Sliding into the Abyss

Yesterday the World Food Programme issued an alarming statement on the food crisis in Zimbabwe. They appealed for an additional US$140 million to cover the shortfall in basic food aid for the next six months. What they did not say was that this still leaves a shortfall in overall cereal and oilseed supplies of 800 000 tonnes for the next 6 months.

It also failed to highlight that we are now weeks away from the start of the rains and there is very little land preparation, virtually no seed and fertilizer. It is too late to import supplies in any quantity and even if we did we would have to distribute by air, as local transport capacity is almost non-existent. They also did not tell the world that the funds they had paid to the NGO’s doing food distribution had been taken by the Reserve Bank and the organisations could not pay their transporters for transport services or buy fuel.

The gold producers have sold gold to the Reserve Bank over the past 9 months and have not been paid - they are now unable to operate and are closing their mines down allowing them to flood and in some cases they will not be able to reopen them. It is not only the NGO’s who have had their FCA’s looted - virtually every business that I know has had their FCA cleaned out and they have been unable to access them to pay suppliers.

These funds - legally property of the account holders, have been taken by the Bank and then sold to Zanu PF leaders at the 'official' exchange rate - this is technically legal but is clearly theft. The official rate is a small fraction of one cent per US dollar. In fact it is 0,000000003 local dollars per US dollar. This means that US$10 000 would cost a Zanu PF heavy Z$0,003 - not even one cent in the new local currency.

The physical evidence of this theft of resources is everywhere. Reports of people arriving at homes for sale and paying cash in foreign exchange - without trying to negotiate the price. New cars without number plates (we have run out of number plate materials) are all over Harare. The reports of the Governor handing out expensive vehicles as if they were his own - one report that the Pastor who buried the governor’s younger brother being given a new twin cab as a thank you for a few hours work and kind words.

I would hazard a guess that in the past few months no less than US$500 million has been pilfered from the State and private coffers in this way. That is enough money to feed the entire population for 7 months. No wonder they do not want to wrap up this agreement and swear in a new government. They must be terrified of anyone getting into the vaults and records at the Reserve Bank.

While they fiddle and prevaricate, the country burns. Lawlessness is rampant; gangs of thugs are seizing private property on farms with no fear of intervention by the Police. This seems to be being even encouraged by rouge elements in Zanu PF who want the negotiated deal to fail and at the same time are lashing out at the defenseless in an orgy of thuggery and theft.

Since our priority is to feed people the needs of our animals are being put on the back burner. I get reports of dairy cows dying of starvation. The largest pig producer in the country is about to slaughter their entire commercial breeding stock - 33 000 pigs. Poultry producers have cut back their activities to the minimum. Once this is carried out reestablishing this productive capacity will be a long process.

Yesterday the President of the MDC and now the new Prime Minister, held a press conference in Harare. In that meeting he stated that no progress had been made in the past 24 days since the SADC agreement was signed in September. He went on to say that he was suspending any further contact with Zanu PF until the regional mediation team was present to arbitrate those discussions.

In addition to this he made the extraordinary disclosure that the agreement signed and subsequently published, did not include the full details that had been negotiated and signed during the process. He requested that the mediators remedy this by publishing a new version of the agreement in full.

He also said that Zanu PF - in complete violation of the agreement, was refusing to review the appointment of 10 Governors to the Provinces and to then reallocate these posts on the basis of the majority representation in each Province. The Governors play an important role in local politics and the administration and Zanu is insisting that the 10 people appointed - in clear violation of the SADC process, should remain. If the reallocation of Governors based on the Party majorities in each Province were carried out MDC (T) would get 5, Zanu PF 4 and MDC (M) 1.

Clearly the SADC process can only proceed if this impasse in the allocation of powerful political posts is resolved. Zanu PF is reluctant to let go because of the consequences to themselves and the loss of privilege and protection. But that is of little concern to the region and should not be a factor. They never sought or obtained an amnesty for what they have done in the past and must face the consequences of their actions.

The delay in the consummation of this deal is now having very critical consequences. Every day lost is a serious matter. Inflation at 1,4 trillion percent in September is destroying all forms of economic activity. The collapse in the economy and in all social services is driving tens of thousands of Zimbabweans, skilled and unskilled out of the country. We are now into new territory in this saga - one from where it will be very tough to claw ourselves back.

The new President of South Africa said yesterday that he would back Mr. Mbeki’s mediation with the resources and the influence that was needed. If the SADC mediation team does not engage very shortly, they will put the country and the region into jeopardy.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 10th October 2008