Monday, September 18, 2006

Eddie Cross: A week in time

A week is a long time in politics.

Sometimes it is quite hard to keep track of all that is going on in this small corner of the world that is so important to us who live here. Must be doubly difficult for those who live “out there”. If you take the past week for example, the main points that we might record are as follows: -

Inflation rose in August to 28 per cent for the month – raising the annual average so far to 1204 per cent. This is dramatically up on the figure for July and the IMF followed this with a brief report that said that inflation was out of control and might reach 4000 per cent in 2007. On the ground the CEO of Dairibord was arrested when he raised the price of milk and the CIO started raids on the homes of senior executives of other companies alleging price fixing and profiteering. After claiming that fuel at controlled prices (Z$330 per litre) would be available, prices rose today to about Z$1000 a litre at retail outlets – local commuter transport charges rose by a third

The Deputy Minister of Mines reiterated that the State was determined to take 51 per cent of the equity in all mining concerns. Although the mining industry remained silent in the face of this threat, with the sole exception of the Zimplats operation, it now looks as if the rest of the industry will simply sit tight and await developments. All major maintenance and expansion is on hold and will remain so until the policy environment is clarified. Literally billions of US dollars of investment are on hold as a result. It is yet another example of Zanu PF stupidity and greed.

The IMF announced that in their own view the Zimbabwe economy would contract by about 5 per cent again this year – bringing to 7 years the continuous decline in national economic output and coming on top of an over 7 per cent decline in 2005. In the same week the IMF and the World Bank raised their estimate of global expansion to 5,7 percent in 2006, citing strong growth in China and India and stronger performance in Africa. Global trade is growing strongly and the oil exporters are on a global spending spree that is helping offset the higher oil prices.

The Minister of Agriculture, that nutty guy Made, accepted for the first time that we might be short of grain. He explained to a Committee of Parliament that the GMB did not have the required stocks to overcome a shortfall in imports. This after he has persistently claimed we had grown a large crop of maize and would reap over 200 000 tonnes of winter wheat. The reality is that we have grown a small crop of maize (about 700 000 to 800 000 tonnes) and cannot expect to reap more than a tiny wheat and barley crop – no more than about 50 000 tonnes or 15 per cent of our needs.

What nobody has admitted is that the cotton crop – grown almost completely by small-scale farmers who are largely unaffected directly by the farm invasions, has declined by 30 per cent in a year of above average rainfall –a serious development. To emphasize the impact of this, the largest cotton spinner cut back production by 50 per cent last week and went onto short time. Clothing manufacturers were all rushing to try and find fabric to fill the hole in their programmes in advance of the Christmas season when demand is normally high.

On the democratic front, the State announced last Monday in the form of adverts in the government owned press that Rural District Council elections would be held at the end of October and that candidates had to register by Friday morning. Just to make sure everyone had the opportunity to serve their communities, the compulsory police clearances needed by all prospective candidates had to be processed in Harare and would cost Z$2 000.00 (two million dollars in the “old” currency). Now remember there are nearly 2000 seats up for election in these Districts – many in the most remote corners of the country. The Nomination Courts would be held at all Rural District Council Offices in each District.

The MDC had to find candidates, put them through selection procedures and clearance procedures, get their fingerprints done at local police stations and then send the prints to Harare by whatever means possible, get clearance and then get them back to the Districts in time for the applicants to submit their documents – which must include the new “long” birth certificates. All in 5 days! Well, that proved too much even for Zanu PF who knew of this plan well in advance and was working on candidates and we got an extension to Wednesday – another 3 working days. Still this makes a complete mockery of the democratic system – how on earth can people work within a system that is managed like this – we have not seen the voters roll and there has been very little voter registration activity.

Then Mr. Mugabe commandeered a plane from Air Zimbabwe, leaving passengers stranded all over the world (as we only have one long distance aircraft flying) and flew to Cuba for the Non Aligned Movement summit. He was in good company as he stridently announced to the world that “democracy was stupid” and that the demand for adherence to democratic principle was an excuse for regime change in counties like his own. How right he is – if we had a real democracy here, he and his clowns would be history, voted into oblivion by the people.

Just to endorse his view of the values of the rest of the world, the Minister of Information here said that “a free press would result in Zanu PF losing power” and this was why they were going to keep a tight grip on the press and the electronic media. We all knew that, but it was nice to have it confirmed by the regime itself.

Just to confirm the character of the regime we had the spectacle on Wednesday of 40 000 baton wielding riot police backed up by at least 24 water cannon – most of them brand new, freshly trained by Chinese experts in freedom and democracy, chasing a few hundred Unionists and MDC leaders who were trying to deliver a document to the Minister of Labor. By my own tally, 260 people were arrested, many beaten in front of thousands of by standers and then taken off to Police Cells. There the leadership of the ZCTU was subjected to a brutal and savage beating. At least two – Lucie Mativenga and Wellington Chibebe were beaten about the head and have serious head injuries. They and others have broken arms and legs and crushed hands. We will find out who was responsible (not just the Ministers) and we will eventually get justice for those injured in this appalling action.

A long overdue, but still welcome development was a strong statement from the traditional leaders of the Church in Zimbabwe calling for negotiations centered on a fresh vision of the future and to agree on a solution to the present crisis. This was echoed by voices abroad that said it was time to prepare for a post Mugabe era. We in the MDC agree with both sentiments but Mugabe remains obdurate and stuck in a morass of his own making.

Finally, Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the MDC, was on BBC World yesterday on a call-in programme called “Have your say”. The programme was recorded in South Africa because the BBC could not get a permit to enter Zimbabwe. I may be biased, but frankly I thought he was fantastic. It was just what those of us who have worked with the man for the past decade have come to respect. He came across as a man of compassion and intellect, a real human being who wanted the best for his country and its people. There was one “planted” e-mail from a group in Zimbabwe that came via Ireland, but the rest were genuine questions and I think they mostly got a good thoughtful response. It was like a breath of clean air after all the rest. Pity it’s only on DSTV and the great majority of Zimbabweans will not have had the chance (the very few such chances) to actually see the man who almost certainly will be our next President.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 18th September 2006

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