via Let the Games Begin – The Zimbabwean 3/01/2016 by Eddie Cross
In 1980, on the eve of Independence, this small African country was at war with itself, had been under United Nations Sanctions for 14 years and was not in receipt of any aid or assistance from anyone. It was unable to borrow money on the world market and had to smuggle whatever it needed through an international blockade that was amongst the most stringent in history. To compound its difficulties it was totally isolated in geopolitical terms and was physically land locked.
We were at the end of nearly 90 years of occupation by a small, white settler community that had made the country their home and then failed to make peace and accommodation with the black majority. I recognised in 1965 that there was simply no way that 3 per cent of the population could continue to dominate and control 97 per cent of the population in a country that was both politically and economically isolated.
I was one of a group of 35 young executives who had met with the then Prime Minister in 1973 to argue the case that we were engaged in a no win struggle, that defeat and fundamental change was inevitable. To his credit he heard us out for nearly two hours and then rejected our rationale and conclusions and went back to his office to run the war. In six months 90 per cent of that group had left the country with their families to make a new life elsewhere. In three years Ian Smith was virtually out of power and unable to even influence the changes that were to come in 1980.
Today it is the second of January 2016 and I sense that the same sort of agglomeration of issues is creating the environment where change is again inevitable. Unlike 1980 when the forces at work were virtually all external – sanctions, military conflict funded by the Soviet Union and China, diplomatic and economic pressures by the major Western States led by the US and Britain; the forces today are all internal. We came out of the Rhodesian era with a currency that was worth twice the US dollar, with very little debt, a diversified and productive economy and the second highest income per capita in Africa. Our internal affairs were in pretty good shape despite the years of conflict and the pressure.
Today we are at the end of the post colonial era, the Mugabe era and our economy is in a shambles. This is despite the provision of billions of dollars in aid, some $7 billion alone in the past 8 years, despite being able to borrow funds at concessional rates from just about everyone and building up in the process a national external debt of $9 billion and domestic debt which could be as high as $7 or $8 billion.
At the end of the Rhodesian era our population was growing at over 3,5 per cent per annum – doubling every 18 years. Today we are rated 18 out of the 20 States most likely to face real starvation conditions in 2016, we have the second lowest living standard in the world, the highest infant and maternal mortality in Africa and our population, far from being at something over 20 million is now barely 13 million and is hardly growing. Death rates have trebled and while birth rates remain high, life expectancy has halved and this together with forced migration, has kept our population at a low level.
Today it is not external pressure or actions that will bring to an end the Mugabe era, it is this amalgam of internal issues that will force change and believe me, it is coming.
The disintegration of the Party that has controlled Zimbabwe for the past 35 years is almost complete. What is left of the organisation that once so dominated our lives is no more. The shell is there and the leadership still makes decisions, but like Hitler in his bunker in Berlin in 1945, their orders are futile.
My guess is that the GDP will decline in 2016 from a peak of $17 billion in 2013, to $14 billion in 2015 and to $13 or even $12 billion in 2016. At this level total revenues to the State will decline from $4,3 billion in 2013, to $3,5 billion in 2015 and to $3,2 billion in 2016. The State will not have enough money to pay salaries and pensions. Already promised bonus payments to the Civil Servants have not materialized and pensions are a month behind. Civil Servants are now being required to pay for their pension rights and in this way salaries have in fact been reduced by about 10 per cent this month.
Despite this economic and fiscal crisis, the Zanu PF Party, or what is left of it, continues to pretend that it is in control and can do what it wants with what is left of the economy. The Ministry of Finance, knows what is needed to get us back on track, but are being frustrated at every turn. Chinamasa announces major changes to the indigenisation law only to be immediately contradicted by the Minister responsible. The President says that all mining companies must comply with 51 per cent local ownership or be closed down. This is a financial impossibility and can only be achieved by a process of illegal nationalization, something that no one here rules out and in this way the only sector that has any chance of real growth, the mining industry, is now in lock down.
At the Zanu PF Conference at the Victoria Falls in December, Mr. Mugabe announced that we had 10 months maize in stocks and that no one would go hungry. In January the food industry announced that they have only enough stocks to carry us through February and that after that we have to start importing from South Africa. We are used to such incompetence from our leadership, but this is playing with people’s lives on a large scale.
The reality is that South Africa will have to import over 80 per cent of its maize needs in the next 15 months. In Zimbabwe I doubt if we will reap a harvest of 300 000 tonnes – 16 per cent of our needs. The reality of this situation is that if our authorities do not respond immediately with an emergency import programme, we are likely to run out of our basic food staple.
During the past two weeks we have had no load shedding of electricity but as soon as industry starts work again and our consumption rises, we will go back to serious shortages on a daily basis. The combination of extreme drought, food shortages, declining incomes and the inability of the State to pay its bills or meet the payroll, will tip Zimbabwe over the edge this year.
I personally cannot wait; we have struggled in the main opposition Party, the MDC, to unseat the government through non violent and democratic means but have not only been denied any significant external assistance in this struggle but faced the active opposition of many African States, including South Africa. Now the forces of change will take control again, as they did in 1980. The only difference being that this time there will be no Lancaster House, or a former colonial power to supervise the transfer of power and ensure stability.