Don't write us off

I am always astonished at the resilience of our community.

What a century we survived – my father said he could not remember more than a handful of years when we were not engrossed in some sort of crisis. The early conflicts when the first settlers arrived and suppressed the local population and attempted to extend the reach of the British Empire, then the First World War when a quarter of all the able bodied settlers of European extraction died in a conflict that really had nothing to do with us, then the struggle for Dominion Status within the Commonwealth, the global crash in the 30’s followed by the Second World War.

This tiny country had the highest percentage of volunteers to serve in that conflict of any of the different communities in the Commonwealth and trained many of the pilots who fought the battles over Britain. Then the growing conflicts internally, the formation of the Federation and its demise, the crisis triggered by UDI in 1965, followed by intense global sanctions and a protracted civil war. Independence followed in 1980 and then Gukurahundi and the start of the democratic struggle in 2000.

We have every right to be exhausted and downhearted. So many of us can look back on a lifetime of struggle, effort and enterprise and are now virtually destitute, assets either stolen or simply destroyed by the actions of a delinquent State. I have friends who started out on 2 000 hectares of wild, uninhabited bush. I can remember their first home, a rough pole and mud hut, the first farm buildings going up before they built a better home. Then staff housing and a farm dam and only then a decent home in a spacious garden that the farmer tried hard to limit and which was extended by his wife.

Eventually a farmers hall and club 15 kilometers away and then a farm school and clinic. The children starting school at home with assistance by radio and then going to boarding school in a distant town. The periodic trips to town, the heartbreak of droughts when I phoned them from Harare and said we had rain and the wife breaking down in tears saying it was not fair. Making that last payment to the Land Bank and a quiet celebration recognizing 20 years of effort and struggle.

Now they live in a small flat in Harare, their children all over the world and doing well but a long way from home. They lost everything when they were invaded and forcibly expelled from their property. The psychological wounds are deep but they maintain some links with the farm, now derelict, and the staff that keep in contact.

In 2008, the Zimbabwe economy collapsed. Our currency worthless, prices doubling every few hours, children out of school, hospitals just glorified mortuaries, 42 000 women dying in childbirth, life expectancy collapsing to 37 years, 70 per cent of our population on food aid.

In that situation we faced an entrenched oligarchy that controlled all the levers of power and we had a reform movement that had adopted a completely non violent strategy for dealing with the power elite. We were faced with a regional power bloc that at best was neutral and at worst, supportive of the entrenched elite while the international community was concerned but preoccupied.

Europeans talk about a crisis and we just laugh. What Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal are going through is a walk in the park by comparison. Yet somehow we are still standing, how on earth do we do that?

Firstly we are a nation of faith. An estimated 70 per cent of our population is Christian; the majority of our people go to Church on Sunday. In a global post Christian era and in an increasingly secular and skeptical world, Zimbabweans are a significant exception. We actually believe in God and quite often even let our faith guide our lives. The Bible says of such people that they “shall rise up and fly on eagles wings”. They shall be like “trees on the banks of rivers, green in times of drought”.

Secondly we are a people of enterprise and hard work. We have simply had to survive over the past 50 years – sanctions, excessive government regulation, exchange control, hyper inflation have all combined to make us a community of people who “make a plan” no matter what we are faced with.

Thirdly, we are at heart, nationalists – all of us. The intense pressure on us from the international community, the pressures of the civil war where every family experienced loss and suffering, the emergence of a dictatorship and associated kleptocracy which has forced us to work together to survive. All this has given us a special character and sense of community.

When we went into government in February 2009, we did so knowing full well that the GNU would not work (it is a Mule – sterile and stubborn), knowing that we had been shortchanged (we had won the 2008 election but were forced into the GNU as a junior partner) but recognizing that we had to go into the arrangement to stabilize the situation and try to get the basic services working again. We have done so and the country has responded in an amazing manner. The specialists in the IMF and World Bank must be watching our situation with bemused astonishment.

In 2008 they estimated our inflation at 240 million percent, the GDP at no more than US$4,3 billion, cash in circulation at the year end at US$6 million (60 cents a head). 4 years later we are expecting State revenues to reach US$4 billion suggesting that our GDP has to be more than US$16 billion. Work that out – it’s a growth rate of 40 per cent per annum! How do we achieve that? We simply do not know ourselves – exports have more than trebled in three years – rising by over 50 per cent in six months.

This year the rains have come late in the northern areas and this will affect our crop prospects there. In the south we have had good rains (we are standing at 380 mms) but we are now in the midst of a prolonged dry, hot spell. This will last a month and will have some impact but both grazing and surface water. Reserves look OK at this point in time. Overall I am expecting all sectors of agriculture to experience further reductions in output. We will have to import the bulk of our foods this year and that might be a problem as regional stocks are down.

Politically a few things are looking certain – the transition is underway, power is sliding away from the kleptocrats and the dictatorship is failing, the process is irreversible and there can be no going back. The final outcome is certain – Zanu is finished and all that remains is the actual burial and celebrations.

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