Four More Years

The decision taken over the past weekend to try and extend the tenure of Mr. Mugabe to 2010 was not unexpected. It has been clear for some months that Zanu PF was unable to put together a coherent succession plan and also that they are increasingly worried about the tide of opposition in the country. They are scared to face the electorate even though they control all the machinery that runs elections here and have fine-tuned the process so that in the recent past they have been able to deliver a preordained result.

Even so the decision - interpreted in many places as being a decision to appoint Mugabe as 'President for Life', whether intentionally or unintentionally, was received across the country with anger and despair. I know of a local clothing store that was petrol bombed and was told this morning that a football match in Harare at Rufaro stadium was followed by riots and that not only was the stadium trashed, but the people turned over cars and other vehicles in the area.

I was attending a workshop for the leadership of one of our provinces and there the news was greeted with anger and calls for more and radical action. It was interesting that for the first time, provincial leadership in several Zanu PF areas voted against the proposal and that the Conference was forced to refer all resolutions to the Central Committee for a final decision. Few think that in the tight circle that this entails, that anyone will have the courage to stand up to Mugabe and that the Committee will vote in favor of the proposal.

But we should not think that the matter would rest there. Zanu PF and its support structures in the security and military establishment has become a leaky vessel and information and contrary views are pouring out of what was previously a tightly closed and water tight compartment of the State. The CIO reports to Mugabe are being leaked to the media and opposition representatives. The views of the security chiefs are routinely reported even though they are contrary to the official line. They all point to growing concern as to the stability of the State and the wisdom of simply pressing ahead.

As for Mugabe, reports from Harare say he has ordered one million Christmas hampers from a local company - now that is what I call being father Christmas in a big way! Does he really think that dishing out a million hampers with his name and that of Zanu PF on them is going to wipe out our memories of a terrible year of suffering and struggle? No doubt he does!!

Does Mr. Mbeki in South Africa really want another two million economic refugees from Zimbabwe in South Africa in time for the May/June 2010 World Cup? Does he want another Zimbabwean electoral fiasco next door, accompanied by violence and widespread human rights violations right in the middle of South Africa's greatest moment? Does he want international media attention drawn to this regional hotspot while they grapple with the Herculean task of running the biggest game of them all? The answer has to be no - the question is what will he do about it? Can he really afford to run the risk of doing nothing?

As for us in the opposition - we want a Presidential election in 2008, nothing less.

On another subject altogether, I was reminded this week of the dangers of dependency on hand outs in the whole realm of how we tackle poverty in all its different forms. It brought to mind an incident in the early sixties when I was moving 30 000 Tonga people out of the basin of what is now Lake Kariba to higher ground where they could resume their lives after their ancestral homes had been flooded by the rising waters of the new Lake. We had to not only move these people some 100 kilometers inland but also to teach them a completely new way of life. A life separate from the river on which they had been so dependent for centuries before. To do so I selected one family in each new village to cultivate a small plot of land under our instruction and using inputs supplied by the State. Some were very good farmers, others mediocre, but it did eventually have the impact we were seeking and these farmers are today the backbone of the cotton industry in Zimbabwe.

In the course of doing this work we fed the people with all their basic needs for two years - telling them that after that they were on their own. In one village the selected plot holder grew an outstanding maize crop. Not large - perhaps a hectare, but I thought he would reap about 140 bags. The crop was flowering and stood about two metres high when one morning the plot holder woke up to find the crop slashed to the ground. I was called and held a meeting with the villagers. 'What happened here and why?' I asked? Eventually one of the older men stood up and very apologetically said, 'We did it. We cut the maize because we feared that if you saw that we could grow crops like that, that you would no longer feed us!'

This is the great danger of food aid to Africa and of all forms of food subsidies in an effort to meet the needs of low income or destitute people. The other great danger is that such activities, no matter how managed, entrench the role of the State as caregiver and make the targeted communities vulnerable to manipulation and intimidation, especially in political terms.

It is for this reason that I think that we must be very careful when we talk about meeting the basic needs of the poor in countries like Zimbabwe. Richard Morris, the Head of the World Food Programme was here last week. His organisation says we need to import nearly a million tonnes of grain to meet basic needs before the next harvest. For him and his organisation charity is big business and governments like the one we have here, are gifts from heaven. The UN can use countries like Zimbabwe as justification for fundraising for the WFP and they spend many hundreds of millions of dollars annually feeding people across the world in response to pictures of starving children.

In the same vein I have written before on the massive subsidies paid through the Grain Marketing Board for basic foodstuffs and in particular the use of maize as a political weapon and as a dependency tool. The ruling elite bring low priced maize into regions that are food aid dependent and stock this at visible points in the area. They then tell the local voters that if Zanu is not voted in, in these areas the stocks will be removed and sent to 'loyal' districts. I have personally witnessed this on several occasions. They also say to food deficit areas (now in the majority) that any defection to the opposition will result in the food aid agencies being denied access. We have had several incidents of this nature, with the State even closing down child feeding schemes in drought stricken regions of the country like Binga where the people vote for the opposition under all circumstances.

For those whose business is food aid such activities are simply ignored as they set about their business of 'saving lives'. I sometimes wonder if we would not be better off without such activities and in a situation where the State was forced to use its own resources to import food for the country or face insurrection. They seem to be able to find the money to buy useless military aircraft and weapons - perhaps that would be another way of turning swords into ploughs.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 18th December 2006