Hot Seat: Moyo, Raftopoulos and Robertson

Violet: We continue the teleconference interview discussing various issues of national interest with three people who have at one time or another advised some of the key players in Zimbabwean politics – political analyst Professor Brian Raftopoulos, former Information Minister, now independent MP Professor Jonathan Moyo and leading economist John Robertson. This week we are going to be discussing how Mugabe thinks. What is his mindset? Why is he allowing the country to collapse so totally? A huge part of that collapse has been economic and so we start this week’s discussion with the economy.

With inflation nearing 1200% it’s been said the economy has become Mugabe’s real opposition. So I first asked economist John Robertson to explain the state of the economy and tell us how bad things really are.

Robertson: The state of the economy is certainly extremely serious. We have lost about half of our gross domestic product. The GDP per capita has come down to less that US$1 per day for the population as a whole and at that level we have, I am afraid, a very debilitated population. I think many, many people are suffering malnutrition and because of the treatment and the various little security measures taken by the government we have also a traumatised population. Which might explain why they have not taken mass action to date. There was some evidence of courage to do that back in 1997/ 98, but the treatment that was meted out to the people after that has left them very, very cautious and very anxious not to have that experience again.
Now these problems are mounting in such a way that the economy can no longer employ most of the people. We’ve got some 300 000 youngsters turning 18 in this country every year – about maybe 10% of them can find work – the rest of them are unemployed and unable to find any kind of suitable employment anywhere. So they have to leave the country if they want work. We’ve got many of them leaving for South Africa illegally and facing very serious problems when they do that. I think that we face a very, very long recovery unless we get a massive amount of assistance from abroad. And once again I say that South Africa’s position here is the most important. We could speak of following the same path of recovery as say Uganda or Ethiopia or Mozambique and each of those cases we are talking more than 30 years and they still haven’t come right. We could come right very much more quickly with a lot of assistance from South Africa. I believe that the South African assistance could be in the form of the assistance given say to East Germany by West Germany when the Berlin Wall came down.

Eddie Cross: Swirls in the Water.

A few years ago I spent a marvelous time on the Chobe River flood plains on the boundary between Namibia and Botswana. For those of you who do not know the area, the Zambezi River runs down the western border of Zambia for several hundred kilometers and then hits a basalt ridge where it backs up and spills over into the flood plains on either side of the river creating huge seasonal wetlands.

In the south, these wet lands drain into the Chobe River and then back into the Zambezi River at Kazungula. This gives the river its May flood that makes a visit to the Victoria Falls so spectacular. When this process is underway from April to July, the waters of the flood plains drain into deep gullies that are kept open by Hippos and these run for up to 30 to 40 kilometers into the Chobe River.

We spent a wonderful day on the flood plains with a local guide armed with light fishing gear. We went up to the head of a system of drainage channels and then drifted down with the current. As we did so our guide showed us how to cast our lures into spots on the edge of the channels where a swirl indicated the presence of Tiger fish. These were hunting the smaller fish emerging from the reed beds where they had lived for the past few months.

The results were spectacular – about every third cast saw a fish rise and strike and of these we landed about one in three. We fished all day in wonderful surroundings, lush swampland as far as you could see, beautiful clear blue skies and a temperature of about 25 c. Not much game but we had to watch for Hippo and Crocodiles.

Swirls In the water. That is what we have seen all week in southern Africa. Brief statements from South African leaders about the crisis in Zimbabwe, statements from the UN in Geneva and New York. Tantalizing stuff, but what does it all mean? It probably points to political Tiger fish hunting smaller prey in Zimbabwean waters.