The McAlvany Weekly Commentary
with David McAlvany and Kevin Orrick
“For me, my future hope and prayer for Zimbabwe is complete and utter reconciliation. No matter what anybody does to me, I’m not going to allow reactions of someone else to determine how I live my life. My mission is reconciliation to all, to whoever, with the love of Jesus, going as he would have gone. And that love is what breaks down fear.”
– Ben Freeth
Kevin: David, we just got back from a conference in Coeur d’Alene and the things you talked about were common to us, but uncommon to the people you were talking to. It is common to us for you to talk about the legacy of debt that is being left to our children and some of the injustices that are occurring here in the country. But your second talk was about, not a top-down solution, because the government is not doing anything to really solve these problems, they are just making them greater and the injustices are occurring to a greater degree, as well.
But what you talked about in the second talk was about the solution that you can bring about in your family, the legacy of how you react and what you do as an individual.
David: It is this contrast between macro level problems and micro level solutions. And when you look at how we arrived at many of our macro level problems today, social, moral, political, certainly in the financial realm when you talk specifically of debt, you are talking about the aggregation of individual choices. It was the micro level compromises that ultimately created something that is now the “elephant in the room,” the big issue which is going to be very difficult to address in a top-down fashion.
What I would suggest is that many of these macro level issues do, in fact, have micro level solutions if we will look at, just as there has been a negative aggregation of individual choices, you can look at individual choices from the other vantage point, too, and say, “Okay, what can I put in motion of a positive nature, that in aggregate, over the next six months, 12 months, 24 years, whatever it may be, is something that changes the tide?”
Kevin: Well, and you have written a book called Intentional Families, talking about just that, not just bringing intention to your own life, but bringing it to your kids’ life, and going back and forgiving parental errors of your own parents and having them do the same type of thing. Redemption and forgiveness seem to play into, actually, the core of legacy.
David: They really do, and when you look at family dynamics and what ultimately destroys a family legacy, often you find broken hearts, not broken bank accounts, which are the compromise of that future family legacy. And so, what I would suggest, here in the next few weeks you will be able to pre-order the book on Amazon, but there is this issue of forgiveness and redemption. Not long ago I had the opportunity to interview two men, Ben Freeth and Craig Deall, and both of these men live in Zimbabwe, and they have been a part of the land seizure programs starting in the year 2000, which for both of these men cost them their livelihoods, their farms, and everything else. And the reality is that in the last several years they have had to manage more than just physical resources, because quite frankly, in terms of legacy they have had what they had planned and built for years, even for decades, ripped away from them.
Kevin: Even one of their fathers-in-law died from the injuries that were sustained when they were taking the land.
David: That’s exactly right. So what you end up with is a circumstance where in the absence of managing physical resources, they still exist in the context of crisis, they still exist in the context of pressure, because nothing has changed in terms of Mugabe’s land program, and perhaps someday they will rebuild that country on different foundations.
But in the interim they have continued to create a legacy for their children where they have managed both the emotional life of their family, the intellectual life of their family, toward forgiveness and redemption, and I think it is an absolutely fascinating story. Ben, just days before I had time to spend with him and talk about these issues, was before the U.S. Congress and shared some of his ideas, specifically, about the injustices in the Mugabe regime, but also what was necessary in terms of bringing healing to the land.
Kevin: So he said there was a choice between being angry over injustice, or, ultimately, choosing to forgive and move on.
David: I guess what I want to suggest as we move to that interview is that, again, there are many solutions at a micro level which we can move toward, positively and proactively, which ultimately do have a macro level impact. And I would just like for you to entertain that idea that both at the level of financial resources, but also when it comes to managing what goes through your heart and mind in response to crisis, it is still a question of resource management.
Kevin: Or, Dave, you can choose to have a seed of bitterness over injustice, and it is easy to do that. You can choose to make the best of it. Churchill talked about, how many times can you fail and then still get up. And it seems to me like these men have chosen to get up.
