The Need for a Deal that will Work

All the debates taking place regarding the SADC sponsored talks to bring about an agreement to resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe center on the issue of political power. In fact that may be the most important issue to some, but its not the main issue at all. The main point of the talks is to secure a workable solution to our economic, political and social crisis.

The basic facts that underlie the crisis is that we have a military Junta running the country that cannot be overthrown by violence or armed insurrection, the political leadership has lost control of the State to this Junta and is now totally discredited, was in fact defeated at the last election but refuses to leave office, spurred on by the Junta.

The regime has totally mismanaged the economy and now it teeters on the edge of disintegration and collapse. This morning the RTGS rate for the local currency was hovering about 5000 to 1USD. This dramatic collapse in a few days points to a number of other forces at work - the flight of capital, the reckless creation of money by the Reserve Bank and the severe shortage of cash with which to make daily transactions.

The collapse of the dollar by 700 per cent since the new currency was issued a month ago, means that while there might have been enough cash to meet needs at that time, the availability of cash notes has simply been decimated by inflation - I would guess that we probably only have the equivalent of US$5 million in cash in circulation in new notes - a drop in the ocean when we probably need US$3 billion. When you think that the new currency cost us Euro 35 million to print - now it has a face value of only US$5 million and next week probably half that again.

Our economy is literally teetering on the edge of collapse - the major retail stores are empty and unable to finance their operations. Parastatals cannot pay their staff let alone other costs. The urban councils are without fuel, chemicals, spares and tyres for vehicles. Their administrations are no longer able to produce accounts or manage their finances. The basic needs of life are not available or unaffordable - the great majority of the population is seriously considering flight to the nearest country they can go to under any conditions.

The government must be in dire straights - they can create money by simply passing credits from the Reserve Bank to local financial institutions that will then pay out salaries to the civil service and the armed forces - if they can get in the door of a bank and then along a queue perhaps 500 to a 1000 people long. When they get there they are paid out in small amounts (maximum Z$500 worth US10 cents today) and in coins, old bank notes and bearer bonds.

The parallel market - always an immediate and accurate indicator of real market conditions will no longer accept the old currencies for their deals - only the new notes and these are now as scarce as henís teeth. In December the regime is committed to withdrawing the old notes from circulation - and then what? No wonder Gono wants to retire when his contract comes up for renewal in November.

And then there is the social and humanitarian crisis. Half our population has no food and no means of earning a living. They must be given their entire requirements for survival. Our hospitals and clinics are run down and dirty, they have no drugs and no blankets and few staff. If you are admitted to a State run facility you must provide everything you need, even food and any medical supplies you might require.

Our State run schools have just opened - 70 000 teachers short of their establishment. Hostels have no food, students no books or writing materials. Teachers cannot even pay for transport to school. Buildings are dilapidated and in most school rooms there are no lights. Children come to school hungry and cannot study because they simply do not get enough food at home.

I was at a meeting of our City Council yesterday - the head of the Cities medical services told us she couldnít dig graves fast enough to bury the dead. She said they could not get labour to clean the streets or handle waste or dig graves. This situation is repeated across the whole country - the City Engineer said they have 4 days chlorine left in stock, after that, we drink unpurified water, 1,3 million people at risk.

We have the shortest life expectancy in the world, the highest ratio of orphans to population in the world, staggering infant and maternal mortality rates. In a country where we once had one of the fastest growing populations in the world - our death rates from all causes is now so high that our population is shrinking rapidly. In line with this, our economy has also shrunk - every year since 1998 and will decline again this year by at least 10 per cent.

So what we need is not power sharing - that is the least of our worries, its simply a government that will work and start to get the country stable and onto the pathway to recovery. For that we need the following: -

A return to a democratic government that is accountable to the people. New leadership that is honest, capable and caring. A government team that will work together and put the country first. A basic agreement to bring about these conditions that is acceptable to our development partners who are essential to the stabilisation and recovery process.

Today the SADC leadership is in Lusaka at the funeral of the late President of Zambia. Mbeki will almost certainly use this occasion to get a consensus on what is the next step in the SADC/Zimbabwe process. He then travels to Harare to hold talks with the three principals and will try to get agreement on a final deal. Any agreement that does not meet the simple criteria listed above will simply not work. It will not be worth the paper it is written on. Mbeki must know this; it may not be acceptable to the Mugabe group or to Mutambara but it is the only way forward.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 3rd September 2008