It is now clear that unless a foreign power steps in and forces Mr. Mugabe to back down and accept change, that he is bent on destroying what is left of the Zimbabwe economy. That is not saying much; agriculture is operating at about 20 per cent, tourism and hospitality about the same, industry 50 per cent and mining about 80 per cent and declining fast. Our currency and now the stock market are worthless.

The new regulations promulgated on Friday cover virtually every product produced and sold in Zimbabwe as well as all associated services. They are totally unworkable, give retailers and others inadequate margins with which to work and are clearly designed to freeze prices for just about everything in an environment where inflation is running at 15 000 per cent and rising.

The regime has gone even further, they now say they will nationalize all firms who do not comply. Firms doing so are committing financial suicide so that leaves them with little option. Carry on if they can for a few days or weeks and then close and hand over to the State.

Rumors are rife - Libya will advance the regime a US$2 billion loan to fund essential imports is one - that is just nonsense. Yesterday there was talk that tankers of fuel are arriving from Beira - another story with little substance. The region and the international community are clearly planning to step in at some stage with a rescue package, but that is linked to a political deal that is clearly not in sight.

The most frequent question I am asked is why? Why are they doing this? Why now?

All we have to do is to roll back our recent history and look at two campaigns - the campaign to destroy the commercial farming community and Murambatsvina, the campaign to destroy the non-formal sector in urban areas.

Both had a primary objective and that was to enable Zanu PF to stay in power. They had looked at the results of the referendum and then the June 2000 elections and discovered that the commercial farming community - some 2 million strong, with 700 000 voters, held the balance of electoral power between the urban areas (a lost cause) and the communal areas (a 'secure' electoral base for Zanu PF). By destroying the white commercial farming sector they also eliminated a significant source of funding and support for the MDC and created a huge pool of resources for patronage to hold the remaining pillars of support for Zanu PF in place.

Murambatsvina had a similar objective. For the first time, due in part to higher death rates, migration and continued rural/urban drift, the population in the rural areas that Zanu has depended on for its remaining electoral support, had slipped into a minority position. For the first time in our history, more people are living in the urban areas than in the rural areas (by my own estimate 60:40 or even more). So what do they do? They go in and in a three month campaign they destroy 300 000 urban dwellings - many with electric light and running water, they displace 700 000 people who are forcibly transported to the rural areas and dumped and they destroy the non-formal businesses that provide support for as many as 2,4 million people in urban areas (all UN figures).

Now please note that these operations were carried out with ruthless efficiency, regardless of the cost, either financial or human and they have been stunningly successful. They got away with both because white farmers and their staff were easy targets, they got away with Murambatsvina because the UN system simply has no teeth or courage and who cares about urban slum dwellers anyway?

In each stage of this exercise in self-defence, the region accepted the outcome and simply shrugged their shoulders. Zanu accurately calculated that the donor community would not let people starve and they have (as planned) continued to pour money into the pit that Zanu has been digging for itself over the past 17 years, US$600 million a year in fact.

While the SADC remained mute, 3,5 million Zimbabweans, all economic and political refugees, have fled to neighbouring States - especially South Africa. South Africa is only now waking up to the cost of this influx in social and economic terms - Mr. Blair put it at 3 per cent of SA GDP per annum (US$4,2 billion) while the specter of violent crime has come to haunt all South Africans - driven in part, by desperate refugees from Zimbabwe trying to make a living in a hostile environment and also to secure the resources to keep their families at home alive (another US$1,2 billion a year).

Why this new campaign? Well that is easy to understand actually, because Zanu PF faces its most serious threat yet. Their colleagues in the SADC have ganged up on them and are demanding a free and fair election in March 2008. For Zanu PF that is suicide. They are not going to go that route without a considerable degree of coercion.

So what do they do? They create a crisis and a diversion. They hope that their real motives will not be discerned and that the region will not have to courage or the gumption to wield their considerable power and influence here and force these delinquents to take their medicine. Is this gamble going to pay off, just like the farm invasions and Murambatsvina? On Sunday Mr. Mugabe delivered another slap in the face to Mr. Mbeki - he told his negotiating team not to attend the talks planned for Pretoria, They stayed at home 'to deal with more pressing matters!' If South Africa does nothing - as they have so often in the recent past, then they run two risks. The first is that South African interests here, both economic and political, will be irreparably damaged.

The second is perhaps even more serious, as the economy here collapses in a heap, another 3 or 4 or even more, million Zimbabweans will have nowhere to go but South and that will break the back of the World Cup, it will push South African crime to intolerable levels and will undermine all the good work done over the past 14 years to create a better image for Africa as an investment and tourist destination.

What are the chances of a popular revolt? Zero. Not only are the people afraid, they are deceived by the propaganda machine and in addition, the MDC is saying keep cool, change is coming, these guys want us on the streets to justify a clampdown that would set us back years. If South Africa does not intervene, we have few options left but flight anyway. I do not accept the pessimists view that South Africa will stand back on this occasion, they have showed considerable determination in recent months and I think they will act - better be soon.

Eddie Cross

Bulawayo, 10th July 2007