David: Craig Deall and Ben Freeth, thank you for joining me just to discuss some of the things relating to your background, your personal story, but also the background and story of the country you hail from, Zimbabwe, one of the greatest modern stories and perhaps historically, one of the greatest, as well, stories of monetary and economic collapse. And you have been on both sides of it when things were strong, and you still live there. So, we would love to get some insight from you, from either of you. Beginning with sort of a history, Rhodesia became Zimbabwe and this was many decades ago—what was Rhodesia, what was Zimbabwe in its early years? What did it become?
Ben: Rhodesia was a country that in 1890 there was essentially very little there. There was a small population of perhaps up to about half a million people. There were no roads, there were no schools, there was no written language, there was no wheel, and so it was a country that had not yet entered the modern age in any way at all. And within a very short period of time after colonization took place in 1890, the railways came in, the roads came in, agriculture came in, title deeds were brought into place, the law courts were brought, a police force was established. And things moved forward, actually, incredibly quickly in Zimbabwe, or Rhodesia as it was called then, Southern Rhodesia, to the extent that I believe that there are very few countries on earth that developed from where it was to where it then got to, in such a short period of time.
The 1960s brought the winds of change where countries became independent, so-called independent, in Africa, but unfortunately, the Cold War was running at the time and those countries became independent on the basis that the Marxists came in with huge influence, and unfortunately, destabilized those countries to the extent that property rights were destroyed and very few of those countries, actually, became success stories. In fact, most of them went into absolute failure.
And so Rhodesia decided to resist that move that was taking place throughout Africa and decided to try to go for a transition that would take longer, whereby individuals who had a certain level of education or who had a certain amount of property or business had more of a vote than people that did not. And obviously, from a racial perspective, white people had more of a vote at that stage than black people did, generally speaking. And that, of course, caused a lot of friction, and the Chinese came in in force, the Russians came in in force, and supplied tens of thousands of AK-47s and lots of training and full scale war developed in the country until finally in 1980 independence did come.
But the president at that time made a speech to say that we would essentially beat the swords into plowshares and he asked the white population to stay on and so a large number of white farmers and businessmen and industrialists stayed on into independence and the country muddled on, and in fact, by the 1990s, actually, was doing extremely well and was growing very rapidly. We went through a period in the 1980s when about 20,000 people were massacred in the south of the country by the Fifth Brigade, which was a North Korea-trained brigade. But generally speaking, the country was going forward and certainly by the 1990s, although it was a one-party state, the country was growing dramatically economically, and we had an educated population. We had a population that had the best health care in Africa. It was a country that, I think, most people were extremely pleased to live in.
Then we got to the year 1999, a movement was developed, the one-party state suddenly was challenged, and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, formed a political party and we had elections coming up in June of the year 2000 and before that, Mugabe tried to put together a new constitution that would entrench his power, and there was a referendum and the people rejected him as a leader that would have more power, and they rejected, in that constitution, the fact that land could be taken for free from anyone that the party wanted to take it from. Obviously, it was marked out for taking land from the white farmers. The people actually rejected that in the referendum. And within two weeks of that referendum result the land invasions began and all hell was let loose, literally, in the land.
David: So from the year 2000 to the present, it has been a very different Zimbabwe. Craig, you talked earlier this week about how rich the country is in natural resources, and both of you have a background in agriculture and farming. You have managed thousands of acres and this was not just a little business but a booming business, providing fruits and vegetables and products to South Africa, to Europe, a massive export trade, helpful to the country, clearly. What happened from 1999/2000 to the present, as land was literally ripped from your grasp and other people like you?
Craig: I think Ben has covered the history and the political side of it, I just can comment on us, personally. I was born in the era when Zimbabwe was reputed to be the fastest growing economy on the planet. And then to be thrust into the fastest collapsing economy on the planet in one lifetime is quite a thing. But as with 4,000 other farmers, we lost our land through this land reform program.
But we decided, we made a conscious decision as a family that we were going to stay in the country, that we weren’t going to allow ourselves to get bitter, and through the help of the Lord we were able to get to a place of total and absolute forgiveness, which has given us a platform to stay in the country and continue to serve Africa with the talents that I have been given as a farmer.
