Observations on politics and poetry by Australian bush poet, Michael Darby.
Michael was born in Sydney in 1945 and is a former Australian Army Officer who has been writing and broadcasting on politics and economics since 1972.
Saturday, February 01, 2003
SOMETIMES HUMOR can teach us an important lesson. For example, this joke:
"Q: Why are there large trees along the Champs Elysee? A: So the Nazis could march in the shade!"
Today, in the very same location on that wide avenue, we find anti-Israeli and anti-American demonstrations. Once again, France is giving the world trouble. It seems to always begin with small, innocuous, anti-Semitic incidents throughout a country. In this case, a synagogue is torched because of "The Occupation." Jews with skullcaps are harassed in the streets because of West Bank "settlements." A Jewish soccer team is attacked by a gang of hooded youths because of "The IDF." Jewish day schools are firebombed because Israel responds to terrorism.
Unfortunately, France has learned virtually nothing from WWII. That famous French arrogance, usually experienced in fine French restaurants, has prevented this ungrateful nation from showing their appreciation for U.S. soldiers dying to rescue them from the Third Reich. Ever since Napoleon, France has thought of itself as an important world player, when in truth, they have become irrelevant.
Opposing Israel and now the United States, merely gives the French a feeling of newfound importance and power.
The French Intifada against the Jews and Israel includes: A gunman firing on a kosher butcher shop in southern France; the University of Paris stopping collaboration with Israeli universities and academics, while suggesting that the EU do the same; Rabbi Gabriel Farhi stabbed in Paris preparing for the Sabbath and his automobile set on fire; the major French encyclopedia questioning the large number of Jews murdered during the Holocaust; eight people in France arrested for their participation in bombing the Tunisian synagogue; a bomb diffused at the entrance of a Jewish cemetery in Strasbourg; "Dreaming of Palestine," a book by a teenager glorifying suicide bombings in Israel, becomes a French bestseller; French lawyer, Gisele Halimi defending Marwan Barghouti, the man personally responsible for most recent suicide bombings in Israel. And the list goes on.
President Jaques Chirac has criticized "(America's) attempt to legitimize the use of unilateral and pre-emptive force," as if morality is accomplished through a majority worldwide vote. There was no UN vote for American entry into WWII, saving France and the world.
The Deepening Crisis in Zimbabwe
By: MDC President, Morgan Tsvangirai
Excerpts from a speech to the Harare Diplomatic Community, Harare, 23 January 2003
I have humbly requested you to come here today in order to express my grave concern at how the Zimbabwe crisis seems to be fast disappearing on the horizon of international attention.
It is indeed a great tragedy that influential countries in Africa and the rest of the international community only accept the existence of crises of governance in Africa when it is too late and after thousands of innocent people will have been slaughtered. Zimbabwe today is one such country in which the symptoms and makings of an unfolding great tragedy have been on the wall for Africa and the rest of the international community to see but there has been no sense of urgency to forestall the catastrophe.
Tragically, supposedly leading countries in Africa, such as South Africa and Nigeria are now on the forefront, chiding the international community for its condemnation of the brutal Mugabe regime; denying the existence of the tragic circumstances in which Zimbabweans find themselves; cheering Mugabe in the name of a dubious African brotherhood to go on perpetrating the outrage and waiting for the policies of the Mugabe regime to produce mass graves which they regard as an adequate and sufficient definition of the existence of a crisis in Zimbabwe.
If this is an expression of the so-called African solutions to African problems, or an early manifestation of the so-called NEPAD peer review mechanism, then Africa is fated or condemned to remain a beleaguered and crisis-ridden continent for a long time to come.
The Zimbabwe crisis has never been and is not a racial issue between black and white.
The people being starved to death are not white; the majority of those killed by the regime’s killing machine are not white; those who languish in jail as I speak to you and are subjected to incessant torture and subhuman conditions are not white; those in the rural areas who are daily subjected to brutal treatment are not white. It is therefore despicable and cheap for anyone to reduce such a tragedy to an issue of race for the sake of a fake African brotherhood and political expediency.
