Time is Running Out

Over the past three years, the State has built up massive domestic debts – perhaps $4 billion in Treasury Bills, another $1 billion taken illegally from peoples accounts through the RTGS system now simply reflected as an “overdraft” at the Reserve Bank and now perhaps $800 million in export proceeds taken from inflows and replaced with electronic transfers of funds called US dollars but without any backing.

President Robert Mugabe

President Robert Mugabe

As a result perhaps, half of what is in our bank accounts in the form of US dollars, does not exist and the pressure on local Banks to pay out depositors in real convertible US dollars in cash is becoming more and more difficult. Last week saw many Banks open in the morning and then closing their doors as they simply ran out of money. ATM outlets were left empty. Foreign visitors, used to being able to do their payments with credit cards anywhere in the world, found it nearly impossible to get their cards accepted and were unable to pay bills or get cash.

People in the Diaspora are finding it very difficult to get cash to their families. The Banks are saying, do not send us money – we simply cannot pay it out here. This is affecting nearly every Zimbabwean family. People are trying to empty their bank accounts and are holding money in cash or externally, this is further exacerbating the Bank crisis. Treasury Bills are not being settled and are now selling on the local market at a discount of up to 40 per cent.

In the wider economy the situation is just as bad. Sales have slumped and cash is short. All firms are building up balances of this “virtual money” and are unable to import anything because they cannot make external payments. Shortages are emerging throughout the economy and fuel traders say they are now not getting enough fuel to meet demand. The imposition of controls on imports of “non essentials” has had no material impact but has opened the doors to massive corruption in import permits and the allocation of the limited amount of foreign exchange available to the Reserve Bank through its expropriation of foreign receipts by exporters.

The situation in the State is no better – they are paying farmers for deliveries in virtual money, paying civil servants with the same sort of money. To keep the army quiet they are paid in real dollars in cash at their barracks. The rest have to queue, sometimes for days, to get anything to meet their needs. Hospitals are receiving virtually nothing apart from salaries and are closing down slowly. Ministries, almost without exception are receiving only a tiny allocation of funds apart from having their staff salaries paid.

A similar situation exists in local government – local authorities cannot pay staff, cannot buy essential needs for treating water and processing waste. Road works are halted and the infrastructure is deteriorating with little or no maintenance in any field. All services are affected.

All of this is putting huge pressure on the State. People are simply fed up with non performance and corruption – the constant Police road blocks at which “fines” are extorted for every imaginable misdemeanor. The arrogance of the Police and many Civil Servants trying to deal with clients whose needs they cannot meet. The physical evidence of this tension can be seen almost every day – running battles with people on the streets of our towns and cities, tear gas and baton charges. The rising tide of political violence by everyone – Police perhaps the worse, but also Zanu PF thugs, youth militias and the CIO/Military Intelligence.

The hospitals are full to overflowing – recently a relative of mine had to be moved from one hospital to another because they were full and even then he found himself and one other patient in a store room for cleaning materials and equipment. At any one point in time we have hundreds of activists in Prison and prisoners are not being fed – perhaps one meal a day without salt or any form of animal protein or even some vegetable oil. We have to raise funds and get volunteers to feed our own people while they wait for Court hearings. A student protesting the lack of jobs at a graduation is arrested and detained.

Then finally there is the civil war going on inside the Zanu PF Party itself. First it was Joice Mujuru – Vice President for a decade, suddenly removed from office and then unceremoniously kicked out of the Party she had served for 45 years. She represented the majority of the rank and file in the Party and when she left and formed her own Party – she took perhaps the majority of the ordinary members in the Party. No sooner had she gone, but the President’s wife took over the Women’s League and began to organise her own faction. She gathered the younger leaders around her and the G40 emerged.

The older generation of leaders in the Party found themselves divided into those who supported a transition of power to Emmerson Mnangagwa and those who remained around Mugabe like a presidential guard. Gradually the G40 have taken control of what is left of Zanu PF and they are isolating the Mnangagwa faction at the same time. The Mnangagwa group, controls nearly all the levers of hard power in the State and are using this power to curb G40 activity and trying to maintain their position as the most likely Group to succeed Mr. Mugabe.

All factions have Youth Militia – paid and ready to do their masters will and they also have control over armed forces. The attack at the weekend on a former War Veteran and Army General in the Mashonaland Central Province where he was almost left for dead with savage injuries; ratcheted up the tensions. The War Veterans have sworn retaliation, Joice Mujuru, who claimed the General, was a supporter, sent in her own Militia and beat up anyone they could find connected to the G40 whom they blamed for the attack.

The G40 is being blamed for street violence and attacks on anti Government elements on the streets of Harare last week. What was interesting in that respect was the protection and lack of intervention by the Police suggesting that the Police may have shifted allegiance to the G40. With the Army maintaining neutrality or allegiance to their Commanders and therefore, Mnangagwa and his colleagues, this is a new and dangerous development.

It is only a matter of time before we see our first casualties from armed conflict and that will change the whole character of the current crisis and conflict in Zimbabwe.

The main point I want to make here is that we are running out of time. What we need urgently is the start of a formal, constitutional transition of power and control from Mr. Mugabe to Emmerson Mnangagwa. If this does not happen soon our national situation could quickly spiral out of control and plunge the country into a chaotic and violent transition, the outcome of which is any ones guess.

The retirement of Mr. Mugabe would instantly change the economic and political situation in Zimbabwe. It would start the process of restoring confidence and initiate a managed, orderly transition to a free and fair election as soon as possible. The establishment of a democratic government would open the doors to economic recovery and growth and return us to political stability. But time is not on our side.

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