Me and my family made that conscious sacrifice and decision to stay, where most of my peers left the country. But we made a conscious decision to stay and serve Africa for the rest of my life. That is my life’s ambition now is to serve Africa and teach small-scale farmers around Africa with the talents that I have and teach them what we call a way of farming that can break the yoke of poverty and break the yoke of dependency that hangs over a lot of Africa.
David: So we have massive economic impact from a set of ideals, if it was Marxist in its origins, perhaps it morphed into something different, maybe it was just Marxism on steroids.
Ben: I think it was Marxism in name, but it was never really pure Marxism, it was a means by which to, first of all, gain power, and secondarily, to remain in power at whatever cost to the people of the country.
David: Yes, that magic piece in the Marxist equation where you start with hard power and ultimately move to a Utopian state where everyone benevolently steps down and the people take care of each other. Somehow the dictator never wants to step down.
Craig: And that will never work as long as man is selfish. The selfishness of man gets in the way of Communism, Marxism. And so, if you were to unwrap every sin on the planet, it comes back to selfishness, and so cooperative Marxism can never work with the selfishness of man in place.
David: Craig you have hit on something that is fairly profound. Just to restate, for quite a long time you had a farm. This isn’t sort of the “I had a farm in Africa” from Isak Dinesen. You did have a farm in Africa, a beautiful farm, very productive – and so did you, Ben. This is a fascinating turn of events where you go from having a livelihood, real wealth, this is real stuff, this is not paper assets the joy of working land. My question relates to how you have chosen to forgive, because it seems to me that when people lose two dollars in the stock market they are angry about it. We’re not talking about two dollars in the stock market, we’re talking about everything that you have worked for professionally being ripped away from you without legal recourse of any sort, the kinds of things that, quite frankly, would naturally embitter a man or woman. What does that process look like?
Craig: It is a process that can only happen through God. In the flesh you can’t do that. Your flesh wants to fight and get bitter. But we made a conscious decision, and everybody gets their own mantle from the Lord to do what they deem is best for them. But for me and my family we decided that we would travel the forgiveness road. And it rips out any vestiges of your old self in you during that process.
And that process was very amazing for me in that it was like heart surgery, where all of my old prejudices and all my old man were systematically ripped up through this process of deciding to forgive. You don’t wake up one day and feel forgiving. You have to actually decide and make a conscious effort to do it. Now, I just studied Scripture to see what Jesus would say about this, and I thought there should be some loopholes on the forgiveness thing, but there isn’t.
And they are written in figure red bold letters in the Bible. Matthew 5 is quite brutal about turning the other cheek, if your enemy is hungry feed him, and if your enemy is thirsty give him something to drink. My natural thing was saying, “But if I make my enemy stronger, if I feed him I make him stronger so he can come back and do more damage to me. But the Lord would say to me, “No, no, just do what I say, and watch what I do.”
And so we had to take that literally in every sphere we had come to even where if a man steals your cloak, give him your tunic, as well. So in my life, and I’m not talking for anybody else, it’s just my life, it was: If a man steals your farm teach him how to farm, because Jesus says that kind of thing. So, as hard as it is, once you do that it just sets the prisoner free and you realize that you are the one in the prison. You are in a prison of unforgiveness.
And I had a way of doing it, which I still have to do today. I get pangs of angst and anger because I miss my farm terribly. And I don’t condone for a minute what has happened but I have made a conscious decision that I am moving on and I’m not getting bitter about this. And so I had a trigger mechanism that I used to do where, whether a person has stolen your farm, or a person has cut you off in the traffic, no matter how big or small the offense is, you take that offense and I leave it at the foot of the cross. Now that issue is between that person and Jesus. It’s not between me and him anymore. He doesn’t even owe me an apology.
