The Current Situation

So much going on it's difficult to keep track.

On the economic front things go from bad to worse. Inflation continues to escalate and now stands at something over 400 000 percent. Prices are changing daily, even by the hour. Quotations are valid for a few hours, you pay when you take delivery. I heard of someone who was at lunch and while they were eating, the price went up!

Mugabe has continued to breathe fire and brimstone against the private sector. After signing the Indigenisation Bill into law, he went on to threaten all remaining British companies with expropriation of their assets and to force all companies to freeze their prices at some arbitrary date in February. The Indigenisation Act provides for all foreign owned companies to sell 51 per cent of their equity to indigenous businesspersons, 25 per cent to the State for no cost and 26 per cent to be paid from future dividends.

51 percent means the loss of control over the appointment of management and the determination of policy. For every dollar invested, investors get 49 cents of value and no control. No company, local or foreign owned, will accept such a draconian measure. Most firms would rather just windup and close down.

These statements and measures have simply frozen private sector activity in its tracks. No investment is taking place nor any maintenance and development. The entire business community is now simply waiting for the outcome of the election. Even the many companies owned by previous supporters of Zanu PF are now sitting back and watching events. They know the present situation is so dire that change is inevitable.

On the food front the regime had placed huge orders with Malawi and Zambia - Malawi actually offered to sell us maize on credit, Zambia also offered terms. Now Malawi, after delivering part of the order, has discovered that they overestimated their crop and has hurriedly shut down the operation. I hope they have been paid. I suspect that Zambia is in the same position and is also now 'going slow' on deliveries.

This coupled to the global tight market for basic foods, wheat, maize and soybeans means much higher prices and longer supply positions. We have run out of food. Beef is Z$100 million per kilo; milk is Z$40 million plus per litre. If you can find it, maize meal is costing Z$80 to Z$120 million dollars for 10 kilos. On top of this there is a real physical shortage of basic foods of all kinds. Fresh vegetables are scarce and expensive.

One interesting aspect of this food situation is that what Zanu PF had counted on, as being an electoral asset - the ability to control and direct basic food supplies on a patronage or political affinity basis, has in fact become a liability. Hungry people, who cannot find food for their families or simply cannot afford the very high prices, are angry people.

Signs of accelerated decay are all around us - schools closed early and will be closed for 6 weeks, many have less than half their establishment of teachers and of those, half or more are just out of school themselves and are untrained. The roads are in dire straights and grass verges have not been cut for months, small trees are growing on the verges in many areas. Sewerage systems are not being maintained and water quality and availability to all urban areas has declined, despite full dams and reservoirs. Health services are incapable of dealing with even routine needs. The flood of refugees continues to pour out of Zimbabwe into neighboring States - mainly South Africa. There, Xenophobia and economic tensions between migrants and local populations are giving rise to violence and retribution.

On the electoral front Mugabe is in a state of panic. What is all this 'red card' business he plaintively asked, at a rally on Sunday in Bulawayo attended by a small crowd dominated by school kids. He is looking his age and has to be assisted to walk and climb stairs. An increasingly defiant population is ignoring his demands and threats.

The authorities continue to do what they can to intimidate activists - they are arrested and beaten for putting up posters, doing door-to-door campaigns. Meetings are routinely banned or the organizers arrested for holding an 'illegal gathering'. I ran over the time limit for one of my meetings and in the morning I got a phone call to say - do not do it again!

On Friday we brought in a helicopter to help Morgan carry out the remaining flurry of rallies - 15 rallies were planned for three days - the aircraft moving a small group quickly from one rural venue to another. We cleared his first day's programme in Harare but Bulawayo refused to accept that and the aircraft stayed on the ground - 4 rallies were missed, including a large gathering at Victoria Falls. We then cleared a flight plan for 10 rallies in Manicaland and the Mashonaland East.

The aircraft flew to Harare; a small group who were helping with the operation - planning the refueling stops and so on, met the pilot on the ground. The pilot asked me 'just keep me out of jail'. I joked with him that he should not worry - we (MDC) fed prisoners quite well and he would get legal help and then free medical assistance if he was beaten!

At six on the first morning of the new programme he was arrested together with the volunteer group and is still in custody as I write! The second round has had to be aborted unless Morgan can try and do some of the meetings by road. 15 rallies, probably 70 000 people, denied the chance to see and hear their next President. Hey, welcome to the Democratic Republic of Zimbabwe! Police even visited the elderly widow in Bulawayo who had given him a bed for two nights yesterday!

So goes the count down - three days to go, 72 hours to freedom! Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 26th March 2008