A Warning

I hope nobody thinks that next week will be business as usual. This week the private sector has gradually wound down its operations. The retail sector - most retailers carry stock for a month approximately, are the last to shut down but already you can see empty shelves and shortages of all the fast moving basic items are now widespread.

Butcheries and bakeries that work on stock levels of about a week are already closed as their stocks ran out. The same with filling stations. Manufacturers must work with quite significant stock levels - especially of imported items and they will run these down and then close unless there is a U-turn on the part of the government and new directives which are half reasonable.

There are no signs as yet as to what the State will do when this shutdown occurs. But all that we are seeing and hearing right now are threats and an insistence that this situation is going to be maintained for some time. The most immediate problem is the very basics - fuel for transport and the essential foods, maize meal, rice, bread, meat and milk. By Monday all of these will be virtually unobtainable. Farmers with pigs and poultry are pondering what to do with their animals as they run out of stock feed, dairy farmers also face huge problems as they cannot pay their feed bills and must start winding down - how do you tell a cow in milk, used to being milked three times a day, that she must stop producing?

Hundreds of thousands of workers and non-formal sector businesspersons are being faced with no work and are being forced to stay home - at present on full pay, but in a few weeks what then? There is no law to turn to; there are no political leaders to go to with any sort of sense and authority. We are in the hands of a madman who has nothing to loose but his life and has his back to the wall and is using the only tools that he knows to try and stay afloat while the country drowns.

How will the average Zimbabwean respond? Friends of mine are doing a day trip to Francistown in Botswana - just 200 kilometers away, today. They will buy what they need for next week and return. A few will do the same. Others are going on holiday, unable to stand the specter of seeing all that they have built up over the past decades swept away. They are the lucky ones - what about the rest?

There is only one way out and that is across the Limpopo. I must warn South Africa that they will now face a huge upsurge in economic refugees and they had better brace themselves for that if nothing effective is done to halt this madness. I mean hundreds of thousands of new, desperate, hungry Zimbabweans flooding in and disappearing into the vast urban slums that surround all South African cities.

The alternative is a military coup led by the junior officers with the compliance of some in the ruling Party who see that this situation is not sustainable and that it is creating a regional crisis of substantial proportions. Such an event would close the door to the SADC process under way today in South Africa and plunge the country and the region into a huge political crisis that would require military intervention. Am I being alarmist? I do not think so. The actions of this rogue regime in the past week have been enough to tip us over and into a state of crisis we have never faced before.

Irreparable damage is being done to the country and if this is not stopped in its tracks by immediate and radical measures taken by regional governments very serious consequences are going to follow.

The humanitarian and economic crisis that is about to break out in Zimbabwe is simply staggering and certainly way beyond the capacity of the country to handle on its own.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 7th July 2007