Monday, August 21, 2006

what was that about Rome?...

Yes, many know the oft-repeated "Rome burns while Nero fiddles", and I´m not sure who it was in some or other seminal Internet Age text (someone let me know the ref if you can -- my memory fails...and most of my book library still sits in SA) who had a turn on the latter w.r.t. the Athenian/Greek variation of the saying which rang "Rome burns and you´re busy combing your pubic hair"

Now now, settle down...

Well, it is that the latter saying came to mind when I recently
a) read this report from Reuters SA, which began:

Consumers lose out as Zimbabwe cash swap ends
Mon Aug 21, 2006 3:04 PM GMT

By Cris Chinaka
HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's drive to replace its old currency with redenominated bank notes ended on Monday in a flurry of confusion, with rich and poor alike losing money in the process.
The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) last month ordered the swap to combat black marketeering and hyperinflation, loping three zeros off the local dollar and giving people until August 21 to adopt new, redenominated banknotes.
The move effectively devalued the Zimbabwe dollar by 60 percent against its U.S. counterpart and fanned panic across the southern African country, already deep in its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1980....

b) More or less contemporenous to (a) above, I saw an e-mail message hailing from Zimbabwe. [Yes, remember that little South African neighbour? Oh, how easily we forget. What with all the other conflicts happening in the world, often there are situations less pressing, less instantaneously devastating such as that of Zimbabwe. In short, we grow accustomed to the situation, and watch, and wait, or resort to, wait for it "silent diplomacy".]

So, below I post a message from a Zimbabwean. Can I name names? Not sure really... But the message is authentic. And I post it if only as one little blip of a reminder of a dire situation that has been dragging on for far too long.

" Let my people go.
The story of Moses in the Old Testament chronicles the time when the people
of Israel liberated themselves from slavery in Egypt. In the story, Moses
goes to Pharaoh and demands that he allow the Jews to leave Egypt and travel
to a land that has been promised to them by God. Seven times this demand was
made and in an unusual aside, the Bible says that God "hardened Pharaoh's
heart" and he denied them their freedom.
There was more to that of course - there were nearly 3 million Jews in Egypt
and they formed the backbone of the indentured labour and much of the
administrative skills needed to run the country. It was only after every
Egyptian family had lost a child that the Egyptians drove the Jews out and
they were able to flee into the desert and eventually enter to Promised
I do not want in any way to draw a parallel to this story and the struggle
for freedom that we are engaged in here, but there are similarities. We have
prayed, our people have suffered and we have had no outside help and indeed
cannot expect any help. We are virtual slaves to Zanu PF who run a
kleptocratic State that keeps the rest of us working hard and poor.
The conditions under which we are living are pretty horrific - all our civil
liberties are being violated, we are short of all the basic foods, our
average life expectancy has halved in a decade and is now one of the lowest
in the world. We live in a country where the GDP has halved since 2000,
exports are down by two thirds and 80 per cent live in abject poverty. Yet
those in power live the life of Pharaoh - luxury homes, every convenience,
frequent first class travel and ample supplies of all that they need - in
the process stealing a third of our annual GDP or more. They also control
the armed forces and the State and are willing to use both in the ruthless
pursuit of power and security. If you want to escape their grasp, you must
swim the Limpopo and live in the desert of our neighbor's inhospitable slums
for what will seem like 40 years.
We have raised up leadership that has demanded our freedom - first in the
late 90's when they demanded some say in how we were governed, then in 2000
when we demanded a new constitution of our own choosing, and then in 2000,
2002 and 2005 in hotly contested elections on a totally subverted playing
field. We have demanded our freedoms in the Courts, fighting successive
battles to get the Courts to hear our case for freedom - after each of the
past three elections and been denied justice by a subverted legal system.
I make that 6 challenges - one remains and that is now rapidly approaching.
We could say that each time we have challenged Pharaoh he has simply
hardened his heart and increased our burdens. Will this final challenge be
the one that breaks the back of Pharaoh's will and sparks a willingness to
let our people go? Perhaps it is that point in our story.
Certainly if God was working behind the scenes you can see the results. On
Monday we see the old bearer cheques lose their value and there is consensus
that this will lead to chaos. People in the remote rural areas have not even
heard the news, the Banks are simply swamped, there are not enough of the
new notes available to exchange with the old. Trillions of dollars will be
wiped out and fortunes lost on Monday - and it will not be the rich and
powerful or the crooks who suffer, they have their positions well covered,
it is going to be the millions of the poor and disadvantaged who will be the
main victims.
Right now, just to compound the problems of the people, there is no maize
meal available. I think Zanu PF actually believed their own fiction that we
had grown 1,7 to 1,8 million tonnes of maize. We have stated as often as we
can that this is pure fiction and make believe. If, as I estimated some
months ago, we have only grown about the same as last year (750 000 tonnes)
then this will have already been exhausted as people will have held onto
stocks for their own use and what little surplus would have been traded or
eaten by now. The price of this basic staple has doubled overnight - if you
can get some. We brought a truckload of maize meal into town yesterday and
it was sold out in 30 minutes.
I bought some Rand for a trip to South Africa last week - at 65 000 to 1.
When I came home 6 days later, the price was 90 000 to 1. Fuel is in very
short supply and prices rise daily. The army officer who runs our Energy
Ministry declared this week that fuel prices would be fixed at half or less
their present value and that they "had plenty of fuel to meet our needs".
The immediate reaction of the trade was to simply stop trading. The Minister
of Industry weighed in and declared a 3-week price freeze - in an
environment where our prices are doubling every two months. He was ignored.
We must pay our staff on Friday next week - 850 000 workers expect to be
paid their pittances, 10 days later we must pay school fees for three
million kids. Nearly all of these transactions will be in cash. We simply do
not have the smaller denominations needed for these payments. There is no
sign of them being available. I will try to draw change on Monday, but I
have little expectation that it will be available. Yesterday we were still
trading at about 90 per cent in the old notes.
The Egyptians had everything on their side - armed forces, control of the
State, regional hegemony. They felt that the Jews constituted no threat and
would never rise up against the authorities. They were regarded as being
compliant and subservient.
In the end the Jews won - without arms and without fighting and the price
paid be Pharaoh and his cohorts was terrible in every way. They were
virtually wiped out and never again really recovered. All the Jews had to do
was walk and trust God. I have a strong sense that this time something
extraordinary is going to happen and that when it is all over, Zanu PF will
be no more. The Promised Land - that is quite a way off, but at least we
will be free and walking in the right direction!


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