Just where are we going?

Zimbabwe is an enigma to many. The country presents itself as a clean, modern State with friendly people, little crime and small pockets of prosperity and wealth. A small country blessed with a great climate, an abundance of natural resources that put us in the top league of countries In terms of the ratio between our population and our resource base.

Underneath the veneer, is a less attractive Zimbabwe; we are a country caught in a time warp – so little has changed since Independence in 1980, no major new roads or railways, no growth in air traffic, factories still in good condition but largely silent, banks on Main Street but no money in them. A population whose life expectancy has halved since 1960, incomes have also declined – especially in the past two decades. Hunger is widespread and all services are in dire straits. As a result we have seen a third of our population flee the country as economic migrants, death rates have trebled and in a country where we should have a population approaching 20 million, we have less than 13 million actual residents.

Our government system has devolved into a quasi military regime with many centers of competing power. Mugabe has been in control for 35 years – twice as long as Ian Smith and is now over 91 years old and increasingly frail. His wife is half his age, ambitious and ruthless. She wants greater things for herself but has been ambushed by her body which is suffering from cancer of the colon. The refusal of this duo to relax their grip on power here and who refuse to allow any fundamental changes means that the country is largely on auto pilot and without a destination.

Since 2013, this nasty mix of geriatric leadership and military war lords has taken back full control after 4 years of shared power with the MDC in the GNU. In response the economy has gone backwards. 40 per cent of all banks have failed; billions of dollars in savings and investment has fled the country, the budget deficit has spun out of control as revenues shrink but the “Old Man” refuses to countenance any cuts in expenditure. Employment rates have fallen to a tiny percentage of our population – non civil service employment could be as low as 6 per cent of all adults.

The country desperately needs change, a change of leadership, changes in policy, changes in direction and there are absolutely no signs of any of this coming out of the regime in power. Hope that the Mnangagwa bid for power would start to signal change have faded as Mugabe has deliberately held him back. Much needed changes in the Cabinet have not materialized and corrupt and incompetent Ministers remain in their portfolios despite abject failure.

The economic collapse is now accelerating and we are receiving reports of hospitals without food or cleaning materials, schools that can hardly function, further company closures with job losses and declining sales across the entire private sector. Many are desperate and see little or no prospects of change or improvement.

One immediate response has been an upsurge in migration to South Africa. Last week I travelled to South Africa by road to attend a meeting on energy and was shocked at the thousands of people at the border post. If that is any indication, the cross border movements down the river must be equally large. This is also being driven by the food situation in Zimbabwe where there is an 80 per cent deficit in maize supplies and all other food crops are disappointing. With the international community holding back and waiting for the State to issue the required national appeals for help, this year there are few signs of help from any quarter.

Something has to break; in 2007 it was the South African Government who moved to break the log jam in Zimbabwe. They forced Mugabe to bring the elections forward to March 2008, to enter into negotiations with the MDC on the conditions under which the elections would be held and then supervised the required changes to the law. In the subsequent election, Tsvangirai won 54 per cent of the vote, Mugabe trailing by 27 per cent with Simba Makone at 18 per cent. Had Mbeki held the line at that point it would have been all over and we would by now be into the second term of a new Government.

Instead they blew it and lost the plot, allowing the old regime to survive and then to come back from the dead. Now they are haunted by the ghosts of the past and we all suffer the consequences.

I would like to think that South Africa will again step up to the plate, but everyone I speak to in South Africa says this is just not possible under Jacob Zuma. No one else has the political power to make us change course.

So it all comes back to those of us who live and work in Zimbabwe. There is a lot of talk of a “Big Tent” and a broad coalition to confront the regime and force change, but progress is so slow that it is almost immeasurable. Only the MDC seems to be functioning and has structures across the country capable of confrontation and reform. But our financial resources are virtually nonexistent and any activity on any kind of scale seems almost impossible.

But I have learned to expect the unexpected when it comes to politics in Zimbabwe. Changes are coming and when they do they will move with speed and take most by surprise. Then we will face completely different challenges – challenges to get our people back to work, our farms and factories back into production and our international relations normalized.

While we wait for better days we simply have to buckle down and make the best of a bad situation.

Eddie Cross
Harare 22nd July 2015