And I keep doing it. Whenever I feel the angst or the bitterness coming back, I take that offense, no matter how small it is, and leave it at the foot of the cross. It’s between that person and God and “Vengeance is mine,” says God. He will deal with everybody in their own situations. And so it’s not for me to lose sleep over that other person’s connection to God and so I can do that, and it is not easy, but I’ve managed to do that and now I walk in the peace of getting out of that jail. You know, when you hang onto that angst and bitterness, it is like drinking poison and hoping the other guy is going to die.
And so, as unjust and all that it is, my personal story is that I have been given the freedom now. God has put me in another calling where you said, “I once had a farm in Africa.” We say now, “I once had a farm in Africa, but now Africa is my farm.” He has given me much wider horizons than I would ever have had, in the Kingdom perspective.
David: Well, and what is interesting about that is, we are talking about a world for you which once was a wealthy world as we understand material goods. That was stripped away, and what you are describing today is a far wealthier world, something that you did not know, could not have understood, did not have in your grasp when you had all those other things in your grasp.
Craig: That’s right, and storing treasures in heaven is no longer just a sermon point. I just feel like losing your earthly wealth the way we did has connected me in a real way to God, which, before, my possessions got in the way.
David: Ben, some of your personal narrative is, as you have shared it, fairly graphic, for both of you having houses burned to the ground after they were looted, having your cattle maimed, having your fields destroyed, your tractors stolen. If it wasn’t nailed down, and probably if it was nailed down, it was taken, to the point where you shed quite a bit of blood. And you still live in this country, you don’t have to, you could go anywhere in the world. You choose to be there. Maybe you could just fill in some of those details in terms of the narrative and what you think you are doing there in Zimbabwe today.
Ben: Well, I think, for me, the big thing is to be where God wants you to be, and if you’re not where God wants you to be, then things are not going to be very good. And I kind of often think about old Jonah, you know. He didn’t really want to go to Nineveh and in fact he decided to go in exactly the opposite direction because it would be a lot easier, surely, to go to Tarshish, and it was a lot further away from those criminals and those bad people and those torturers and all those people that Nineveh was reputed for. So he went in the wrong direction and he ended up at the bottom of the sea, at the bottom of the mountains with the seaweed over his head in a desperate, dark, horrible situation.
David: Better to be obedient.
Ben: Better to be obedient. And in our case—and I think God doesn’t call you out of situations, he calls you into situations, and we were called into the situation in Zimbabwe and we haven’t been called out of the situation in Zimbabwe. And so long as he doesn’t call us into another situation we must stay in the situation that we are in and Jesus calls us to be salt and light. And salt is there for rotten meat. You know, we all know what happens if you hang up meat that doesn’t have salt on it. It goes rotten.
We eat a lot of biltong in Zimbabwe, which is dried meat, and if you don’t put salt on it, it just goes rotten. But if you put salt on it the meat is preserved, and it’s good meat. So we’re in a place where there is a lot of salt that is required and there is a lot of light that is required. And Jesus is the salt and the light, and we are—as his representatives in Zimbabwe we are able to put that salt and light into situations where the meat is going rotten and where there is lots of darkness.
David: I think this is a really critical point because all over the world there are things that change and a certain degree of nostalgia for the way it once was. And I often will talk to families throughout the world who say, “Well, I’m leaving my home country, I just can’t take it anymore, I don’t like it, things have changed, it’s deteriorating socially, morally, politically.” There is really no Eden that they are going to, but they know what they want to get away from. And again, what you are describing is almost—[unclear] is the wrong word for it. If you haven’t been called out then you are still called in.
Ben: Absolutely. I used to get very upset when people left the country because I knew that we were called to be the salt and the light, and the more people that were the salt and the light then the more chances were of God being able to really move in the nation. And so when Christians decided, “No, we’re heading off,” I used to get really upset. And I used to actually get really angry with that because it is so sad saying goodbye to people who could be making a difference. But I’ve got to the point now, in fact, some very, very good friends of ours left just before coming here to Singapore. And we saw them off at the airport and we all had tears streaming down our faces because they were great friends. They will remain great friends.
