This is not the end, but it may be the beginning of the end

It is 50 years since Winston Churchill died and was buried and I remember when he made the above prediction about the end of the Second World War. In many ways this may apply to the situation in Zimbabwe. We are all impatient with the tide of history but eventually things turn.

I can remember 1976 when I felt that the war in Rhodesia would never come to an end. I had been involved in the first hostilities in the Midlands in 1963 and it was now 13 years later and nothing seemed to have changed. At work we had been under sanctions since 1965, UN mandated sanctions (real sanctions) since 1967 and much of my business life was concerned with trading agricultural products on the world market in defiance of sanctions.

Then on September 23rd 1976, Henry Kissinger flew into Pretoria and the Prime Minister of Rhodesia was invited to have coffee at Union Buildings. On the 24th I sat with friends from the University of Zimbabwe and watched Ian Smith announce that he had accepted majority rule in a stunning turnaround. This was the man who had said that he would “never in 1000 years accept majority rule”. It was in Churchill’s words, not the end, but the beginning of the end.

Despite the dramatic runs of events, on Monday we were back in war and sanctions and nothing really changed for us until April 18th 1980 when I sat behind the podium at Rufaro Stadium and watched the armies that had been fighting each other march past the new leadership and take the oath of loyalty.

Now it is 35 years later – just imagine, that is twice the term of Ian Smith as Prime Minister. Throughout that period Mr. Mugabe has been in charge of our national affairs. It’s been a very long 35 years, a decade of growth, a decade of the concentration of power in the hands of the President, a decade of conflict with the MDC in a no holds contest followed by the failed attempt by regional States to get us back on track, the effort being totally derailed by the 2013 elections, perhaps the most manipulated in our history.

But the truth is that after 35 years, Zimbabweans have nothing to celebrate. Their democracy, bought at huge cost in lives and war, is in tatters. Their economy, once the second most diverse and developed in Africa, is in a state of collapse and in terms of a new study by the World Bank is third from the bottom in Africa. Socially, an education system that once delivered the highest literacy rate in Africa and graduates that were accepted throughout the World is now turning out semi literate young people who cannot read and add up a column of numbers. Our health system, like our economy is close to collapse.

Everyone is tired here, tired of fighting to make a living, tired of trying to keep the company going, tired of trying to beat the corruption, tired of road blocks, tired of arrogant civil servants and political leaders, tired of the constant slanging in the national media. Like 1976 many are just quitting and going off to what they think are greener pastures. First, the whites of European extraction, then black Zimbabweans – everyone who could make a go of things outside the country. Thousands of teachers, doctors and nurses; then millions of economic and political refugees, pouring across our borders into an increasingly xenophobic South Africa.

When will this constant state of crisis end, is the question everyone is asking. Is this the start of the end, they ask of the present political upheaval. I am being asked over and over again what on earth is going on.

Well certainly SOMETHING is happening, that is undeniable. But just what and who is directing the exercise?

Various specialists and observers here have described the situation as being “the start of the post Mugabe era” and claimed that the President is being manipulated and controlled. At the Congress we certainly saw the influence of Grace Mugabe who clearly was trying to help her husband get through what was a political marathon.

The center of power here is moving, not at the instigation of any democratic forces but through the activity of a very small cabal of political and military leaders who have held de facto power for some time and who, in my view, were responsible for the 2013 election that brought Zanu PF back into power.

In the process they are dismantling all competing centers of power. The democratic heart of Zanu PF has been ripped out and thrown away. Mrs. Mujuru and her supporters resist at their peril. The Joint Operations Command is being dismantled and nearly all the old leaders in that secretive organisation are either out or on their way out of the door. Line Ministers, previously all powerful in their different spheres of interest are sidelined and supervised from the new center of authority. Resist and they are dismissed. The Cabinet is hardly meeting, so who is directing all the frantic activity?

The danger of all this is that this new concentration of power rests in a center that has no foundations. It has no democratic roots, it is not well founded in the security forces and at this stage is critically dependent on a 91 year old who is not well and has a very sick wife.

The parallels with the last few years of other geriatric dictators who held absolute power is uncanny. In his last three years Mau could hardly hold a conversation, but he was the indisputable “beloved Leader” of China whose authority was obeyed even if the instructions made no sense. He had to die to free his people from the bondage of the Red Revolution and the results were stunning.

It is clear that a transition is underway and that it has the sanction of “our Great Leader”. But what is also true is that his word still sways and he is keeping a tight rein on the new power brokers. The result is considerable confusion and uncertainty. Normally when a group in Government seems to have authority and power and starts making the right noises about political and economic policy, you would expect markets and those with resources to react, if cautiously, and for markets to start to lift.

In reality that is not happening and the markets for property, stocks and shares and investment opportunities are not moving, if anything the decline continues. This reflects the uncertainty that covers the whole nation at present and until that lifts and we can see the way forward more clearly, recovery and growth is impossible.

What I think has been made clear by the past week, is that there is no going back on the coup that is underway. It is perhaps the beginning of the end.

Eddie Cross
Harare, 27th January 2015