The Deepening Crisis in Zimbabwe

I know everyone is fed up with the continuous state of crisis in Zimbabwe but that is no reason for not paying attention to its implications. In 1976 it was an intervention by the American Secretary of State that attempted to address the political, economic and social crisis in Zimbabwe, compounded at that time by a “low level guerilla war”. In 1980 it was the British, led by the Foreign Secretary, who attempted to address our situation in the form of a regional conference held in London. Then in 1996/7 the UN attempted to tackle the land issue and in 2000 the Mbeki administration considered what to do and came down on the side of supporting the established regime against the democratic forces in the country.

In 2006/7 Mbeki was forced by the deteriorating situation to review his approach and attempted to set up the conditions for a return to democracy resulting in negotiations and the 2008 elections that were finally won by the MDC. Instead of supporting the democratic outcome, Mbeki stuck to his 2000 decision and supported Zanu PF, facilitating the GNU in 2009 and regional leaders then allowed to opportunities created by their intervention to lapse in 2013 with the result that Zanu PF was returned to power.

When that happened the economy simply rebelled – stock markets crashed, capital flight resumed and banks failed one after the other. After the GNU when the informal sector in Zimbabwe had come out of its hiding places and assumed its role in the national economy – suddenly the process of informalisation accelerated and today official statistics suggest that 95 per cent of our population is dependent in one way or another on the informal sector.

Every aspect of life is affected by the economy and how it is performing. Despite the statements by the pundits, our economy has resumed the downwards slide that characterized the economy from 1997 to 2008. Inflows to State coffers have shrunk and suddenly there is no money in the markets. Companies are retrenching staff or simply winding up their affairs. Human flight has resumed with a vengeance into any country that will have our economic refugees.

The agricultural sector is in dire straits and will contract again this year – reflecting a continuous and rapid decline in output and activity since the farm invasions began in 2000. This year the situation is compounded by a very poor season and a nationwide shortage of spending power. Unlike 2008, the shops are full of everything you might desire or need. But this time people simply do not have the money to buy what they see in the stores. Real hunger and deprivation is now common in all rural districts.

Zanu PF plotted their 2013 victory and got what they wanted – full control of the State. They have been shaken by the reaction of the economy and the consequences. More seriously they do not seem to have any idea about what to do and to compound their difficulties they are tearing each other apart. The situation in Zanu PF cannot be exaggerated – they are fractured, they have expelled many key leaders, those that remain are deeply factionalized and divided.

But it is what is coming that makes me really apprehensive. The weather forecasts suggest that we will have serious el Nino activities in the coming season. One observer said to me that it will be the worst in 100 years. Coming on top of the disastrous season we have just had, the poor prices paid to farmers for their cotton, maize and tobacco, the ongoing destruction of what is left of commercial agriculture, it is easy to predict a catastrophic agricultural season this year affecting millions of people.

There are no signs of any changes in our political leadership, Mr. Mugabe looks as if he really does want to run again in 2018 and in the interim he is not permitting any changes in the policies and leadership that have created the economic conditions that now cripple the Country as a whole. Company closures will accelerate, incoming investment will continue to be restricted by investor sentiment and capital outflows by residents and companies will continue, draining away whatever liquidity is being created.

The State is now incapable of maintaining itself and meeting its essential obligations. The consequences will be fully established by year end – hospitals unable to function except as mortuaries and schools becoming day care centers for young people who will not get an education. The Diaspora will strive to keep their extended families fed but there will be little money left over for anything else.

And as if that were not enough – by December, unless they curb power generation at Kariba dam now, they will have to close the whole power plant down on both sides of the river. The withdrawal of 70 per cent of our only reliable and inexpensive source of power will be very serious and it is unlikely that any of our neighbors will be able to fill the gap.

Internationally we remain as isolated as ever, even the Chinese are saying that to qualify for their assistance we have to reform the way we do things. In the absence of fundamental political, social and economic reforms there will be no possibility of any international assistance. The only option for Zimbabweans, caught up in this spiraling crisis will be to flee and find refuge in another country.

I estimate that up to 5000 people a day are now crossing our southern borders into South Africa – more than 40 000 a week or 2 million people this year. Some will return but the majority will stay and seek new lives, can South Africa take such an additional burden at this time? I think not.

This week the leadership of the SADC passed from Mr. Mugabe to the President of Botswana. Regional leaders have to understand the consequences of having a pariah State in their midst – straddling their key infrastructure and transport, power and communications systems. They have to understand the collateral effects on their own diplomatic and investor relations. This is a globalised world – no one can ignore international sentiment.

When the USA imposes sanctions on a regime anywhere in the world, the consequences are serious – USA influence in global banking and financial markets is enormous. Their diplomatic reach is unmatched. Continuing human rights abuse, political killings and disappearances are reinforcing the status of this country as a pariah State in all respects. We do not pay our bills, we abuse our people’s rights and we ignore legal niceties and property rights.

While this situation pertains in Zimbabwe we cannot recover our place in the world or in the global economy. We will in the process pull down all our neighbors and impede their own progress into the future.

Eddie Cross
Harare 20th August 2015