Crying out when our people are being brutalized and murdered does not make us surrogates or puppets of anybody. Instead it makes us human, together with the international community.
Your Excellencies, the credentials and bona fides of the MDC as a Zimbabwean national political party that articulates and expresses the national interests of Zimbabweans are a matter of public record. We do not beg and will never beg for recognition from any one, not even from the mighty South African and Nigerian presidents. The people of Zimbabwe have long granted us that recognition and no one can wish us away. We won the March 2002 presidential poll and that is why we are here today. How can any normal person ignore that?
We thank the remainder of the Commonwealth, the European Union, the United States of America and the rest of international community who have firmly stood by us in confronting the Mugabe tyranny. We call upon them to remain steadfast as we embark on the final push against this primitive and predatory dictatorship.
France and Portugal: They are maintaining a tradition of siding and supporting dictatorships against the democratic aspirations of the people of Zimbabwe. The irony is that this betrays the gallant history of the French people who manufactured and exported to the whole world, through the French Revolution, the now universal values of liberty, democracy and justice.
To Paris and Lisbon we have a clear message: Your place is not at the same table with Robert Mugabe, toasting goblets of the blood of innocent women and children. As part of the great democracies of the world, your place is among the brutalized and oppressed people of Zimbabwe as they struggle to rid themselves of this burdensome yoke of tyranny. Like you, Zimbabweans crave to live in a democratic country, characterized by the rule of law, respect for human rights, peace, stability, security and economic progress. These are not EU values. They are universal human values. Zimbabweans too yearn to live under such gentle bonds.
Your Excellencies, the situation has deteriorated since the fraudulent March 2002 presidential poll. Political violence has become the permanent centrepiece of the Mugabe regime’s governance strategy; in fact political violence is the only policy that this regime is implementing; the rule of law continues to be violated; the judiciary is systematically subverted.
Law enforcement continues to be partisan; the militarisation of politics is now complete and any pretence to democratic politics has been effectively subverted through systematic state-sponsored violence as the world witnessed in the recent local government elections.
The State of the economy completes this catastrophic picture. Half of the nearly 12 million population of Zimbabwe face starvation and the Mugabe regime has no money to buy food; fuel shortages have ground the country to a virtual stand still; industry has collapsed and unemployment is conservatively estimated to be in the region of 70%; the GDP dropped by –12.1% in 2002; and by the regime’s own figures, inflation now stands at over 200%, but independent experts place commodities inflation at the much higher figure of 500%.
We believe that the crisis in Zimbabwe has degenerated to such dangerous levels that it is time to abandon regional or sectional efforts in favour of the intervention by the international community through the United Nations Security Council, in accordance with Article 39 (Chapter 7 powers) of the United Nations Charter.
The Mugabe regime now clearly constitutes a threat to regional security and stability. It is daily committing crimes against humanity recognized as such by the international community and the United Nations.
But time is running out.
The people’s anger has reached alarming and explosive levels and we may no longer have any capacity to control them. The persistent suffering of the people may collectively result in a PEOPLE’S STORM, which may turn out to be a tragic but simplifying catastrophe.
Comments? Email Michael Darby
Friday, January 31, 2003
A Tyrants Club
The U.N. Human Rights Commission is worse than a joke.
Among those who value liberty and justice, the United Nations' choice of Libya to chair this year's session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights has been widely described as a defeat. By some lights it's a defeat for the U.S.--which protested giving this post to an emissary of terror-sponsoring tyrant Moammar Gadhafi. By U.S. standards it's a defeat for the Human Rights Commission and the entire system of international justice the U.N. pretends to promote. All of which sounds bad, but comfortably abstract; just one more round of folly at the U.N.
It's much worse than that. Putting Libya in a spot to set the U.N. agenda on human rights is not simply a defeat of justice and human dignity. It is a betrayal.
It is a betrayal of all those brave souls, world-wide, who don't just talk about human rights but put their lives on the line to fight for them in countries where the price can be prison, exile or death.
