Turmoil and Change

Christ once said that “in the world you will have tribulation”. Not maybe, will. So why are we always so distressed when we experience turmoil in our daily lives? Somehow turbulent times are also associated with change in our different societies. So it is here in Southern Africa and we should not be too disturbed by these conditions when they happen, rather we should look for the opportunities they represent.

When I turned on the TV and saw the police open fire at Marikana I turned to someone who was with me and said “this is a game changer in South Africa”. Nothing I have seen since changes my mind about that – Zuma broke away from the SADC summit underway in Maputo and rushed home and has been able to do not much else but damage limitation since then. When I saw Malema trying to make political capital out of the situation it did not take a genius to put all the different factors together – the demand that the mine pay a minimum salary of $1500 a month, the availability of simple weapons like new panga’s and the use of Nanga’s from the Eastern Cape. The clear signs of organisation and motivation and the systematic use of force to ensure compliance of strike instructions made it clear to me that this was no ordinary strike action. This was being planned and managed and was well funded.

I am sure that the South Africans are also aware of this and are dealing with it in their own way, but while the struggle goes on under the water, the collateral damage to the wider economy and to the image of South Africa as a stable democracy is very serious. Why the media has not picked up on the implications of how this “industrial action” was executed is a mystery to me. They treat it as if it was a normal event, only the over reaction of poorly trained and prepared police seems to make this anything out of the ordinary. No one in the media – regional or international has examined the completely unreasonable demand for the minimum wage – three times what the industry can probably afford and no one has carefully analyzed the accounts of the targeted companies.

To me the timing of the original action at Marikana was also significant – in the middle of the crucial SADC summit in Maputo where the Zimbabwe crisis was centre stage and just ahead of the COSATU Congress (running today) and the elective Conference of the ANC later this year. Clearly the operation had all of these events and situations in their sights, quite clever really, but the killings have now served to concentrate the minds of all involved on the real issues and not the immediate given basis for the Marikana action. In my mind those poor workers were pawns in a much wider and deadly game.

For us in Zimbabwe the SADC summit, like all its predecessors came and went without any apparent real progress, but in fact there were some significant developments. Regional leaders affirmed their continued support for the GPA process and the need for reforms to the electoral system in Zimbabwe before an election was held here. They strengthened their position on JOMIC and appointed new Chairmen for the Region and for the Troika. In subsequent follow up by the Troika, South Africa and the Facilitation team exhibited a greater sense of urgency and seriousness. The new Chairman of the Troika made it clear that he wanted progress and called for a referendum in October and an election in June 2013.

At home results were not long in coming – just prior to the Summit, Zanu PF had presented the country with its version of a new draft Constitution stating that this was “not negotiable”. The MDC stated that they could not do that – the draft on the table had been prepared by a Committee of Parliament (COPAC) and signed off at every stage by the Zanu PF negotiators and leadership. In July it had been presented to both Houses of Parliament and accepted as the draft to go to the All Stakeholders Conference (the next stage in the GPA process) and then a referendum. The MDC said that they would not even allow the Zanu PF draft into the process; it was the COPAC draft or nothing.

SADC agreed and after a flurry of swirls in the water caused by regional pressure, the Zanu PF Politburo met and announced a complete volte face and declared that they would “allow” the COPAC draft to go to the Conference as it was. No indication of what they would do if it subsequently came to a referendum unchanged but the implication was that they would not campaign against the draft. Pressure from the region did not ease up – the Troika announced a meeting in early October to take the Zimbabwe situation to the next stage. This is welcome and long overdue progress in a process that for too long has been deliberately held up and retarded by Zanu PF hard liners.

But progress was not limited to the political game being played out. Two weeks ago the Cabinet resolved over objections from Savior Kasukawere and Obert Mpofu that the ESSAR deal at the Zisco Steel plant should go ahead as negotiated 18 months ago. This meant that the Indian firm would be able to proceed with its plans for major investments in the steel industry and in the development of the massive iron ore deposits just south of Harare at Chivu. The implications of this development are considerable and may also be a game changer here in a positive sense. It will be a much needed shot in the arm for an economy reeling from the threats of indigenisation and the forced occupation of existing businesses in a similar manner to that used in agriculture. It has the potential to accelerate the recovery of the national economy just at the time when we need it to secure the gains achieved so far in the process of transition and change.

But for all of these positive developments, the economy remains mired in a quagmire of despondency and lack of confidence. Liquidity, held down by capital flight and the failure to win more FDI inflows threatens business in every sector. Conflicts in the GNU perpetuate the sense of a lack of consensus and direction. We continue to see company closures and no recovery in the availability of jobs. There seems no end to the power shortages and the collapse of key State controlled organisations like the railways. Low salaries and the near total lack of any form of medium to long term financing means that many – even the great majority can never hope to own their own homes or even a motor car. Crop failure and drought conditions in many Districts are making life even tougher for the absolute poor and the marginalized. Cattle are dying in their thousands and rivers are dry.

But the main problem is a lack of hope – people can cope with almost everything else but not the idea that better times are not coming and these tough conditions will not end someday. I recall the terrible aftermath of Murambatsvina when the regime under Mugabe destroyed the homes and livelihoods of 1,2 million people in three months and thousands of men simply gave up the will to live as they found that they could not even protect or provide shelter and sustenance to their families in the middle of a hard cold winter.

In the middle of all this we have the spectacle of Zanu PF and the CIO working around the clock to inflict damage on the reputation of the leadership of the MDC. Central to this is the campaign to discredit Mr Tsvangirai and to entrap him in a series of ill advised relationships with women following the loss of his wife in an accident in 2009. I am told they have a whole team of lawyers and intelligence staff working on this around the clock. Judges and Magistrates are hauled out of bed to make decisions on ludicrous cases involving traditional mores and practices.

In my view both the problems in the mining industry in South Africa and the ongoing mud wrestling going on here are similar in character, they represent a desperate attempt by the hard liners, who no longer have any significant support and are being slowly corralled and dealt with, to defend themselves and to try and remain relevant. In the process they are doing great damage to their countries, but at the same time they are simply digging their own graves. Someone should point out to these individuals that wealth and arms have no meaning when your ship is going down at sea.

Sometime soon this group is going to come to the conclusion that the path they have chosen in this struggle leads nowhere and they must stop and change tactics. They must come to terms with the changing world in which they live and the shifts in regional and international opinion. They must accept that they must negotiate or find themselves in the water without a life jacket, weighed down by their diamonds, gold and useless weapons and without friends. When they do, they will find that we are a reasonable group of people and that all we want to do is to be allowed to get on with the rest of our lives and give our children a better life.

When Christ said to His disciples that they faced tribulation in life, He did not leave it there but went on to say that they should “be of good cheer, He had overcome the world.” Overcome in the sense that we could “know life in all its fullness” in the midst of the storm. He urges us not to look at the conditions we are faced with or the difficulties but to look to Him and rely on Him to take us not out of the situation we are in, but through it and to come out the other side “more than victors”. In my own life and experience I have found this to be totally true. I have a reputation as an optimist, but it’s not optimism, it’s faith in a God whom I have discovered is absolutely real and who can take me above everyday problems and stress and give me peace that passes all understanding.

Attend a MDC rally or meeting. It is always opened and closed with prayer and is always a happy event, with jokes and laughter and a real sense that we are doing the right thing and in some special way involved in God’s work in the world in which we live and struggle to make our way. We know that these conditions which we face will end one day and in that day, the good guys win. That is why we are a people with hope and faith in our future and the future of our country and its people.

E G Cross
Harare, 17th September 2012