The Tide of Change

As we travel through life, it is important from time to time to take stock of just where we are and where we came from. When I was a chief executive of a large company, I recognised that sometimes my most productive activity was to simply sit at my desk with my feet on the table and think through what was going on.

If we do so we can appreciate what we have achieved and who we have become, we can relive warm memories and project ourselves into the future. To do so you have to be still and in some ways alone.

When I was a young teenager, I walked the eastern hills of the Matopos, sat at the feet of tribal elders in Ndebele villages - old men with the Induna’s ring in their hair and white in their beards as they talked of raids into far flung districts, stories of battles and losses. Of their pride as they danced before the King and ran for miles in unison sweeping all before them until the white man – my ancestors, arrived.

Going back to school was like going into exile – putting shoes on and a clean shirt everyday was purgatory and when we were there we dreamt of returning and taking the dogs on expeditions to wild places. We helped drive cattle to and from sales, sleeping in the bush and walking many kilometers. Time did not matter.

That world has gone like so much else to be replaced by a different world with little memory of where we all came from. School, University, work followed and through it all I was an observer of what was going on all around me. Coffee with my Grandfather and General Smuts in Pretoria – I was more impressed with Ouma Smuts than Oom Jannie. My Grandmother, reading in bed with a magnifying glass – a terrifying mogul who ruled the family from her throne in Johannesburg.

Strip roads and great motor cars made in America and fuelled by petrol purchased in cans. No cell phones and no computers or internet. It sounds fantastic, but it was just yesterday and we need sometimes to remember that.

Here in tiny Zimbabwe with our 12 million people and even smaller economy, it is easy to lose sight of just how fast history has moved in the past century. China rising like a red dragon out of the sea in just 35 years, half of one lifespan. Technology that makes communications and information instantaneous across the world. Boundaries that were once sacrosanct now irrelevant and obsolete.

The emergence of America as a global super power with the stunning capacity to make the most powerful weaponry and millions of armed men, irrelevant in conflict. Fluid money markets that sweep aside the greatest companies the world has ever seen and bring down governments and dominate even the most powerful governments in the world.

In all of this we as individuals are swept along like flotsam on the tide, helpless and sometimes not even understanding what is going on. In this process strutting politicians and dictators like ours, look a bit like the Kiviki on the beach, calling out to others of the same ilk, pretending to be in charge when in fact they are so insignificant as to not be in any way important, except as noise makers on the shore and completely irrelevant to the movement of the water and the tide.

I can recall moments of great despair in my own life – the Second World War, which seemed it would never end and our men would never come home, the collapse of the Federation with its promise of rapid growth and rising prosperity, UDI and the aftermath with armed conflict that engulfed the whole country and put us all in uniform for half our time. I thought it would never end, but it did and somehow we survived.

Then 35 years of life under Robert Gabriel Mugabe – massive changes, many positive but mostly negative. Hugely disappointing for many millions and seeming to go on forever. I can remember going to hear the Prime Minister of Britain speak in a cinema in Harare where he talked of the “winds of change” sweeping down through Africa. It was a statement like Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech in Europe as Communism seemed to be unstoppable in Europe.

Then in 2000 the tide of time changed direction again in Zimbabwe and suddenly a regime that seemed to be totally in charge and entrenched was threatened. They have fought back using every resource at their disposal, desperately they have called on their neighbors for help and others have waded into the water to assist, to no avail and suddenly Zanu PF looks vulnerable.

The tide flows inexorably in one direction at present – as the water gets shallower the water accelerates and the turbulence increases. Emmerson Mnangagwa who looked as if he would be able to turn the tide seems to have succumbed. The economy is in dire straits with no sign of any life guard rescue in sight. Zanu is helpless as the tide forces it onto the beach where it will be totally exposed and vulnerable.

The MDC and other opposition forces seem to be life surfers, simply floating on their boards in the sea, waiting for that wave that might be used to carry them to the beach in a sudden rush. The problem is that if that magic wave is not taken at the right time, the surfers will be tumbled in the surf and dumped, like Zanu PF on the beach, broken and bruised.

The tension in Zimbabwe is palpable, talk of the Presidents failing health, his insistence that he has no successor, his refusal to change direction or relax his iron grip on the State. If he is suddenly incapacitated, his Party will drown – too weak to reach the shore on its own and fighting each other in bitter rivalry that shows no ending.

If we want a decent ending to this long struggle we will have to go back to the resolutions of 2007 when we attempted to negotiate key reforms, then hold a genuine free and fair election and allow the people to choose new leadership. Only then can we expect the tide to turn.

We have no choice but to go back to negotiations – another GNU is simply not possible because the MDC knows that if it comes to the rescue of Zanu PF again – they might well be themselves drowned. We have no choice but to undertake the required reforms to comply with the SADC rules and norms for elections and then go to the polls in a supervised (not observed) election for a new Government and new Leadership.

As for who would emerge from that process as the peoples champion, I do not think anyone should even speculate – there are plenty of potential contestants – last time I counted there were 35 or 36 Parties and even more wanabees for President. Let them all stand up and be counted, the people will make their choice and then we can all get down to the business of getting this great little country back on its feet and growing its economy.

In my own history I have learned that eventually the tide turns – for some, too late and I am afraid that Zanu is in that category. For the rest of us it’s a new day and loaded with promise if only we can catch the tide and use it to propel us to the shores of a new beginning.

Eddie Cross
Harare 4th September 2015