The Winds of Change

Remember that line? I was actually in the hall in Harare when the British Prime Minister used that now famous phrase in a speech he went on to use in South Africa later that same week. Like Winston Churchill's famous line about the 'Iron Curtain' coming down across Europe after the Second World War it somehow captured the essence of the time and because it did so, it became part of our common language as a description of the times we were living in.

Such phrases tend to develop a life of their own, I bet Hendrik Vervoed regretted his use of the Afrikaans word 'apartheid' in an early speech in the days when he was Prime Minister and just begining to put together the ideological framework for the policy of separate development. The phrase was instantly picked up and became a part of the global lingua franca during the next 35 years.

This past week in Zimbabwe has seen all sorts of indications that it may not be business as usual here. Foreign buyers have started buying equities on the local market spurring the market to new heights - this is after an extended period when they were absent. Then the Foreign Ministers of two SADC countries came out and stated that it was time that the grouping stopped acting as if all was well in Zimbabwe. It was time, they said, for the region to tackle the causes of the crisis and to try and get them resolved. One of the two was the Minister from Zambia and as they will shortly take over the Chair of the regional body, this had great significance.

Inside Zimbabwe there are all sorts of signs that Zanu PF is nervous about its position and deeply afraid of the emerging forces rallied against them. The countrywide ban on meetings by the opposition, the use of riot police and water cannon at the slightest provocation. Evidence that there is a scramble for assets that are 'fungible' - marvelous word that, it means 'moveable' in normal parlance. I have friends who trade in hard currencies and they tell me that powerful figures (read Zanu PF) are buying anything that appears - driving rates to new heights of absurdity. The recent scramble for gold and diamonds fits into this same category.

I also hear news of a subtle shift in the corridors of power in South Africa and this is essential if any strategy is to work as only South Africa has the sort of leverage that is required to make Zanu PF commit itself to change and reform.

On the streets here there is also a shift - demonstrations are a daily occurrence. With running battles with the Police who are stretched to the limit. Every night we are feeding dozens of new political prisoners and paying out money for bail and for fines. For the first time Police have been beaten and injured - some quite severely, by ordinary people fighting back when they try to stop them marching or meeting on the street. I was present when the Police stopped a meeting scheduled to be addressed by Morgan Tsvangirai and saw how easily the crowd could have taken on and beaten the forces used to stop the rally. Only intervention by Morgan stopped trouble. He said no violence and asked people to disburse quietly and regroup at the Party Offices. The students I was standing with were raring to go!

New inflation data is due out today - economists predicting that inflation will again run to about 50 per cent for the month of February and nearing the 2000 per cent per annum barrier. In my own business we are seeing growth of over 3500 percent year on year - and I am sure that is not volume. We are now really at that point where if you have money you must spend it because prices are changing daily. My wife went to a meeting of business people here yesterday where an official who is responsible for price control treated them to a long talk. She walked out of the meeting when he got to bread and said we should not charge more that 825 dollars a loaf. That is about 65 Rand cents a loaf of bread, 15 per cent of its real value.

Zanu PF economics is an exercise in pure fantasy and is in no way attached to the realities on the ground. I used the description of a baboon trap to describe the attitude of Zanu to the present situation and I think it is more apt than ever. The baboon puts its hand through a hole just big enough to take it and grasps the maize cob inside. He then cannot get his hand out of the tin and is easily caught.

Zanu PF has its hand in the proverbial till and simply cannot make itself take its hand out - even if it means capture and worse. So they continue to steal our hard-earned export dollars, they steal our gold and they use their position to loot the Reserve Bank and all State controlled organisations. When diamonds were found on the surface at Marange in the Manicaland Province, they simply brushed aside the rights of the owners, the locals and put the army in charge so that they could pillage the find.

I used to think there were some decent and self respecting individuals left in Zanu PF - people I had worked with in the 60,s and 70.s and in the heady days of early independence. I am afraid I no longer think that is true - it cannot be true, because any such individuals would long ago have walked away from the feeding trough and said enough is enough! I am afraid that when the time comes, we are going to have to clean house from top to bottom and then fumigate - just to make sure none of these pests survive to pollute the water of the new government. The strange, yet telling thing, is that education does not seem to help - not even when it comes out of the elite schools of the West.

By the end of March the MDC will have completed its review of policy - the first complete review since we prepared for the 2005 elections. I am excited about the vision of a new beginning that emerges from the 250 pages of the policy review. When it is finally published in April/May I think you will share my enthusiasm.

We are not a poor country in an impoverished continent at war with itself, we are a rich country, with talented people who work hard and who own a culture that is centuries old and offers a real human face to modern societies. We suffer from a corrupt, egomaniacal government that was ill prepared for the responsibilities we thrust on them in 1980 and they lost their way. The winds of change are blowing again and, as in the 70's, they will blow away the old and usher in the new.

Our job in the next few months will be to see that the right people are taken on board and given the required authority and responsibility to fix things and let us realize our enormous potential.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 8th March 2007