Storm Clouds Gather

As I sit at my desk and write, a force 4 cyclone is on its way up the Mozambique coast and I hear that the Eastern Highlands are being blown around by the winds associated with it. I am told that such a cyclone is quite a fierce animal with 200 kilometers per hour winds and heavy rain. The UN issued a warning yesterday that it was standing by for emergency assistance to Mozambique.

If you are watching television you will have seen the pictures of the Zambezi River spilling over its banks and the 150 000 or so refugees now housed in tents courtesy of the Mozambique emergency services. Kariba is still far from full - about 7 metres to go and rising slowly, so these floods on the lower Zambezi have nothing to do with the Congo or Angolan wet season. Here in the south of Zimbabwe we are on severe water rationing and do not have enough water in our dams for the rest of the year - so we are desperate for this particular cyclone and what it might bring. So much so that we have all been following it via satellite for two days.

There are two other storm systems developing out at sea and over Madagascar and we might see another cyclone shortly. Some welcome such an event, others dread it and think that it will just make life even more miserable than it is at present.

Our politics is a bit like that - last night it was clear skies, brilliant stars, I have seldom seen Venus in the evening sky showing such brilliance. There was also a thin sliver of moon just appearing. For those of you who live in wetter climes, the evening sky here is something to behold - especially on a dark night after rain when the air is washed clean of dust and smoke. The Milky Way just blazes across the sky. I put my three-year-old grandson to bed the other night (the girls were at a piano concert) and he demanded to go outside and lie on the ground looking up at the wonder of the night sky. Kids know what is important.

Right now the edge of the cyclone system is just beginning to wash over us - it is quite different to our normal sky and you can feel the change in the atmosphere.

You might also have been watching Zimbabwe on the news this week. The street activity has been slowly gathering momentum and on Friday and then Sunday there was some serious street rioting in Harare. The crowd demonstrating or just trying to attend a rally responded fiercely when the Police waded in using excessive and unwarranted force. Cars were smashed and burnt, Herald House had a few windows broken and a number of Police were injured.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to political agitation here at present and I think everyone senses that a storm is coming. Like our cyclone, some dread its arrival and others pray for it to come quickly and then wash the land with its aftermath.

Zanu PF has broken into several pieces that simply can no longer be reconciled. Mugabe wants to extend his tern by two years and then run again for another 6 years. But his Party - long just a rubber stamp for his slightest whim, is saying no. Both the Central Committee and the Politburo have been unable to reach consensus and the matter is now back in the Provinces where the debate rages. It seems to me that Mugabe may lose this one - only his second major political defeat in 27 years.

So the debate is on whether to hold both Parliamentary and Presidential polls next year in March or to simply go to the Presidential poll as required by the Constitution. Either option is possible at this stage.

This particular storm is gathering strength from its environment - just like a cyclone. On the one hand the melt down in the economy is still gathering momentum. Inflation at 50 per cent a month (8 000 per cent per annum) and shortages of just about everything that is essential to life. Bread, cooking oil, flour, sugar, fuel and maize meal are all difficult to come by and only at a price.

Then there is the diplomatic sea we operate in - France at long last said enough is enough and sent a polite invitation to attend the annual Franco/African summit in Paris, but on condition that Mugabe stayed at home! So no one went and the government issued a sour note saying that it was time that developed States stopped inviting African Heads of State to attend meetings in their capitals as if they were all lackeys - I agree with that sentiment. But when Mugabe was invited, with all other African leaders to China recently - he went and dutifully stood in line to shake hands with the Chinese President before being wined and dined in aristocratic splendor.

When the Chinese leadership toured Africa in recent weeks, the third such tour in a year, they studiously ignored Zimbabwe and visited nearly all our neighbors - all except those who do not have assets to plunder like Malawi. As all who have worked in the diplomatic sphere know - this was a massive slight to Mugabe and Zanu PF.

Today there is speculation that Namibia is about to offer Mr. Mugabe - guess what? Refugee status after he has retired because of the understanding that he simply will not be allowed to remain in Zimbabwe without the threat of some sort of legal action after he retires in March 2008! Apparently his old friend Sam has a home in a National Park, and Mugabe is invited to join him there. Now there would be a tourist attraction if ever there was one!

Add that all together and you might even feel a bit sorry for the old man of Zimbabwe politics. After all the adulation and respect garnered over a lifetime of struggle, to end his days in disgrace (with Grace) and isolation. Not even able to control the debate in his own Party. As Wilf Mbanga said today - there is time to redeem yourself, but to do so you have to do the unthinkable - apologize to your own people for what you have done and then step down with as much dignity as possible.

With this particular storm on its way and building up its strength, time is not on his side anymore. For the rest of us - batten down the hatches and get your brollies and gumboots out. When we come out of our bunkers, the sun will be shining, our rivers running and our country clean. I cannot wait.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 22 February 2007