Let my people go

The story of Moses in the Old Testament chronicles the time when the people of Israel liberated themselves from slavery in Egypt. In the story, Moses goes to Pharaoh and demands that he allow the Jews to leave Egypt and travel to a land that has been promised to them by God. Seven times this demand was made and in an unusual aside, the Bible says that God 'hardened Pharaoh's heart' and he denied them their freedom.

There was more to that of course - there were nearly 3 million Jews in Egypt and they formed the backbone of the indentured labour and much of the administrative skills needed to run the country. It was only after every Egyptian family had lost a child that the Egyptians drove the Jews out and they were able to flee into the desert and eventually enter to Promised Land.

I do not want in any way to draw a parallel to this story and the struggle for freedom that we are engaged in here, but there are similarities. We have prayed, our people have suffered and we have had no outside help and indeed cannot expect any help. We are virtual slaves to Zanu PF who run a kleptocratic State that keeps the rest of us working hard and poor.

The conditions under which we are living are pretty horrific - all our civil liberties are being violated, we are short of all the basic foods, our average life expectancy has halved in a decade and is now one of the lowest in the world. We live in a country where the GDP has halved since 2000, exports are down by two thirds and 80 per cent live in abject poverty. Yet those in power live the life of Pharaoh - luxury homes, every convenience, frequent first class travel and ample supplies of all that they need - in the process stealing a third of our annual GDP or more. They also control the armed forces and the State and are willing to use both in the ruthless pursuit of power and security. If you want to escape their grasp, you must swim the Limpopo and live in the desert of our neighbor's inhospitable slums for what will seem like 40 years.

We have raised up leadership that has demanded our freedom - first in the late 90's when they demanded some say in how we were governed, then in 2000 when we demanded a new constitution of our own choosing, and then in 2000, 2002 and 2005 in hotly contested elections on a totally subverted playing field. We have demanded our freedoms in the Courts, fighting successive battles to get the Courts to hear our case for freedom - after each of the past three elections and been denied justice by a subverted legal system.

I make that 6 challenges - one remains and that is now rapidly approaching.

We could say that each time we have challenged Pharaoh he has simply hardened his heart and increased our burdens. Will this final challenge be the one that breaks the back of Pharaoh's will and sparks a willingness to let our people go? Perhaps it is that point in our story.

Certainly if God was working behind the scenes you can see the results. On Monday we see the old bearer cheques lose their value and there is consensus that this will lead to chaos. People in the remote rural areas have not even heard the news, the Banks are simply swamped, there are not enough of the new notes available to exchange with the old. Trillions of dollars will be wiped out and fortunes lost on Monday - and it will not be the rich and powerful or the crooks who suffer, they have their positions well covered, it is going to be the millions of the poor and disadvantaged who will be the main victims.

Right now, just to compound the problems of the people, there is no maize meal available. I think Zanu PF actually believed their own fiction that we had grown 1,7 to 1,8 million tonnes of maize. We have stated as often as we can that this is pure fiction and make believe. If, as I estimated some months ago, we have only gown about the same as last year (750 000 tonnes) then this will have already been exhausted as people will have held onto stocks for their own use and what little surplus would have been traded or eaten by now. The price of this basic staple has doubled overnight - if you can get some. We brought a truckload of maize meal into town yesterday and it was sold out in 30 minutes.

I bought some Rand for a trip to South Africa last week - at 65 000 to 1. When I came home 6 days later, the price was 90 000 to 1. Fuel is in very short supply and prices rise daily. The army officer who runs our Energy Ministry declared this week that fuel prices would be fixed at half or less their present value and that they 'had plenty of fuel to meet our needs'. The immediate reaction of the trade was to simply stop trading. The Minister of Industry weighed in and declared a 3-week price freeze - in an environment where our prices are doubling every two months. He was ignored.

We must pay our staff on Friday next week - 850 000 workers expect to be paid their pittances, 10 days later we must pay school fees for three million kids. Nearly all of these transactions will be in cash. We simply do not have the smaller denominations needed for these payments. There is no sign of them being available. I will try to draw change on Monday, but I have little expectation that it will be available. Yesterday we were still trading at about 90 per cent in the old notes.

The Egyptians had everything on their side - armed forces, control of the State, regional hegemony. They felt that the Jews constituted no threat and would never rise up against the authorities. They were regarded as being compliant and subservient.

In the end the Jews won - without arms and without fighting and the price paid be Pharaoh and his cohorts was terrible in every way. They were virtually wiped out and never again really recovered. All the Jews had to do was walk and trust God. I have a strong sense that this time something extraordinary is going to happen and that when it is all over, Zanu PF will be no more. The Promised Land - that is quite a way off, but at least we will be free and walking in the right direction!

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 20th August 2006