Lofting Libya to chair the Human Rights Commission is a gesture of contempt toward Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who for the past 15 years has sacrificed her own liberty and dedicated her life to the struggle for freedom in Burma. It is a note of almost casual scorn toward thousands upon thousands of courageous people in the world's darkest places, unknown soldiers in the long, human struggle for justice, who have chosen to stand up for principles evidently too demanding for most of the folks who are supposed to be defending them at the U.N.
It is a betrayal of millions upon millions of people living under governments so brutal--from North Korea to Turkmenistan to Iraq--that most citizens do not dare to demand the freedoms that belong by right to all human beings.
It is absurd, in fact, to describe the exaltation on Monday of Libya's Ambassador Najat al-Hajjaji to head of the Human Rights Commission as the product of a "vote." That implies there was some sort of democratic process at work. In the secret balloting among the 53 nations that currently sit on the Human Rights Commission, only three--the U.S., Canada and, reportedly, Guatemala--voted against Libya. Among the 33 governments that voted in favor of Libya were almost certainly the rulers of such civic sinkholes as Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Cuba and Zimbabwe. Like the despots in Syria, Vietnam and China, these are folks who do not have the guts to face a genuine system of democracy back home, They wield their votes at the U.N. not as legitimate representatives of their own fellow citizens, but as two-faced members of the global club of tyrants, who hold sway through force and fear.
Not that the Human Rights Commission is any stranger to the rants and demands of assorted dictatorships. But for a sample of the real cost of turning the show over to Libyan leadership, consider the case of a group of opposition politicians from Zimbabwe, who visited New York last fall. They were desperately seeking help for the horrors unfolding in their country under the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe, whose government also sits on the U.N. Human Rights Commission, and who, despite recent quarrels over oil deals, has been a longtime chum of Gadhafi.
These Zimbabweans described the encroaching famine back home, directed by Mr. Mugabe at his opponents. They talked about the confiscations, beatings and torture Mr. Mugabe let loose on those who stood up for human rights. Only one of this group, by the way, was white. The other three, like most of the millions Mr. Mugabe has sent forth his mobs to threaten, starve, beat and in some cases murder--were black.
These Zimbabweans said they hoped to get help from the U.N., which they saw as their only possible protector. They were hoping that somehow the U.N. would take the lead in ending Mugabe's monstrous rule by securing, somehow, free and fair elections in Zimbabwe. I mentioned to them that at the U.N. the fix was already in; that Libya--as has now happened--would be chairing the Commission on Human Rights.
Their reaction was not remotely to proclaim the vaunted "African solidarity," which the EU seems to believe is personified by deals between tyrants like Mugabe and Gadhafi. No, their concern was with the ordinary people of Africa, those who endure the rule of these despots. Their response to Libya's impending new role at the U.N. was shock and disgust. One of these Zimbabweans, a young black politician, blurted out: "It's outrageous, totally outrageous and revolting."
That's the truth about Libya's victory at the U.N. It's not just a defeat for the U.S. It's a horrifying message for all those for who, in the fight for human rights, man the front lines. Were Ms. Al-Hajjaji indeed worthy of the high office with which the U.N. has now entrusted her, the first item on her agenda when the Commission opens its meetings this March in Geneva should be to call for free and fair elections in Libya itself. If Gadhafi, ruler since 1969 of the state he calls the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, says no, yet again, to human rights in his own home, Ms. Al-Hajjaji's next order of business should be to resign. That would do more for the global cause of human rights than anything now on the agenda of this gang we call the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
Excerpt from Wall St. Journal
THE GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD OF THE FUTURE
In 2001, writes Brian Thomas at spiked-online, worldwide plantings of genetically enhanced crops were up a whopping 19 percent. Thomas directs research at Horticulture Research International in Great Britain. “The environmental benefits,” he says, “are being realized in developed and developing countries alike, by both small- and large-scale farmers.”
This is good news indeed, especially for starving populations in Africa and elsewhere in the Third World. Just yesterday in Zambia, a crowd of over 6,000 villagers overpowered an armed guard and looted several tons of food-aid corn. Zambia’s dictator had ordered the food locked up, despite his people’s malnutrition, because of irrational fears of the genetically improved corn provided by the U.S. -- the very same corn that Americans have been eating for years.
