A Long Hard Winter Looms

This morning was a typical April day in Zimbabwe, brilliant, deep, clear, blue skies, a chill in the early morning warming up to a comfortable temperature by lunch time. Superb except for the knowledge that this marks the end of the rains and the start of a long, hard winter. No rain now for 8 months, the veld is drying out rapidly and the bush fires will start shortly. Water will become scarce and the hungry months lie ahead with bitterly cold nights for those without adequate shelter.

This mirrors the political scene at this time. Tensions are rising and it is clear that Zanu PF feel they are cornered. They are fighting back with every tool at their disposal and show scant regard for the needs of the country or the people. Retaining power is the only agenda, at any cost.

On the economic front, they are doing everything in their power to derail the economic recovery. Their main tool is Savior Kasukuwere and the so-called 'indigenisation' policies. They passed this bit of devilry in 2008 and are now using it as a means to curb inward investment and domestic confidence. It has little or nothing to do with empowering anybody and even less with the transfer of assets to local populations. It has been stunningly effective, stopping investment and recovery in its tracks. Because of its popularist overtones it has been difficult to deal with in the Transitional Government but it is becoming apparent that we are going to have to deal with it sooner rather than later if it is not to stop the economy altogether.

My own memory goes back to 1968 when the President of Zambia stood up in the Mulungushi Hall and announced that all Zambian companies, employing more than 100 employees had to have majority Zambian ownership. The Zambian economy reacted as if it had hit a wall. All investment stopped, within 18 months the major mining companies had been nationalized and for the next 30 years, little or no development took place. The country slid into poverty and the copper mines saw their output decline from 800 000 tonnes a year to barely 100 000 tonnes a year.

Only after the Kaunda legacy was totally wiped out and the indigenisation strategies abandoned for a more conventional package of policies, did the Zambian economy start recovering and is now in the midst of a commodity and investment driven boom.

But why would a political party try to stop economic recovery? Itís quite simple; any recovery in the economy would be attributed to the MDC and contrasted with 30 years of stagnation and decline under Zanu PF. This was highlighted for me when I visited one of the larger supermarkets in Harare some 3 months after the MDC went into Government in 2009. In this store, 4 months before, only three items had been in stock - some cabbages, toilet paper and bottled water. Now the store was packed and queues of customers stretched back into the aisles. I said to the till operator that this was quite a difference. He said to me just one word 'Tsvangirai'.

By contrast, Zanu is attributing the collapse under their watch to 'sanctions'. Their view is that since sanctions have not been lifted - economic recovery cannot take place. Quite logical really, but it has nothing to do with any desire to see ordinary people empowered in any way. It also ignores the reality that the collapse had nothing to do with the restrictions on some 200 Zanu PF leaders and everything to do with their looting and corrupt activities coupled to disastrous macro and monetary policies.

Talking about indigenisation, we could point out to anyone who would care to listen, that today at least 75 per cent of the economy is in the hands of a small clique connected to Zanu PF in some way. In the last 12 years we have seen literally thousands of productive companies transferred to 'indigenous' Zanu PF linked individuals. Nearly all these productive enterprises have been stripped of their saleable assets and now lie derelict. And itís not all farming companies, just in case you think that - I can list several hundred industrial and commercial firms that have been taken over by one means or another and are now idle and derelict.

The most recent regulations promulgated by Kasukuwere in his drive to use this instrument to stop the recovery were a Gazette Notice 10 days ago. This has the effect of virtually nationalizing all mining firms in the country. These regulations not only fly in the face of recent Cabinet decisions on this issue but also bear no relation to any recommendations coming from the industry itself or the specialist committees set up to study the situation and make recommendations. The reality is that indigenisation has worked nowhere in the world and it will not work here.

As if this was not enough, the political scene is about to get rough. SADC and South Africa have put Zanu PF into a corner from which they cannot escape. They will respond with violence and coercion. They will come out fighting, of that you can be sure. As we can see in both Libya and Ivory Coast, it is the people who suffer when those with power use it to defend themselves and those with the power to stop them do not do enough to do so. The half hearted and start/stop activities of those with hard power in these situations have done little to curb the destructive power of those who feel that they have nothing to lose and must protect themselves with everything they have.

Mainly for these two reasons this is going to be a hard, long winter in Zimbabwe. With our economy again in crisis, revenues to the State stagnant or declining, companies throughout the country barely holding their own or facing liquidation, people in all walks of life are finding it almost impossible to survive. The struggle for power will intensify and without effective and significant interventions by the region, the people are going to suffer terribly. To compound these factors, food will be in short supply in rural areas and aid programs cut back to the minimum.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 9th April 2011