Does the leopard change its Spots

Change is in the air in Zimbabwe. Suddenly it seems as if the old regime is in its last stages and new leadership is possible. In Zanu PF the succession race is wide open following the effort by Mr. Mugabe to ensure that no one close to him has any ideas about a controlled and negotiated transfer of power while he is alive and capable to running the State. The main casualty of this has been Mnangagwa who spent most of 2014 trying to get himself into the lead position on the succession. Instead he finds himself back in the pool of aspirants surrounded by crocodiles.

Elsewhere in Africa and abroad transitions are underway every day in Tanzania we have just seen the ruling Party pass the baton of leadership, smoothly and without disruption to a capable successor. Coming on top of a decade of solid growth, this is real progress. In China last year we saw how its done in that country, no debate, no real democracy but the decision behind closed doors that a new team was needed and agreed.

Here there is just a stubborn insistence on remaining President for life, no matter what the state of the country or the consequences for those who will be left behind when you do finally depart for other realms. Even so the jockeying is intensifying and yesterday I was witness to a convoy of vehicles that I was astonished to find was conveying Minister Chombo. I know he is Minister of Home Affairs but does that justify two top of the range Mercedes, two brand new BMW sedans as a police escort and other vehicles carrying security aides? I know he regards himself as a successor but why the Presidential type convoy now?

Then the opposition ranks were suddenly enhanced this week by the final emergence from hibernation of the former Vice President Mujuru. She came out and stated she was joining in the new Party called the People First and at the same time they came published a manifesto called Build. Very bold and a faithful reproduction of MDC policies that have been around for 15 years. Astonishing, she is going to abolish POSA and AIPA bills that we have been calling for repeal for some years.

So we now have at least 36 registered political Parties what a wealth of choice, but its very deceiving, the reality is that our choices have narrowed down dramatically in the past year. In 2013 in my constituency we had 7 political Parties contesting for my seat. In reality it was really a two horse race Zanu PF and the MDC T. In the end I doubt if the 4 minor players attracted more than 7 per cent of the vote over 70 per cent went to my Party and Zanu PF took the balance.

Has this situation changed in the past two years, I do not think so. This is still a two horse race and is likely to remain so. I really do not think that Mrs. Mujuru has any chance of persuading the people that the leopard has changed its spots. She has been in Government for 35 years, in the ruling Party for much longer. Why should we think that suddenly she has seen the light and now wants to sing the same songs that the opposition has been singing for all these years while she sat at the center of a power system that has systematically and deliberately subverted our democracy, subordinated all our human and political rights and overseen the elimination of dissidents and opponents.

What should be concerning everyone is the fact that our economy is in dire straits. Pay no attention to the IMF or the Ministry of Finance views that our economy is growing. Its not growing; its shrinking and has been in steep decline since 2013. There is no other explanation of the fact that agricultural output is down, manufacturing utilization is down to 21 per cent and VAT collections and beer sales are down 20 per cent this year after last.

In the rural areas we have widespread hunger and shortages of home grown food. These communities have limited options for income, the prices of their small production of maize, cotton and oilseeds as the companies that control these markets have formed illegal cartels to fix prices at half what they should be. They fall back on sending the eldest son to South Africa to find a job or join the informal sector there and send money home each month. Millions have already gone, millions are on the move. Our economy loses their best, capable young minds and bodies so that growth and recovery here is more difficult. In South Africa the pressures on work opportunities is reaching breaking point. Crowding in the vast slums of the South African cities is growing daily.

In Zimbabwean Cities poverty levels are growing and social and political tempers rising. The tension is palpable and security personnel nervous with good reason. Instead of dealing with the problem or finding solutions, they snuff out the small flame of Itai Dzamara and his placards on the street in African Unity Square.

The International Crisis Group do a great job of alerting the world to situations that are approaching critical levels. They seem to have a blind eye as far as Zimbabwe goes and concentrate of bigger centers of conflict. This is a mistake, Zimbabwe maybe a small, rather insignificant country, but it deserves watching closely. The Zambian Kwacha has devalued by 50 per cent this year, clearly they are in serious trouble and with the most recent cut back in power supply from Kariba their situation has suddenly looked fragile.

We all know South Africa is in trouble growth was negative last quarter and unemployment of young people is rising exponentially. The rise and rise of EFF is of concern and the continuing arrival in South Africa of millions of economic refugees from the rest of Africa does not help.

Stability and social cohesion in Zimbabwe can no longer be taken as a given if the Old Man of Africa was to suddenly leave the scene it would lead to an implosion of leadership and a shambolic, perhaps violent struggle for power between factions of Zanu PF who have both money and arms. Such a development and the emergence of a government in Zimbabwe which has even less credence than what we have today, is a very considerable concern. It may even be a military coup in the name of national stability and then we all have an even greater problem.

What concerns me is that time stands still for none of us and if steps are not taken now to get a grip on the situation and get talks going on the reforms needed for a genuine, supervised election in Zimbabwe as soon as possible, then we might all be overtaken by events and find ourselves with a regime that just makes everything worse for everyone. I see no signs that anyone is even thinking about the options and certainly South Africa, caught up in its own situation, simply does not have its eyes on the ball.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo September 12th 2015