Looking toward the future, Thomas notes, “The world population is predicted to increase by 25 percent over the next 25 years.” And thanks to the biotech revolution, the amount of land we will use to feed these additional millions will hardly increase at all.
Still, neo-Luddite activists continue to demonize this technology, and Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug thinks he knows why. “The needless confrontation of consumers against the use of transgenic crop technology,” Borlaug writes in the Wall Street Journal, “might have been avoided had more people received a better education in biological science.” Modern man’s lack of scientific understanding, Borlaug argues, “has resulted in a growing and worrisome ignorance.”
Comments? Email Michael Darby
Thursday, January 30, 2003
THE STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS AND AUSTRALIA
FOR MONTHS THE PROFESSIONAL HATERS have been accusing Australian Prime Minister John Howard of being too close to US President George W Bush.
After the American President’s State of the Union address to Congress, any honourable free world politician should feel proud to be described as being close to George W Bush.
President Bush has set out his aims:
· To reform domestic programs by reducing taxes and solving problems without recourse to nationalisation.
· To launch a massive attack on AIDS, especially in Africa.
· Protect the American people from every threat.
Regarding the continuing war on terrorism, the President was moderate and at the same time resolute.
George W Bush has reinforced his credentials as a compassionate reformer.
Regarding Iraq, I remain optimistic that war will be avoided, by the demonstration of the unflinching resolve of the United States of America and its close allies, especially Britain and Australia. If the United Nations can be persuaded to share that unflinching resolve, then that will be a bonus.
If Australian Opposition Leader Simon Crean MP (self-described as a passionate believer in the United Nations) could have his way, Australian would undermine the expression of resolve by demonstrating an overt lack of preparedness. Here are some quotes from Mr Crean in his radio interview today (29 Jan) with Macquarie Radio’s Philip Clark:
· We are over there and wrongly over there.
· We still should pursue the peaceful option. People in the street want Saddam Hussein disarmed and they want it done peacefully. If that is not possible then it has to be pursued through the United Nations.
· Australia should join the coalition if the United Nations approves a military incursion.
· If the USA decides to proceed without the UN’s authority, it would signal that unilateralism is a pattern to be followed.
Simon Crean’s convoluted position is utterly indefensible, and no amount of repeated assertion can bestow logic where none exists.
On the extreme fringe, the coalition of America-haters and Howard-bashers (incorporating but not limited to the Greens, the Democrats, the ALP Socialist Left and the LaRouchist wing of One Nation) is at least consistent in proposing capitulation to any kind of threat, so long as the source of the threat is anti-US and anti-Israel.
As an object lesson in hypocrisy, we should recall that many of the same individuals who are now horrified at the prospect of Australian military personnel being prudently deployed to the Middle East to strengthen the prospects of peace, were in September 1999 demanding that Australia send troops into East Timor, without the permission of the United Nations, and without the permission of Indonesia. Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer pushed on with diplomatic negotiations and secured agreement with Indonesia for the deployment of Australian troops. If the fringe elements had prevailed, the likely result would have been war with Indonesia.
Comments? Email Michael Darby
Wednesday, January 29, 2003
THE FUTILITY OF CLIMATE CONTROL ATTEMPTS
REMEMBER THE STATEMENT released (7 December 2001) in Oslo at the centenary celebrations for the Nobel Peace Prize? It was edited by John C. Polyani of Canada (1986 Chemistry Prize); and the 108 signatory Laureates (30 didn't sign) told us that:
"The most profound danger to world peace in the coming years will stem not from the irrational acts of states or individuals but from the legitimate demands of the world's dispossessed. Of these poor and disenfranchised, the majority live a marginal existence in equatorial climates. Global warming, not of their making but originating with the wealthy few, will affect their fragile ecologies most. _. It cannot be expected, therefore, that in all cases they will be content to await the beneficence of the rich. If then we permit the devastating power of modern weaponry to spread through this combustible human landscape, we invite a conflagration that can engulf both rich and poor. _. (W)e must persist in the quest for united action to counter both global warming and a weaponized world."
