The Chicken Treatment

Two lessons from my youth may be of use in describing what is happening to Zanu PF at this time. The first is what I call the 'Chicken Treatment'. When you have a dog that insists on attacking the chickens and will not learn not to in any other way, you can tie a dead chicken (preferably of the dogs own making) around its neck and leave it there for a week or two.

The dog will soon be irritated by the carcass and then will become quite agitated - throwing its head from side to side as it tries to get rid of the thing around its neck - to no avail. When it starts to stink it will become quite frantic and when finally the chicken is removed, the dog will run from the carcass if it is shown to it. This is a very effective treatment for delinquent dogs.

The economy performs such a role in Zimbabwe today. Zanu PF has been grossly delinquent and in the process has killed what was once a vibrant and diversified economy. Today the carcass of the economy is firmly tied around its neck and do what it may; it will not be able to throw it off. I think we are into the third phase of this particular exercise - panic and severe distress.

The other lesson I was taught as a child growing up in the eastern Matopo hills was how to catch a baboon. Each school holiday, it was my job to shoot baboons raiding our crops and to try and keep them away. Let me tell you that is quite a task - they are so skilled in watching out for threats of any kind! Once you had got in one shot, you never got another shot at them - they would watch out for me and stay well out of range. Even if the guards and myself dressed in woman's clothes they could tell the difference immediately and scarper out of sight.

So one day we put a few maize cobs in a drum with a small hole cut in the top. Baboons are very inquisitive and when the drum was placed in a location near the lands, they could not stay away. After a day or two, one of the more adventurous would stop, turn the drum over and then look inside. The smell of the maize plus the sight of those cobs would simply be too much. The baboon would reach in and grab a cob. Then they would discover that they could not take their hand out of the drum without losing their loot!. No matter what the threat - that baboon could then be approached on foot and captured because the drum was securely tied to a tree and they would not let go of the cob. We could then do what we wanted with the baboon. On one occasion we painted the animal with white enamel paint and when it was dry, let it go. She ran after her retreating troop who saw this apparition coming and simply took off in terror. We never did find out if she managed to persuade the troop that she was who she said she was, but the guards nearly died laughing.

Zanu PF chefs are similar to that poor baboon - they see the goodies that are lying around and they cannot help but grab what they can. Such goodies are tied to various things and these ties cannot be hidden - so when Gideon Gono goes out and buys a US$365 000 Mercedes Benz he cannot hide the acquisition - he also cannot let it go and it will eventually lead to his capture and humiliation. It is the same with assets that do not belong to those who have taken them from their rightful owners. When the time comes we will be able to identify the culprits quite easily. Painting them and letting them loose also sounds like a good idea! I am sure they will also find their erstwhile colleagues decidedly reluctant to be seen in public with those so identified and humiliated!

So the carcass of the economy continues to rot around Zanu's neck. This week we experienced the one crisis I never thought we would ever see - we ran out of maize meal. People have stocks at home and we are getting in green maize, but a severe shortage of maize meal is the stuff that starts a revolution. By my calculations prices have doubled in the past six weeks - I saw an estimate by the IMF in Washington that they expect inflation to top 5 000 percent - under those circumstances prices will double every week. When that happens Zanu is going to be one very unhappy dog.

But for all of that, the country is simply glowing. I have not seen the bush in such good shape for many years - a combination of last season's rains and this years early rains even if they have not been adequate enough for crops. The trees are in fine shape and the flowering trees and shrubs just superb. It has been, so far a superb cattle season, dry but with enough rain to bring up the grass and keep it growing.

Here in Bulawayo the main problem is water. We are now down to about 8 months supply at rationed levels and have had virtually no inflows to our dams. We need heavy rain to rectify this, as two of the five supply dams are empty. The government has been warned. Last year the City Council asked government to declare the City a water emergency area but this was denied. If the season carries on like this we could actually run out of water altogether. Right now the City is unable to deliver water to housing on the outskirts of the City where tankers and boreholes are the main source of water until the supplies recover.

Tomorrow firms start to reopen - most factories will not open until the 15th or later. When they do, they will be faced with a very different situation to the one they experienced in December. Inflation is sharply higher, shortages of just about everything are more severe, electricity and coal supplies are erratic and the exchange rate regime is simply disastrous. If we assume that the real exchange rate should be somewhere in the range of the parallel market then the Rand is trading at 400 to 1, the USD about 2 800 to 3 000 and the pound is nearly 5 000 to 1. The official exchange rate remains fixed at 250 to 1 against the USD. At this rate the 'tax' on exporters is about Z$1 375 trillion, or greater than the total value of all other tax revenues to the State (and we have one of the highest tax rates in the world).

We will need all our ingenuity to stay afloat in this climate. I hear that another monetary statement by Gono is about due - talk is of a new currency, another slashing of zeros and an attempt to control both wages and prices. This will not only be a completely futile exercise but will do more damage to the economy. Still at least that is not tied around the neck of the MDC - it is Zanu who will have to deal with that while the rest of us just learn to hold our noses when those Chefs fly by in their toys tied to trees that will eventually halt their progress and lead to their capture and humiliation.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 7th January 2007