But when people leave that is not for us to judge their decisions. We just have to be true to the decisions that God puts on our hearts and to be able to do what we can in the situation that we are in. And we can’t do much. It is only God that can do everything, but we can be his instruments. And for the privilege of being his instruments in the situation that we are in is amazing. And we do our little bit and Craig does a little bit, and Brian does a little bit, and other people do a little bit, and those little bits all add up for Christ’s Kingdom in our country.
David: You have a unique experience, for the last ten years, certainly, of not only dealing with political and economic crisis, but also monetary crisis. However you are able to make a living, there still is the challenge of operating in the context of aggressive inflation, you have seen one of the worst hyperinflations in modern times, and there is also a radical deflation. It is basically monetary volatility on an amazing scale. This is one kind of disturbance that you get to experience in your life along with the economic, social, political, etc.
But one of the things that I’ve mentioned in the chapters in this book on intentional families is leading your family in such a way that you enable them to deal with disturbance, which is my word for crisis, which is something that takes you out of the status quo. And I would like for you guys to comment on how, as fathers and as husbands, you have demonstrated leadership to your family. You not only have been through crisis, you continue to go through it. How do you direct that process, that crisis or disturbance is not something that crushes you, destroys the family unit, takes you out of the game.
Ben: I think for me the greatest thing has been prayer. Going through crisis, if you don’t pray as a family then you are going to find it very, very difficult to deal with a crisis. And certainly, when we were on a farm, with very young children, and we were having very severe situations taking place with people coming around the house at night and beating drums, people breaking into the house at night and pushing us around, people threatening us with guns, and we had some quite difficult situations. And the only thing was to make a family prayer time. Every evening we would sit down with the kids and we would talk to them and we would pray with them and we would ask them what it was that was troubling them and what we should be praying about.
And a lot of people have said, “Well, you know, it’s actually very irresponsible of you to have stayed on going through all that. You should have just left. Your children will be basket cases. They will be scarred. They will really suffer. And certainly, I’ve seen traumatized kids. I’ve seen lots of traumatized kids. But in our situation, and it is only the grace of God, our kids have actually come through it far stronger, I believe, than they would have been if they hadn’t gone through it, because they have learned the greatest thing that we can ever give our kids, which is our faith in Jesus Christ, a living faith in Jesus Christ.
I think, as a father, I’ve often thought about this. What is the greatest gift that I can give my children. I’ve got such responsibility bringing them up, I need to educate them, I need to make sure that they are looked after from a health point of view, I need to—it’s a huge thing bringing a child into the world. But ultimately, the only thing that matters is whether they have got a faith in Jesus Christ, a living faith in Jesus Christ. And I can honestly say that all our three kids have got such a sound, strong faith in Jesus Christ.
And at school, we were such proud parents, Laura and I, this last term when they had their mid-year exams and Josh was top of his year out of 70 boys, and Steven was second in his year of over 70 boys. And you always know a traumatized kid because their handwriting goes to pot, their work goes to pot, their exam results are not good. So, I just thank God that, first of all, they’re not traumatized kids, and secondly, they’ve got a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And I believe that having gone through the crises that we have been through and having a been a praying family through all those times and still a praying family, that has been what has got us through, and that that been what has given those kids the sound faith that they have today.
And one thing that Laura and I have found difficult when we were under severe stress was praying together and reading the Bible together. And we have re-found that. And I think that has incredibly strengthened our marriage, because a lot of marriages have taken huge flak through these kinds of things that we have all been through, particularly, a woman losing her home, losing her security, losing the garden that she has built up over many years, losing pets that have been killed and things like that. That puts huge, huge stress on a relationship. But if you can pray together and read the Word together, there is something incredibly powerful and healing in that for a family.
David: Craig. You?