Never mind that over the last 20 years and more, almost all warming has been north of 30 0N, with little or none in "equatorial climates" (or in the Southern Hemisphere). Never mind that Osama (Long may he live in Peace) was not "poor"; although, as the 17th of 52 siblings, he could have suffered from a poverty of paternal quality time when young. However, you can see why the Laureates are worried. When the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Third Assessment Report in 2000, the most-publicized conclusions were: an average global surface temperature increase of up to 5.8 degrees Celsius between 1990 and 2100, and (because warm water expands) resultant sea level rise up to 88 centimeters. Frightening!
Greenhouse is a phenomenon of the atmosphere. Human-caused emissions (for example, carbon dioxide from coal-fired power stations) supplement the dominant greenhouse gas, naturally-occurring water vapour, in the atmosphere - and thus intercept a little more of the heat leaving Earth. The lower atmosphere is supposed to warm as a result; and some of this extra warmth should then be redistributed to the surface, rather than escape to Space as before. We call this consequent surface warming the 'greenhouse effect'.
But from 1979 we have satellite records. The lower atmosphere has warmed only a quarter as fast as the surface; and more, not less, heat is now departing the top of the atmosphere. The simplest explanation is that for this 23 years, at least, most surface warming is not 'greenhouse effect' warming! If there is human-caused greenhouse warming as well, it appears confined to continental areas like Alaska/Yukon, and particularly Siberia, under the very cold (and bone dry) high-pressure cells of winter. The result is a slightly longer growing-season - and stronger growth, too, because of a CO2-enriched atmosphere (think commercial greenhouses).
In Europe, the latest manifestations of a long-running ca 1500-year warm/cold cycle are the Roman Empire Warm Period, Dark Ages, Mediaeval Warm Period, and Little Ice Age. The last cold snap of the Little Ice Age was AD1800-20, with a warming trend since. Warmth is better.
Overprinted on this trend were peaks of warming in the 1870s, 1930s and 1990s. After cooling from the 1940s, the latest cyclic warming began with the Great Pacific Climate Shift of 1976/77. This sharp reduction in the upwelling of cold water in the eastern Pacific was the climatic event of the 20th Century; and it was followed by physical and biological changes far beyond the Pacific. The modest 0.6 0C of global-average surface warming during the 20th Century looks like cyclic rebound from the Little Ice Age - overlain by shorter-term cyclicity. What drives these cycles? We don't know; but I bet it's the Sun - not God's wrath, or acts by the "wealthy few".
The UN's World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg discussed at length how to stabilize global climate. And in Mozambique on 1 September 2002, PM Tony Blair said in support "we can defeat climate change if we want to". But all such efforts must fail; because, inevitably, climate will continue its natural fluctuation on many time-scales. Let me repeat: we can't stabilize climate. The same applies to extreme weather events - of course they will keep coming. Prevention is not on; and timely mitigation is the only plausible solution.
Vain attempts to stabilize climate by restricting emission of greenhouse gases will hurt us all economically, and the poor will suffer most. Instead of tilting at greenhouse windmills, the Summit would better have followed the 'Skeptical Environmentalist' Bjorn Lomborg (New York Times, 26 August 2002). He wanted it to concentrate on ways to "provide every person in the world with access to basic health, education, family planning, and water and sanitation services".
Excerpt from here
Comments? Email Michael Darby
Tuesday, January 28, 2003
MEMO TO POETS
Poets wishing to see their work in the first draft of the anthology "One Hundred Poets of the People" by Michael Darby are invited to view the work in progress, by clicking below:
Poets with surnames commencing with the letters A to E.
Poets with surnames commencing with the letters F to L.
Poets with surnames commencing with the letters M to Z.
Particular poems or poets may appear in this draft without necessarily being part of the final publication. Most but not necessarily all of the living poets whose work is included in this draft have already given consent for their work to appear in the book. The consent of all will be sought before the work is published.
