Zimbabwe: back towards the abyss

Eddie Cross says a deep sense of foreboding is hanging over the country

The sense of insecurity and uncertainty has never been more foreboding. Talk of the Reserve Bank printing a new currency behind closed doors and in great secrecy and the President saying last week that the local currency would be back by the end of the year. The sudden withdrawal of the MDC from the transitional government and the subsequent negotiations, have all thrown the Zimbabwean population into the slough of despond.

Whatever the truth, the community fears a return to the situation that prevailed in 2008. Businessmen fear that they will wake up one morning and find their hard currency accounts converted to a new local currency that is basically worthless at a rate set by the Reserve Bank. They fear the imposition of restrictions on prices and a return to the harsh regime of the recent past.

The slow recovery in the banking system has evaporated, a run on the banks has put severe strain on cash flows and this is not helped by information that the Reserve Bank has been misappropriating the reserves of the commercial Banks. People are suddenly reverting to a strictly cash system.

The revelation that the Ministry of Youth and Empowerment has clandestinely drafted new regulations that would expropriate, without compensation, 51 per cent of the shareholding of all foreign firms with a capital value of more than $500 000 has simply halted all FDI activity. Firms that are already invested in Zimbabwe have frozen their operations here and those thinking about new investments have stopped all preparations and plans.

Without FDI there will be no significant recovery in the economy and no growth in the mining and tourism sectors - the only sectors that are likely to lead the recovery in the economy. Billions of dollars of new investment in both these sectors are now frozen and will not be invested unless the government moves to remove this uncertainty and to clarify what our intentions really are. The damage is so severe that it will take more that a few statements to remedy the problems.

The El Nino factor has suddenly intensified with the news that temperatures in the Pacific have risen by 1,5 C. and this suggests that we must anticipate a below average wet season. The early signs are not encouraging and after a series of good seasons including a near perfect season last year, we must expect a rough season. Even without the problems of a dry season, this year is going to be another disaster. Commercial farm production will be down even on last year. We are distributing small quantities of seed and fertilizer to 600 000 families in rural areas but this is scratching the surface of their needs.

Worse, I sense that the international community is weary of the ongoing Zimbabwe crisis that seems to have no end. A needs survey is underway and I am sure the outcome is going to shock the authorities - people have no food stocks and the hunger season is about to start and resources have declined and the global situation no longer makes it easy to raise the funds needed to prevent starvation.

So what can we, as Zimbabweans expect for Christmas? Not much, I am afraid. Talks to end the crisis in government started on Friday, the deadline for their resolution looms and what then? Our experience tells us not to expect too much. But so much is required to alleviate our difficulties.

So long as we are forced to tread water by the grip that Zanu PF holds over the reform process, we run the threat of being drowned by the waves generated by the storm that rages above our heads. It is at times like these that faith counts.

When Christ began his long walk to the Cross He knew the odds and the likely outcome. His followers refused to accept the reality of that and at the end they tried to use force to defend the man when His freedom and life were threatened. Christ made no moves to defend Himself and went to the Cross without complaint or struggle.

What followed was in fact more than His disciples could have asked or imagined. His death was followed by a demonstration of God's control over life and death and the final stamp of authenticity for Christ's life and ministry. In weeks the ultimate defeat was turned into victory and in 300 years the World worshipped the one they had killed and who had then demonstrated absolute control.

Christ's teaching that 'in the world you will have tribulation' are more than true for the average Zimbabwean, but somehow the truth of the next sentence 'but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world' suddenly changes everything. The man who died at the hands of a corrupt Judge and on the whim of a cruel dictator, actually was in charge and has made it possible for us to do the impossible, including fighting on when all else seems to fail us.

So we turn to Christ at this season and suddenly find that He turns lemons into oranges and failure into victory, death into life. All that He asks is that 'we walk by faith and not by sight', He knew that if we kept our eyes on the storm, we would never see his hand inviting us into the safety and security of the boat.

The sceptics say this is just mumbo jumbo and pie in the sky, however those of us in the water, in the storm, know the reality is something else. It is real and tangible and can be relied upon and all who 'call on the name of the Lord, will be saved' and if you read the bible carefully it is not talking about pie in the sky.

For those of you who are of the faith, remember Roy Bennett this week. Roy told me on Friday that he feared that no matter what the evidence was, the authorities were determined to find him guilty and to sentence him. The charges are serious but without foundation - the Judge is clearly under instruction and from confidential documents we have seen, the old regime is determined to press this case to a conclusion even if they have to fabricate the evidence.

It is a statement of great faith and courage as well as commitment to his country and our people that he remains here and goes to Court knowing that the authorities are trying to find him guilty. This is tough on Roy but also think of Heather, his wife, for whom the whole ordeal is so much worse.

Eddie Cross is MP for Bulawayo South and the MDC's policy coordinator. This article first appeared on his website www.eddiecross.africanherd.com

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