Craig: Yes. My family was a lot older when this happened. My son really wanted to farm. He would have been on the farm now. He did one year with me before this happened, and he was a good farmer, he would have, my son Sean. But my kids were university age when this happened. I was blessed with a very strong and supportive Christian wife and my two children, Tracy and Sean, who might not have understood what we were doing, but supported me as a father all the way through it. And when I look at it from their point of view, they’ve lost an earthly inheritance. So, every decision I have made has impacted my whole family, it’s not just me. So, the strength of the family can get you through things like this. While they’ve lost their earthly inheritance, I just pray that I have left them a legacy that is not monetary.
David: And this is the most important legacy you can leave. So there is the issue of disturbance, which we talked about, the effect on the family and the rallying which has occurred by the supportiveness of you and your continued praying together. There is the issue of justice in the world where all of a sudden – what you described to me earlier as the introduction of title deeds and law courts and the application of the rule of law.
These were the things that took a backwater country and made it great overnight, and when you stripped those things away, the loss of the rule of law, the loss of clear title, corruption of the courts, I guess you could say, to some degree, at least the degradation of the rule of law, everything unraveled. Do you hold onto the idea of there being justice, or a day of justice, when in all practical terms it is not there? There is no recourse, there is no government, no official to call, completely new government and a rolling back of the clocks, how do you view justice and your access to it?
Ben: Yes. You know, I have had the strong calling to try to do justice in the situation that we are in, and I think we are one body, many parts, and that is a particular calling that I have specifically had with a few others. I used to get a little bit upset that not more people rallied to the cause of justice and trying to create an environment for the future whereby the God-given potential of each human being in Zimbabwe could be realized as a result of justice being in place and fear being banished, and all those kinds of things.
But I’ve realized that, we each in the Kingdom have specific callings, and that is a specific calling that I and a few other Christians have had, and God has enabled us to do amazing things, I believe, on the justice front, despite the fact that, as you say, the courts are stacked against us. The police force doesn’t act, the whole justice system is completely compromised, the laws are dramatically, I believe, against justice and against God’s laws and against what is right. And that is why we have seen such a tremendous collapse that has taken place. You can’t go against God’s laws and expect things to go right in the country. It just doesn’t work, it never has.
So, what we have done on the justice front is used international courts, we have documented stuff that has been going on, we have continued to do whatever we can do on the justice front, and we have supported people that are going through unjust dispossessions as they have happened. We have tried to publicize stuff, we have gone to the [unclear] Tribunal on three occasions, which is the regional court. We have gone to other courts, the South African High Court, the Supreme Court of Appeal, the South African Constitutional Court. We have just gone back again with another case to the South African High Court on the basis that the South African government have acted illegally in dismantling the Select Tribunal, which was supposed to be there as a court of last resort for 250 million people in Southern Africa. We have been to African Commission on human and people’s rights. We have been all sorts of places, to the United States Congress two months ago where I was giving evidence.
David: What was your response from Congress?
Craig: It was actually very good. They responded very well. I really like the way that the American culture is a very much an open culture, people love to get to the bottom of things, people like to ask pretty direct questions, and I really valued that, and certainly the Chairman of the committee, Chris Smith, was fantastic, and he invited me up to his office afterward and it turned out that he was a Christian, as well. So, I was very encouraged by their response. They, within two weeks, had sent out a delegation from Washington to Zimbabwe to do some fact-finding on the ground. And I believe that stuff will come out of that, so I was very encouraged by the United States’ response.
But it seems like most countries are just really waiting for events to take their course rather than wanting to influence things too much. Everyone, essentially, is just waiting for Mugabe to die, and they think, “Well, things might change for the better after that.” But we all know that there is no one really in place to take his place that is going to do much better than what he is doing. And so we need, as Christians, I believe, to do what we can to pray godly leaders into place and to do what we can to help potential godly leaders take up their place in the country for a just future within Zimbabwe.
David: Switching gears to something fairly practical. What is it like day to day to deal with massive amounts of inflation or deflation? Maybe you can give us some example of what it looks like transacting business, doing a job, being paid. What is your experience with these things because it is an everyday occurrence?
