They are burning the Kraal!!

Remember the bit about herding Zanu PF into the dip tank holding pens prior to dipping? We eventually got them cornered and locked down in readiness for the big day when dipping would take place. Locked in with nowhere to go but through the dip, the cattle are panicked - what to do next? Well now we know - they are burning the kraal down!

'Kraal' is the local name for a holding pen for cattle - even goats and sheep. It is most often made of poles sunk into the ground and held together by wire. Most Kraals are old - the wood hard and dry, so once a fire takes hold it burns hot and for a long time. Often in the villages they will build a stack on a suspended platform over the kraal where the herdsmen will hold a reserve supply of fodder for the long dry winter and also for a bit of shade in the hot months. If the fire moves on to this, everything in the kraal will be destroyed and killed.

Mugabe has started a fire that will destroy what remains of the modern economy and transfer the ashes to Zanu PF control and direction. He has frozen prices, wages, rents and all other prices for services for six months. He has proposed legislation that will see all companies being forced to take in Zanu PF partners who will then hold a controlling stake in their firms. He has directed that the firms themselves, through a compulsory levy pay for this process and there is no question of compensation in any sort of hard currency and whatever comes out for existing shareholders will be worthless.

At present exchange rates in the parallel market and present inflation rates (which will slow but not by much as all the fundamentals are so distorted) the freeze will simply stop all economic activity in its tracks. Already virtually all industrial firms supplying the local market have halted production or slowed it down to low levels to try and curb the losses. Tens of thousands of workers have lost their jobs and the rate of layoffs is accelerating. Just this past week I heard of a local businessman who wept as he paid off staff who had worked for his family firm for 45 years.

No foreign firm can possibly accept the demand for 51 per cent control of their assets here. The great majority of firms have sufficient funds to remain operational for a matter of weeks now after two months of madness. They cannot resist - the threat of imprisonment is real and arbitrary. In his latest decree (and since when have we been governed by decree?) Mr. Mugabe has threatened business leaders with imprisonment for six months if they violate the freeze. Very few - if any, will take the risk and any resort to the Courts is probably a waste of time and money and will just invite retribution in some other form.

So where does this leave us? Well to put it as simply as possible, if someone does not send in the fire brigade, we are doomed. I now formally upgrade my previous assessment about the tidal wave of human flight to neighbouring countries to an imminent Tsunami of major proportions that will do substantial damage to all who are affected.

Our economic and social structures simply cannot take any more of these nutty initiatives and a complete collapse of our economy is now inevitable. Of equal concern are the impact of the freeze and the critical shortages of all basic needs for human life on the security forces and the civil service. It is likely that very shortly we will also be unable to maintain any sort of administration and basic security of assets and person.

The implications of this situation are so serious that I am astonished at the International Crisis Groups view that our situation is 'unchanged'. They must be looking in another direction when they study what is happening here.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 2nd September 2007