lows of 48 000 to 1 against the Rand and 300 000 to 1 against the US dollar. Bowing to the reality, the Reserve Bank issued a new Z$100 000 bearer bond to ease critical cash shortages.

Nearly all productive activity is slowly grinding to a halt - if you think that is an exaggeration just visit a few industrial firms in any City in Zimbabwe. They are shells of their former selves. Both the decline in all forms of economic activity and the rapid rise in prices, show no signs of slowing down. South African leaders this week admitted that they feared and expected continued rapid melt down in Zimbabwe if urgent steps were not taken soon. I agree.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 3rd June 2006