Those Pesky Steers

It would seem that South Africa is having a few problems with Zanu PF. They have the gate to the holding pen open, plenty of herdsmen with all the necessary - but the one group of steers is very shy and frightened. They see the gate and know a little about what lies ahead, but shy away from final commitment just when we thought they were in the process of accepting their fate!

Although nothing is being said by anyone connected to the process, it seems that the planned talks for this past weekend were postponed at the last minute and that Zanu PF only submitted their position paper to the South African team on Monday - a month after it was formally requested. It took our team 5 days - this clearly shows who is ready to talk and who is not. But I cannot see South Africa, as the supervisor in this particular exercise, allowing these steers much more leeway. I suspect the whip is about to crack again. Rumor has it that the postponed talks will start on Friday.

The situation has been clarified further in recent days. We had the fascinating visit to South Africa by Tony Blair. He clearly set out the position of the international community. He stated that something had to be done about Zimbabwe. He then pointed out that something was being done by the SADC States themselves. South Africa was coordinating the effort and the international community stood by ready to move at short notice to help Zimbabweans rebuild their country once a more representative government was in place and doing the 'right things'.

I thought he was very clear, at UNISA he made another statement on our situation that showed they are thinking this through. He told business leaders and academics that the Zimbabwe crisis is costing South Africa 3 percent of its potential GDP. I have held that view for some time and defended an estimate close to that at a discussion in Cape Town last year. What I said also was that no developing State with the poverty problems of South Africa could afford to forgo such growth for very long. What a difference that sort of additional growth would make to South Africa.

What most foreign observers fail to see is that if you take Zimbabwe and South Africa, and perhaps Swaziland, out of the SADC you are left with a region that is growing at the same frantic pace as the Asian Tigers. Angola will see growth of some 30 per cent this year - even though it is driven by oil, it is still an achievement and if only the government could be persuaded to stop stealing a third of all that new wealth, the people might start being better off!

There are other imperatives driving this situation and which make me confident that this time something is going to happen. They are: -
The first point is that the economic implosion in Zimbabwe is reaching a critical point. Right now I estimate that prices are about doubling every week. This could be seen on the local stock market where despite 54 per cent growth in equity prices in one week, they fell back in USD terms by 10 per cent during the week. Despite undertakings to business and labour leaders, there is no sign of any fundamental changes in the policies being followed by the Ministry of Finance or the Reserve Bank. Therefore I see no possibility of this slide into financial chaos being halted or reversed.

When prices start doubling every day, business will come to a halt, people will stop going to work, the army and the police will join the rest of us and with guns in their hands anything could happen. I am not talking about a situation that is months away - its now weeks. In April prices doubled in one month, in May they went up by 200 per cent, right now I estimate they are doubling weekly. July is not far away! Someone said to me that the only good thing about such a situation is that it does not last long. The question is what will happen when that situation becomes a reality?

The second point is that the floodtide of refugees going to South Africa is accelerating. We have a long porous border with South Africa and Botswana and even Mozambique. There is no way they can halt this tidal wave. I am told that in many schools there are now so few teachers left that they can barely function. Many children have also left school for economic reasons so that the impact is not as great as might otherwise be expected - but add to that the thousands of civil servants, soldiers, policemen, nurses and even doctors and you get the picture.

I laughed out loud the other day when the SABC said - with all seriousness - that they had 70 000 refugees in South Africa. The reality is that they have become the main destination for economic and political refugees from African States in the world. By the end of this winter I have no doubt that over 4 million Zimbabweans will be living in South Africa - under terrible conditions and desperate to make money from any means to live on and send home. The implications are frightening.

The third point that I make is that South Africa and regional leaders have now decided to take action. In a statement issued this week, Mr. Mbeki stated that in what remains of his Presidency he wants to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis as a top priority. He has also accepted that he cannot control the outcome of such a process, but he can make the process happen. That is all we really ask - we will then decide what to do about our leadership and our policies.

I encounter skeptism and hopelessness every day. But for the above reasons I think we are going to see change - dramatic change shortly. I think the twin track approach of the SADC is right - politics and economics are the oxen in this team. If they can pull together we can get this field ploughed.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 7th June 2007