The economy – driving force behind change

'At last the patience and tolerance of the Mugabe regime is running thin in the SADC region'
'The day that the Police stand by or even join in a protest over living standards, is the day that Zanu (PF) is finished'
BULAWAYO - The driving force behind political change this year

will be the economy. Already the reality of the conditions forecast by analysts is impacting on the consciousness of the majority of Zimbabweans. Inflation has begun to accelerate in earnest. Workers are unable to afford transport and are walking to and from work, doctors in the State sector are on strike and wildcat strikes are taking place in many other sectors.
The state is just making things worse – we have seen certain state-controlled institutions buying foreign exchange on the open market and driving down the value of the local currency. The attack on the mining industry has frozen all development and expansion and totally disrupted the informal sector, displacing hundred of thousands of people who were making a living from gold and diamonds.
The threat to change the currency over 24 hours (a ridiculous action designed to completely dislocate the smooth change over that is required) will also cause much distress. The announcement that the State social security agency (NSSA) is going to raise compulsory contributions to 16 per cent of gross salaries (an enormous new tax) to pay for State run hospitals is also pending. We are already the most highly taxed community in the region and this will push the situation into the realm of the impossible in terms of tolerance and capacity. Take home pay for many will be reduced to a fraction of their pay by this measure with no significant benefit.
The question is, will this situation push people over the edge? I think it will and it is the deteriorating economy that will be the most significant factor in the political realm this year. This will be made even more significant by the fact that we are in the throes of a very poor agricultural season. It is difficult to know what will push people over the edge, but food prices and shortages might well be the trigger, as they were in the late 90’s.
I also see growing signs that at last the patience and tolerance of the Mugabe regime is running thin in the SADC region. Its about time and these leaders remain the most effective means of bringing pressure to bear on the present government to put their house in order. I think international pressure will be unrelenting. The targeted sanctions against the leadership of this regime will be renewed in February and the same states that are leading this campaign will increase their pressure on African leaders to “do something” about Mugabe and the errant leadership of Zanu (PF).
But change may also come from another unexpected quarter. Last week a senior Police Officer spoke to a colleague in the MDC and said that if ever the country needed the MDC leadership on the streets, it was now. He is in the law and order section in Bulawayo (the political unit) so these remarks from someone who spends his days trying to keep the lid on the protests is significant. We are also getting reports from all the other sections of the security forces including the CIO. People are unhappy and the patronage that has served Zanu (PF) so well in the past decade is disintegrating as the State runs out of money and capacity to maintain the system.
The day that the Police stand by or even join in a protest over living standards, is the day that Zanu (PF) is finished. They no longer have any significant support among the general populace. That day could be closer than we think and the sole remaining pillars of support for this oligarchy are the police, the army and the CIO.
My great fear has always been that without significant external influence and pressure (possible only from the SADC States) that weary, battered Zimbabweans would be subjected to a chaotic and violent transition – the outcome of which would be anyone’s guess, instead of the kind of orderly, negotiated transition to a constitutional democracy such as was achieved in South Africa, largely under the influence and guidance of the British and the Americans.
The world has moved on since then and this sort of neo-colonial action is no longer possible. So it is really up to us. Like mariners approaching the beach through the waves, we know the beach is close – we can hear the surf breaking. What we do not know is what rocks lie under the surf and how much of a soft landing we will get when we get there. A business colleague asked me about my expectations and I said – I have my life jacket on and am ready for whatever this year throws at me. I am sure we will get wet, but I am also sure we do not have that long to wait any longer.

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