We are now into our 5th week of price controls and the resultant shortages. I am becoming increasingly alarmed at the situation and hope that my misgivings are not misplaced.
Today there is no rice in the urban areas, very little bread and what is available is being rationed, there is no maize meal, no cooking oil or margarine, no meat and very little milk and dairy products. I called the Dairibord today and they had no product to sell - nothing, they said they were having problems with their milk supplies.
In addition to this situation, public transport is virtually at a standstill. This has developed following heavy fines imposed last week on the mini van taxis that provide 90 per cent of urban transport here. People are being forced to walk everywhere.
The wholesalers and manufacturers are virtually out of stock. There is a thriving parallel market for everything but even here the supplies are very short. Maize meal is being sold at Z$250 000 to Z$300 000 for 10 kg's - that is 4 times the official price, fuel is available but at prices ranging from Z$240 000 to Z$500 000 a litre.
Hotels are running out of food - I stayed in a local hotel on Friday and found the staff serving a basic meal of rice with stew and a bit of cabbage as a salad. The queue stretched out onto the road - the manager said to me he was not running a hotel but a feeding station. The manger of the hotel over the road was eating there and said to me he could not even provide the basics to his clients. They had no beer!
Local business that has a contract to supply the Prison said that they had 4000 prisoners and could not feed them, not from any source. The Army and the Police are in a similar predicament although the Police have been using their role in the price control exercise to loot business of goods in short supply. I hear that soldiers went through Ross Camp (the main Police camp in Bulawayo) looking for looted stocks.
In addition to this crisis in domestic products nothing is being imported commercially. This is because the price control authorities are treating imported goods as local goods when enforcing the price controls. So people who would normally import products in short supply are holding off and no imported products are available. That leaves only cross border shopping, as a means of meeting family needs.
Wealthy people are traveling to Botswana and Zambia for shopping trips and poorer families are calling their relatives in South Africa for help. For this reason on Saturday there were hundreds of vehicles from South Africa at the border - all trying to get up to their families in Zimbabwe, drop off supplies and then head back to South Africa. The road was littered with broken down vehicles, as many are old and overloaded.
I see no signs of any response to this crisis in basic food supplies. What do the international community and the UN system think they are doing? I hear that when the State tried to stop retailers selling fuel against coupons purchased with foreign exchange that the UN agencies promptly told the government that if they did that they would close down and leave. The government backed down. I heard this morning that many embassies are considering flying food in for their local Embassy staff, one Ambassador told me they were evaluating the difference in buying from South Africa or direct from Europe - great to have options, but what on earth do they think the ordinary Zimbabwean is doing?
I will tell you what he/she is thinking. It is how do I get a passport, how do I get to the border or get a ticket to anywhere where sanity prevails? The exercise to remove up to 3 million Zimbabweans from the country by simply denying them the means to survive is well under way. I estimate that 500 000 have gone already to South Africa, with other destinations that probably means we are up to 600 000 - 20 per cent of the goal, 80 per cent to still go. That's only 12 000 a day across the Limpopo - an easy target.
No amount of border patrols, no amount of policing or forced expulsions will slow down or stop the exodus. There is only one way to do that - give Zimbabweans some hope that they have a future, any sort of future in the country of their birth.
SADC leaders gather in Lusaka on the 14th August - just one week away. The future of this country and perhaps others in the region are in their hands.
I must say that does not give me a lot of confidence, if they fail us again as they have in the past, we may well have to take things into our own hands, and that could be very nasty.
Mr. Mugabe is in Malaysia staying in a five star hotel with no shortages. He could not give a damn. His own strategy for the immediate future is being worked out and he sees no possibility of his efforts being frustrated by regional leaders. Left to his own devices he will get want he wants by the year end, hold farcical elections in March 2008 without opposition and continue as before.
By: Eddie Cross
6th August 2007
P O Box 74