The Kevin Wood Story

Kevin will launch his remarkable story next week in book form at a function in Johannesburg. Many of you will not have heard his name before. We knew him as one of the men who were arrested and then convicted for activities he undertook as a double agent working both for the CIO in Zimbabwe and the South African Intelligence services.

He was not alone in that sort of role in the decade that followed our independence in 1980. In fact I had first hand experience of this sort of thing when the husband of a secretary working in my office in Bulawayo was assassinated outside his home by South African agents who had approached him to become a double agent. He had refused and they had decided he was too dangerous to leave alone.

In another incident about the same time, a member of staff discovered an arms cache in the roof of his home and I well recall him walking into my office, as white as a sheet, to ask what he should do. We told him to phone the Police and let them find out who was responsible. He did and although he had a rough few hours, he was not accused of any misdemeanor and came back to work the following day.

In another incident - this time not involving a member of staff but a friend who was ranching outside Bulawayo. He came back to the ranch to find it swarming with police and army. They had found a substantial arms cache on the farm and one of his managers had been responsible. The South Africans had been flying arms into the country in light aircraft and by flying low they had avoided detection. The manager went to jail for many years like Kevin Wood.

But it is not Kevinís story about what he did and whom he worked for in those days that intrigued me - it was the account of how he survived. As he tells it, he did not see his children for two decades, was held naked in a small cell for five years in absolute solitude. The food was very poor and amenities zero, dirt and disease were his every day companion. Appeals for clemency and for his release, even by Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa, went unheeded. Suicide was always an option and he thought about it every day. But he survived and now is rebuilding his life in South Africa with his family.

The question he tries to answer at one point was how he survived and this is a lesson we can all learn from. He says in his book that he just persuaded himself that he had to survive until tomorrow. Yesterday I had to go out at night with a truck and collect maize meal from a miller. He would not sell me maize meal for our staff during the day - too many police and people he said. He would not give me an invoice as he was charging me a price that was three times the official price. If I were not able to do that our staff would not have their primary staple food to eat. There is no bread available, no meat, no oil and no fats. My latest calculations for inflation - based on two weeks trading in October is 23 000 percent. The US dollar is trading at over a million, for free funds outside the country in reasonable quantities (US$10 000) the price is Z$1 500 000 to 1. That is three times what it was trading at the in early September.

These sorts of devaluation numbers are like a jet flying across the sky- you can see the jet, but the sound trails a long way back depending in part on the speed of the jet. The faster it flies, the further behind is the sound. In the same way we can fully expect these massive devaluations to be translated into price inflation within a short period. It makes our money literally worthless, no matter how much you hold.

When he died, my fathers pension, after 32 years of work in a single organisation, was Z$290 a month. Today a loaf of bread costs Z$100 000 000.00 in the same currency. When this sort of devaluation is taken together with the massive impact of the price controls, where stores are literally empty, makes life here a real mission. How to survive? Take one day at a time, no more, and if you see the dawn, celebrate your victory.

Lets remember that we are not the first to face conditions such as these - we are in good company in a historical sense. I can recall hearing a Russian survivor of the Gulag speak at a Christian conference in Switzerland in the late 70ís. He recalled 15 years in solitary confinement in a filthy cell with grass on the floor and damp in the walls. He was now resident in the West and much fÍted.

He said in a moving part of his talk that evening that when he was in his cell, he felt much closer to God than he ever felt in the West and that sometimes he longed for the reality that that experience had brought to him of the meaning of life itself. After the collapse of the wall in Europe between East and West he went home.

We are not locked in a cell like Kevin was, but we are prisoners unless we choose to leave. Those of us who choose to stay have to ask ourselves how do we survive until change comes? Kevin said it all - one day at a time.

It is not going to be easy or painless, but we will survive Mugabe and we will see change in Zimbabwe, and when we do, we will be able to rebuild our lives and our country and benefit from the experiences we have gained as individuals and as a nation since this nightmare began.

Last weekend we held a workshop in Harare to go over our proposed policies for a new Zimbabwe. For this purpose we invited people from all walks of life to come and go over each portfolio and to brainstorm with us about the future. I never expected the outcome - those attending said that it was a dynamic and encouraging activity and they were grateful to be allowed to participate. Then I realized what had happened - we had taken a number of prisoners out of their cells and allowed them to see the new world outside.

The SADC talks are in their final phase and we will shortly see the outcome. I am satisfied from what I know of the decisions reached so far that we are going to get a shot at a half decent campaign and election. It will then be up to us - all of us, to make the decision as to who will carry the flag of our country into the future. In the meantime - just take it one day at a time and help each other survive.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 24th October 2007