Feel free to suggest changes to your entry by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Use this email address if you are a poet who has been excluded from the anthology, either through inadvertence or because I lack your contact details.
Contact is also welcome from individuals who have poetry written by an ancestor which deserves inclusion.
Comments? Email Michael Darby
Monday, January 27, 2003
BUSHFIRES CAUSED BY BUREAUCRATIC NEGLIGENCE
THE NATIONAL PARKS AND WILDLIFE SERVICE has completed less than five per cent of its Fire Management Plans - the strategy documents essential to bushfire reduction and control, the New South Wales Coalition revealed today.
Shadow Special Minister of State Barry O'Farrell said the NPWS had finalised just 10 plans for the 237 National Parks and Reserves it identified as needing fire management, despite requirements for them to be on public display by the end of last year.
"This is clear proof of the incompetence of the Carr Government on bushfire prevention, and the insane bureaucratic obsession within NPWS," Mr O'Farrell said.
After the Rural Fires Act was passed in 1997, which gave the NPWS responsibility for control and suppression of bushfires on its lands, NPWS committed to producing Fire Management Plans for the 237 National Parks and Reserves.
"Since then the NPWS has spent hundreds of thousand of dollars producing draft plans, yet after five years of research just 10 final plans are publicly available, Mr O'Farrell said.
"National Parks said in 1997 it would have all 237 Fire Management Plans on public display by the end of last year, but just 37 have been displayed in draft form and a mere 10 have been finalised.
"We now must seriously question whether some of the losses in the ACT and NSW were a direct or indirect result of the failures of the NPWS.
"The Brindabella National Park where the ACT fire started had no hazard reduction in the last two years and no Fire Management Plan, despite repeated warnings from locals about the danger.
"The Government was also warned last year of the potential catastrophe that could follow a fire in the neighbouring Kosciuszko National Park.
Fire prevention expert Kurt Lance told a Government inquiry into bushfires: " that the Kosciuszko area is a disaster waiting to happen and won't stop until it reaches Canberra".
Mr Lance also told the inquiry: "fuel loads in the Kosciuszko National Park were armpit deep."
Mr O'Farrell also said he was deeply disturbed by the attempts of NPWS to dig itself out of a large hole today. On 2BL this morning NPWS chief Brian Gilligan said: "This is the hazard-reduction silver bullet theory, you know. Hazard reduction is not some magic panacea, some magic wand that's suddenly going to, you know, take away the fire risk.
His comments are in clear conflict with the stated views of Phil Koperberg, who in his 1992-93 annual report said: "On the matter of fuel management, I am duty bound to express concern. Much of eastern NSW is heavily forested and produces high levels of combustible material. The quantity of these fuels is a major determinant of fire intensity and is probably the only component of the combustion triangle over which the community has any real influence."
Premier Bob Carr was aware of the benefits of hazard reduction after the 1994-95 bushfires when he told the Newcastle Herald: "there is a need for increased hazard reduction - perhaps we could have saved more of our National Parks and state forests and our other lands."
Mr O'Farrell said the process to create a Fire Management Plan was insanely complex. It required a 100 page policy document be read, then a program written on what the Fire Management Plan would cover, a schedule for the plan, followed by written approval to proceed before the Plan itself can even be started.
"Even where there is a final plan, there is apparently no guarantee it will be followed.
"Despite an approved Fire Management Plan for the Broadwater National Park supporting the need for hazard reduction, only one hectare was hazard reduced in 2001 and none in 2002. This report cost almost $100,000 to produce."
Excerpt from here
Comments? Email Michael Darby
Sunday, January 26, 2003
Famine and Terror Plague Marxist Zimbabwe
By: Fergal Keane, BBC News
Up to seven million Zimbabweans face starvation.
POSING AS TOURISTS, we evaded President Robert Mugabe's police and his army of spies and found, hidden from the world, a nation's tragedy.
Hungry people queue for the meagre rations offered by church workers - their children's hair already changing colour from malnutrition. The elderly too are beginning to suffer terribly - not much food and not much hope of it either. Misrule, corruption and drought are combining to make a catastrophe.
