Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Eddie Cross: Green Hills Far Away

Those of us who have chosen to stay in Zimbabwe and to "tough it out" are variously regarded as "heroes", "stupid" and all sorts of things in between. The truth is, we each have our own reasons for staying and fighting it out. I sometimes wonder if the grass is greener on the other side? Last time I seriously looked was 25 years ago. At that time "the other side" did not impress me. The one thing it did do for me was to reinforce my feeling of being "African". There was no doubt when I got off the plane in Harare that I was "home". That has not changed for me and most who have flown the nest have found themselves hankering after their African roots.
This past week, while the MDC seems to have been on the path to self destruction over the Senate issue, I was in South Africa, not in a city, but out in a rural district taking a break on a small farm with my wife and daughter and our grandson. I should have been at the MDC bun fight but this short holiday had been planned for some time and in my life, family comes first whenever I can chose.

It was instructive to see the South African underbelly - not the sort of face that it puts on for the world to see and not in a mainstream tourist area. It was not encouraging. I saw a major tea estate abandoned by its owners, the tea rank and in some areas dying from the withdrawal of irrigation. I asked why and was told that the estate was the subject of a land claim and was also a target by local Labor Unions who were demanding conditions of service for staff that the estate simply could not meet.

The farm we stayed on was also the subject of a land claim - mounted by some of the staff on the farm. The owners who had been there for 23 years said that there was no basis for the claim and that the organisation dealing with land claims had ruled in their favor. However there was ample evidence that they were holding up maintenance and the replacement of assets on the farm with a consequential loss of production and damage to the local economic environment.

But it was in the social sector that I was most disturbed by what I saw. The wounds of apartheid are still there for all to see. Racist's attitudes persist, the staff housing on farms is generally appalling and worst of all are the "homeland" slums created by the apartheid regime over the previous 40 years are still there with little or no sign of any form of transformation. The housing being built by the State was simply a more sophisticated (and probably less comfortable) shack under a bare tin roof. No sign of any sort of security of tenure that would encourage the occupants to upgrade their shacks or even build their own homes. A wide modern highway connected these sprawling rural slums to the nearby provincial capital, a modern City with all the trimmings. People still had to commute 30 kilometers to work each day - not the urban middle class or rich, but the absolute poor.

For a country in a hurry to transform itself after decades of oppression and discrimination, South Africa is simply not moving fast enough. Big companies are building up their relationships with the new elite and exporting their surplus cash abroad as an insurance against any future shocks. Many are now major global players - South African Breweries are now number three in the world, Anglo is a resources giant with as much invested in the USA as in South Africa. Rembrandt is a global tobacco company - one of the eight majors and Barlow's stretch across the globe. But they are not investing anything like what they could be investing in South Africa itself. New legislation for the diamond industry seems like a warning shot across their bows, that caution is justified. The fact that De Beers is now only producing a small part of their global output in South Africa and is headquartered outside the country that gave its birth is simply a fact of recent history.

White and black South Africans show few signs of any kind of real integration and reconciliation. There is a great deal of overt racism and those of us who come from Zimbabwe still feel a racial tension that somehow never was a part of our life "back home".

I listened to the cultured voice of the IMF representative in South Africa saying in a speech in Johannesburg that the South African policy of retaining a strong Rand was "entirely appropriate". What utter bull, the experience of every country that has achieved rapid growth in the past 50 years is that you must undervalue your local currency to achieve the kind of home grown investment and development that will transform the living standards of the majority. This kind of ideological nonsense, which favors the rich at the expense of the poor, is why when we finally find our feet in this Zanu PF mud hole, that we must be careful to maintain our independence of policy and development strategies and avoid being dictated to by the industrialized countries and the multilaterals.

Well after our break away, it was back to the mud hole - what a relief to get back to empty roads and silent vacant farms. It was a bit of a shock to find bread at Z$25 000 and maize meal at Z$8 000 a kilo, but where else in the world does your home staff pick up your dirty clothes, wash them and iron them and repack your wardrobe? Where else are people with nothing, so cheerful and generous so caring and concerned? Where else can you walk into the customs and immigration and be greeted by your first name and welcomed home - even if they then try to stick you with a huge customs bill.

As expected, the annual rate of inflation in September rose 100 per cent. Scary stuff and I remain very apprehensive about all those who are economic prisoners here and are on fixed incomes. If you know of anyone in this category - please keep your eyes open and help when you see signs of stress. If you have relatives at "home" and are not helping - then start doing so. There is no doubt now in my mind that thousands are going to die in the coming months. This is going to be our most "silent" spring season ever.

As for the Senate debate in the MDC - I was just as confused as you were by what I heard. Hopefully the mature and sensible leaders that we have in the Party are sorting it out. I remain convinced that we are right not to participate and are glad that the majority who wrote to me after last weeks note agreed. But we need to make these decisions in the right way and then get back to the real fight, which is how to stop Zanu PF digging their own grave in that mud hole.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 17th October 2005

  • << Home