The Reality on the Ground
In the next two days the immediate future of this country may be
Heads of State are gathering in Lusaka and today, in preparation, the
Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Security and Finance meet to work through
will go to the Presidents when they meet on Thursday. According to the
African Foreign Minister, Mr. Mbeki will report on his facilitation of
Zimbabwe crisis on Thursday.
Already there is so much nonsense flying about that it is impossible to
what exactly is going on. We (the MDC) have a large and powerful group
Lusaka to lobby the different delegations and from all the media
they are active.
But I wanted to set out a different reality - just what is the real
situation like here on the ground for the ordinary, decent, hard
Zimbabwean? I was thinking about what I might write when walking the
last evening. It had been a lovely day - typical winters day in
Matabeleland, cool, crisp, zero humidity, deep blue sky with little
The dogs were having a great time hunting hares and mice in the open
savannah grassland that stretches out for several kilometers from the
of our road.
A young man, about 25 years old, with large boots on his feet was
down the road and we greeted each other. He surprised me by speaking in
English. He was carrying a small bag across his shoulders. We walked
together for a while and he asked me if I knew anyone with work that he
could do - anything. I said things were quite impossible for business
and I could not think of any sort of job openings. He then told me of
He was a High School graduate, could not find any sort of work
with his basic qualifications and had been jobbing - working on
sites around the City where people from the Diaspora are building homes
using their foreign earnings. All work had stopped because of the price
control operation, which had resulted in all suppliers of materials
deliveries - no cement, no sand or bricks because there was no fuel.
living on the site because he had nowhere else to go but was not being
paid - now for one month.
That morning he had gone to the 'Renkini' (a word derived from the
'Taxi Rank') where he had gone to try and buy some maize meal. He
savings from his work and was using these to buy food. The distance .to
Rank would be about 15 kilometers from his building site home. He had
no transport and had walked all that way that morning. Spent several
finding maize meal and then had paid Z$500 000 for a tin of maize. That
about 12 kilograms. He had then had to walk back and was now about two
kilometers from his 'home'.
Before the price control exercise he was gainfully, if inadequately,
employed. He would have been able to catch a bus to town and would have
to queue but he would have been able to get a bag of maize meal for
$150 000. Now, after just a month of this stupidity (you cannot
what this regime is doing as 'policy') he is unemployed, close to
starvation, has to walk everywhere and paid 10 times the so called
'controlled price' for maize meal of $50 000. For thirty kilometers
walking he had been able to buy enough food for himself for about 15
No protein is available even if he could afford it, so he was going to
and catch something in the nearby bush.
Now what I would say to people is that his experience yesterday was
he is not an exceptional case at all. He is about the average age of an
adult here (life expectancy is about 35 years), he has the sort of
education, as a post independence child would have expected (and would
get today from the same system). He was underemployed, now unemployed
facing a daily struggle to feed himself (he is single).
Mr. Mugabe said this weekend (and it was repeated several times on the
network) that the price controls are meant to stop business from
overcharging and that he was going to keep them in place indefinitely.
reality all he has succeeded in doing is to lose what little control
had over prices and the ordinary Zimbabwean now faces the harsh reality
being unable to buy anything in the shops and is forced back onto the
streets to find what he/she can at several times the cost before these
controls were introduced. Suddenly everyone is much worse off than
If the regime here maintains its position that every business must get
Ministers written approval for every price they charge on every product
must go through the Ministry if they want to change anything - pack
packaging, prices, contents. Then business as we have known it is
going to die. Unless ordinary market principles are permitted, industry
Zimbabwe is history and with it most of the retail sector.
They have destroyed the commercial farming sector and with it the
infrastructure that made it all possible, this has resulted in farm
across the whole industry falling by a massive 80 per cent. Tourism is
similar situation and is barely ticking over. Industrial production has
declined already by close to 50 per cent and in the past month I would
suggest it has slumped still further to about the same levels as
Agriculture - 20 per cent of normal. The mining industry is the least
affected but even so, output is falling and we can expect no further
investment either in maintenance or in new ventures until a new
is installed and sensible policies are reinstated.
Impossible as it may seem, this will result in overall GDP declining
further this year - already down by half with a forecast decline of 7
cent in GDP this year (the 9th successive year of decline in GDP).
already down by two thirds will decline still further and employment,
from 1,4 million in 1997 will slump to new lows of no more than about
000 - half of them in the public service. The collapse of the
economy is now a reality.
For my walking companion what options does he have? I suggest he has
one. That is to pack his bags, take what food he has left and walk or
a ride to the South African border. He will know people in South Africa
once he is through the border region he can find himself a small patch
land in a slum, build a shack and then start making a living for
perhaps find a couple of hundred Rand to send home each month. His main
option for employment in South Africa will be crime unless he risks
work without the required documents.
It is strange that in this way he becomes perhaps the only means we
influencing the leadership of South Africa as to our plight. It is the
presence of over 3 million Zimbabweans in South Africa and the arrival
thousands more on a daily basis that is now driving SA foreign policy.
human and political rights, not the issues of freedom and democracy
once fuelled the struggle in the region and in South Africa itself.
crude self-defence against the only weapon left to the ordinary
that of forced flight.
Bulawayo 14th August 2007