Among the poorest of the poor, some compete with wild animals for what they can scavenge. Many people have abandoned their homes in search of food and work.
"For three days I haven't eaten, because of this I have no energy, that is why you see me here," explained one man that we met.
Yet the commercial farms that could have provided much of the food needed are lying abandoned, their owners forced out. Jenny Parsons, one such farmer, and her children, tried to visit their family farm and were attacked by government supporters.
Harare, the capital, now has secret torture chambers. Being caught filming could mean up to two years in jail. As the economic crisis gets worse so does the level of government repression. Nobody who opposes the government now is safe from torture, from arbitrary imprisonment.
Petrol queues throughout the city are a symptom of the crisis. The England cricket squad will see them when they visit, but the government will crack down hard on any demonstrators.
An Economic Cul-de-sac for Zimbabwe
By: Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. January 19th 2003.
EVENTS HAVE MOVED FAST this past week. I do not want to dwell on the political developments that have dominated the headlines, rather a series of economic factors that I believe is actually determining the pace at which events are and will be taking place in the next few weeks and months. On the political front, let me just make this one comment, Mugabe is finished politically and the only issue now is when and how will national leadership changes take place.
On the economic front the background to recent developments lie in 20 years of maladministration of the country's public revenue, policy changes introduced without consultation in November 2002 and the stubborn unwillingness of Mugabe to change course, even when failure stares him in the face. This government is guilty of overspending on a huge scale for every one of the past 22 years. They inherited an economy which was very under borrowed (total debt in 1980 was US$750 million) and now run an administration which owes everyone money and cannot pay it back. In business, when that happens, control and power passes to your creditors and countries are no different - even though they can prolong the eventual judgment day for much longer than a company in a similar situation.
In the past three years as they have struggled with a collapsing economy and declining exports, they have resorted to restricting payments against external debt and printing money to fund local borrowings and excess government expenditure. As a consequence they now have to operate under conditions where no one will lend them money except under very harsh conditions and they must also operate in an economy where the inflationary pressures are spiralling out of control. Judgement day has come and all avenues of relief from foreign sources have dried up - their creditors have spoken. The one man who could relieve the siege of Harare is Thabo Mbeki and there are no signs that he intends to do so - despite the pleas that must be reaching his office on a daily basis from Zimbabwe. More than any other factor, this is the first sign that South Africa has run out of patience and is now applying the kind of pressure we have all been urging for some time now. Silent, but very effective.
Then there were those ill advised policy shifts in November - some of which are only now emerging into the light of day. The first was the decision to freeze prices, then to take up to 100 per cent of all foreign exchange earnings by business at the primary exchange rate of 55 to 1 US dollar or the equivalent in other currencies. Finally a crude attempt to freeze salaries at their January 1 level for at least 6 months (originally they intended 18 months).
We now know from Reserve Bank statistics that the foreign exchange measures plunged them into an immediate foreign exchange crisis. Business cleaned out their FCA's before the tentacles of the Reserve Bank could reach them and exporters froze all remittances from export debtors while they waited to assess what was actually going on. Those exporters that did bring foreign payments back found that the Reserve Bank was taking 100 per cent at the fixed exchange rates and leaving nothing for the business to use to maintain itself.
To give you an idea of what this meant to exporters, local currency receipts on exports declined from Z$85 000 for every US$100 they received to a paltry Z$5 500 - a staggering decline of 94 per cent in revenue earned from exports. The amount they were able to use from exports on maintaining the business went from 60 per cent to nil. One major business I know got one allocation of foreign exchange from the Bank at the official rate and was then told "no currency available" every time they applied thereafter - they are now back in the market buying US dollars at 1600 to 1 for their essential imports.
No business can survive under these conditions - right now all major gold producers have told their staff that mining operations will be shut down as soon as is possible. Other mines have said the same thing - nickel, chrome and other producers are equally affected. Only those with Export Processing Zone status are able to continue and one new operator in the platinum industry who has a special deal where they keep all their foreign exchange earnings off shore.
Comments? Email Michael Darby