Itís just not Cricket

Last night I, and thousands of other Zimbabweans had a chance to briefly put the hardships of living in this broken country behind us for a few hours as we watched a young, plucky Zimbabwean cricket team beat the worlds best in the form of Australia in the 20/20 competition in South Africa. It was thrilling stuff with the man of the match winning the game with a four on the second last ball.

The sight of those kids pouring onto the field and hugging each other and then taking a lap of honor was something as was the sight of the entire team praying on the side of the field when their immediate jubilation had been spent. I have said it before and it is worth repeating - we are probably the most Christian of countries in the continent.

It reminded me of a cocktail party in London put on by a firm of commodity brokers in about 1977. We had just won the CC Cup - the top accolade for cricket nations in the second league. I was a guest at the function as Chief Economist of the Agricultural Marketing Authority and was talking to some brokers about maize sales when we were joined by an elderly man - one of the senior partners who, when he heard where I was from, turned to me and said 'there is nothing wrong with a country that can play first class cricket!'

In one sense he is right - if we can produce 20 kids who can play the best and win and then hug each other and pray together, we must be doing something right. If only we could do everything else the same way, but we do not and we continue to violate all the rules for a sound functioning democratic and prosperous nation. There is nothing wrong with Zimbabwe, we have the people, the resources and the knowledge to be a winning nation but in an era where world commodity prices are at record levels and Africa has started to grow rapidly in economic terms (the continent will average 6 per cent growth this year) Zimbabwe remains a shrinking, impoverished and disabled country sliding into the category of a failed State. The reason - we just do not play by the rules.

The State continues to recklessly print money - trillions of dollars every month and our currency continues its collapse. Today the local currency is trading in some quarters at 350 000 to 1 - near the levels reached in June when the State tried to buy foreign exchange in the open market for essential needs. I suspect the same is happening today.

We have just devalued our official exchange rate - from an effective 16 000 to 1 for the USD to 30 000 to 1. That is still only 10 per cent of the value of the US dollar in the open market. Interest rates are all over the place - you cannot get an interest bearing deposit rate for money on short term deposit and long term money earns about 350 per cent per annum in an environment where inflation is now probably about 25 000 per cent. Under these extreme conditions savings and capital just evaporate.

The root causes of our collapse are political - the oligarchy who came to power in 1980 as a result of the liberation war and negotiations facilitated by the big nations of the world, hangs onto power and defends their hold on power at the expense of every value that they sought in decades of struggle against white minority government. They have failed, but refuse to leave the field.

They exploit our inherent character as a Nation - our law abiding people and their open and peaceful character and abuse these worthy traits to secure their positions and privilege. They abuse the people who have built up the country, robbing them of their assets and destroying their enterprise and savings. They behave like feudal demagogues who think we are all peasants and serfs, here for their pleasure and nothing more.

Our greatest enemy is the idea that we can do nothing about this situation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Listening to the commentators last night, time and time again they said, 'Can Zimbabwe really believe they can beat the Australians?' That was the key to the match - was it possible that they might imagine that the invincible might be taken down and defeated? The answer was yes; it is possible.

We in the MDC have spent the last 8 years working on a democratic transition to a new government and society. We have been denied that victory three times by a regime that has simply moved the goal posts; arbitrarily changed the rules and bribed the umpires and even when that was not enough, they have arranged to beat up the opposite team and intimidate their players. When that was not enough they even interfered with the scoreboard.

Now we have negotiated with the association that governs this sort of game in Africa and have an agreement on the rules to be applied to the next round. Not ideal, but at least they give us a chance to prevail this time round. The question is, do we believe enough in ourselves to think it can happen and to go out onto the field - still the minnows in this game, but ready to win and take the prize back home?

Our greatest threat is that we have no vision of what the future might be like. We saw a little of that last night. The Bible says that a Nation without a vision dies. Thatís where we are and we need to break out of the slough of despond and get back up and say we can do this. We can become a winning nation again - but itís all up to us.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 13th September 2007.