Sunday, January 20, 2008

News from Zimbabwe (1)

How does one describe Zimbabwe at the moment? I think there might be two ways to answer this. The first has to do with the country as an entity. We are in a very poor state indeed. We no longer pay close attention to the inflation figures that are quoted. The latest figures are anywhere between 10000% and 14000% (yes, the zeroes are correct!) (PS This was a November figure. December has risen well beyond this). There is no end in sight to the inflation and economic collapse. For some reason the proverbial "ostrich-head-in-the-sand" attitude seems to prevail amongst our governing powers. Frankly the street assessment is that there are a few in power who are making so much money by taking advantage of the situation that there is no desire to change it. Why kill the goose that lays the golden egg, even if that goose only lays eggs by gobbling up and feeding on common people? The impact of this failing economy is evident. All aspects of our contry's infrastructure are falling apart more and more: daily power and water cuts are no longer the exception but the norm; all homes have water containers and candles or some other lighting alternatives; the roads are more and more characterised by deep and vicious, tyre-bursting potholes; the phone system is a hit-and-miss affair; even the cellphone systems upon which we relied for most dependable communication are suffering the effects of price regulations, shortage of skilled personnel and shortage of materials - maladies which afflict all aspects of our industry and economy. Recently, the extreme measures by government to try and control the prices of basic commodities has resulted in the shelves of supermarkets being empty of staples and the black market flourishing. Perversely, the attempt to lower prices, ensure adequate supply of basics and cripple the black market has resulted in exactly the opposite. Hospitals, schools, roads, water supplies, local government, police services - the list of services and facilities in deterioration could go on and on.

There is another approach to the matter of trying to describe Zimbabwe at the moment and that is to look at the country as a people. And here I find greater cause for concern than there is even in the deterioration of the structure and economy of the land. As a people Zimbabweans are generally happy, polite and positive. I see that changing more and more. A friend of mine who is leaving the country soon commented to me recently that he sees Zimbabweans living in survival mode, where more and more energy is being poured into the basics of survival on a day-to-day basis, and less and less energy is available for other affairs of life, sadly including trying to help others survive. Survival mode is most naturally a self-centred mode of existence and there is no doubt in my mind that Zimbabweans are becoming more self-centred as a result of present circumstances. I see this reflected on our roads, for example: less and less concern for the other driver; more use of the horn; less attention to road rules which may slow a journey down. It is reflected in the growth of corruption, at all levels of society - not merely the opportunity to advance oneself - and so someone who has managed to find two loaves of bread at the controlled price will sell the second at an exorbitant profit, rather than pass it on to someone at the same cost. Survival mode means that life is stripped of its colour, its vitality, the extra, humane practices, the kindness, the generosity, the fun times, the travel and so on. Several years ago I told a friend outside that life was becoming grey in Zimbabwe, and I see that being realized more and more.