How much longer?
I set out in the following table the growth in sales in a local supermarket
over 12 months in the past year.
What is really scary are the results for the first week of April - 13 081
per cent!! I know there were other influences of this latest increase (it
was Easter) but all the same there has been another huge jump in prices in
April. Certainly more than in March and I do not think this supermarket
owner would claim that the volume of his sales are rising like this!
If we add to this the outturn of the worst agricultural season in perhaps 50
years (we have grown barely 20 per cent of our food requirements), the near
collapse of the mining industry under the burden of completely unrealistic
exchange rates (the official exchange rate is 1,25 per cent of the market
rate) and a nonsensical gold price of Z$16 000 a gram when the market price
is nearer half a million dollars a gram in the market. The continued, even
accelerated collapse of industry and the almost complete absence of tourists
and you get the picture of an economy in even deeper trouble than last year.
The IMF has revised its estimates of the decline in our GDP but even that
does not reflect what is happening right now. The response of the government
has been catastrophic - the Governor of the Reserve Bank has abandoned any
attempt to influence exchange rates - he simply handed that over to the
Minister of Finance who is the most ignorant Minister we have had in that
portfolio since independence. The Ministry of Industry is trying to hold
prices down and we have not seen sugar for three weeks, cooking oil has all
but disappeared and bread is selling at ten times the controlled price. The
Statistics office simply suspended publication of the inflation rate,
knowing full well that the rate for March - even after they had massaged the
figures and used the fictional controlled prices for key commodities, had
surged to new heights. My personal view is that inflation in March was about
4000 per cent for the average consumer in Zimbabwe.
To compound the crisis the Customs department is now demanding payment of
import duties in hard currencies. To give you an idea of just what that
means my son imported a second hand vehicle from the Far East a month ago.
He paid US$8000 and Z$1,7 million for the vehicle. If he were to try and do
that deal today he would have to pay US$6 800 in import duties - the market
rate for that would be Z$136 million. In addition he would have had to find
the additional currency because he could not get it from the Bank.
The immediate effect was a huge accumulation of vehicles and goods at the
border - people could not clear their imports, as the foreign exchange is
simply not available. So essential imports that have been keeping the
country going are now being strangled by the new regulations. This will make
conditions very much more difficult for all Zimbabweans - unless of course
you belong to the elite in power in which case you get your foreign exchange
at less than 2 per cent of its value and a new vehicle imported from South
Africa will cost you about US$85 - with import duty.
Does this mean anything to the regime here - on the surface, no! On
Independence Day we saw the usual performance from Mr. Mugabe - the MDC were
the puppets of the western powers, our economic problems are caused by the
denial of my right to shop in London (targeted sanctions) and our business
leaders are 'greedy'.
More seriously he made no reference to the SADC initiative to resolve our
crisis, he made no concessions to the mediation of Mr. Mbeki. He swore ('on
his ancestors grave' - about the strongest term a Shona leader can use) that
he would 'never' allow the MDC to come to power. Quite a statement for a man
whose sole constituency is now about 2000 individuals living the life of
Riley in a starving nation and some 40 000 thugs on government payroll whose
task it is to beat and bludgeon the perceived enemies of Zanu PF in
preparation for another farcical election.
For the benefit of those who will have read the SADC statement that Mugabe
was elected democratically in 2002 we need to remind ourselves of that event
which was the turning point in his relations with other genuine democracies
around the world.
In the 2002 presidential elections the regime here used massive violence and
intimidation in the run up to the election. Food was rationed only to those
who supported Mugabe in rural areas. He disfranchised at least 500 000
voters prior to the election and in the election itself the authorities
fabricated up to 800 000 votes and allowed 53 000 Zanu PF functionaries to
vote more than once. In addition the postal ballot was clearly manipulated
with the armed forces voting under supervision and some 400 000 potential
MDC supporters were denied the vote on the day when polling stations closed
without registering their votes.
Mugabe claimed he won the election by 400 000 votes and this point of view
was faithfully endorsed by South Africa and the AU - but not be the SADC
observer mission. Other observers rejected the result as a travesty. MDC
challenged the result in the Courts and have yet to get a hearing. Mugabe
lost his status as a democratically elected leader. Prior to the election
the armed forces said they would not accept the result if Mugabe was not
elected and since then they have been rewarded with heavy salary increments
and perks and are now effectively running the country. Cabinet and
Parliament are largely sidelined in the exercise of power.
If nothing is done soon to turn this situation around we are headed for a
catastrophe - and I do not think that is too strong a word. Already 3
million Zimbabweans are in South Africa, 80 per cent illegally. Their
numbers are rising by the day and I would not be surprised if another
million flee the country this winter. Just on Thursday I spoke at a local
meeting organised by Civil Society (Transparency International) on the
subject of corruption in local authorities. Members of the audience who
subsequently asked pointed questions about national politics or made
statements suggesting that what we needed was regime change, were followed
after the meeting and beaten. I spoke to three of them yesterday and sent
one to a medical center for attention for what looked like a broken arm, the
others had not eaten since the day before so we fed them then gave them
money to get out of town. They were frightened for their lives.
Mr. Mbeki better understand that he is running out of time.
Bulawayo, 21st April 2007