Craig: 2008 was when we peaked on our hyperinflation, and trying to survive in those days, for everybody, in Zimbabwe, was brutal. And so, you had probably the poorest people in the country, you would call them billionaires because a loaf of bread cost 5 billion at one stage. And money—the printing presses were going flat out and there was just money being printed at an unprecedented scale. We had notes ranging from one cent to 100 trillion dollar notes.
And so, because the printing presses couldn’t keep up – there wasn’t the actual physical money in the banks even as there were long bank queues so you couldn’t get your money – there was a parallel underground economy of U.S. dollars that was prevailing. And so, with prices doubling every 24 hours, we learned new words like sextillion and octillion, and notes were arbitrarily taken off the currency, 12 zeroes would be taken off overnight, we were virtually in a cashless society where we resorted sometimes to barter trade.
David: Isn’t that interesting, at the point where you have more cash than you can imagine, and more zeroes than you can imagine, it becomes a cashless society.
Craig: You couldn’t buy anything, the shops were empty.
Ben: We used to have fertilizer bags full of money, you know, just big 50 kg fertilizer bags just full of money to just try and pay our workers, and then eventually you realize, they go to the shops, the prices were already doubled by the time they got to the shop after the journey from the farm to the shop, and they couldn’t buy what they needed for the month, so we then talked to them and they talked to us and eventually came up with plans where we would try and buy stuff for them and get enough groceries for the month and get enough soap and bare essentials so that everyone would be able to survive. But it was crazy. And just counting our money just took forever. And eventually you ended up weighing money instead of counting because it would just take too long.
Craig: I remember seeing supermarket trolleys just overflowing with money as the supermarket teller would be taking it to the bank, and he would just push it down the street and nobody would bother him at all because the trolley was worth more than the money inside. It was literally just worthless and the faster they printed it the more worthless it became. We used to joke that a two million dollar note was worth less than two squares of toilet paper.
David: Or it could be used for said toilet paper. So what is the availability of dollars in that environment? You have that as an alternative.
Craig: It was illegal. You weren’t allowed to use U.S. dollars, so it was illegal.
David: It’s a black market.
Craig: It was a black market. We used to go out the country to buy our grocery, but it was a black market and it was used as a tool to arrest people if you were found with U.S. dollars. So there was this parallel underground market going on all the time. It was the only tool, really, for survival.
Ben: What happened, eventually, was the shopkeepers—the government tried to stop inflation from taking place. But you can’t stop inflation from taking place when you’re printing billions of dollars all the time. So, anyway, they put price controls on all these different commodities and then if shopkeepers raised their prices above the price-controlled price, they would be put in jail. So what happened was, overnight, all the supermarkets and everything just emptied because there was no way that you could sell a product at the price-controlled price and be able to make a profit as a shopkeeper. So they didn’t replace any of their stock and overnight the shops just emptied. There was nothing in the shops.
And I remember one month they arrested about 4,000 shopkeepers, put them in jail, because they were selling above the price-controlled price. So, everything just went black market, underground. That was the only way that you could get anything at all. But it was always a risk. If the police came and searched your house and found U.S. dollars then you would be put in jail.
David: Overnight? For a month? A year?
Craig: Well, it was normally for a night, but the jails are pretty horrible. Literally, you are lying on the floor, on the concrete, you have one blanket between three people. Very often it is so full that you can only turn when everyone else turns.
David: It sounds like you’ve been there.
Craig: I have been arrested a number of times, but I’ve never actually been in overnight, but lots of our friends have been in many times overnight and many times for a lot longer than overnight, as well.
David: You mentioned the other day that you are having bouts of deflation now.
Craig: Yes, we were told by our economist that we are actually in deflation and that is just a sure sign that there is no production happening in the country. I don’t understand the economics of it, but that’s what I’ve been led to understand, that that means you go into deflation when your economy is no longer growing.
David: And so, what is the experience of transacting business today? It’s not like it was in 2008.
Craig: It’s nothing like that. The shops are full of stuff. But unemployment is rising. And I think we’re staring down the barrel of a real—another economic problem coming our way because there is just no production in the country and you have these massive work forces that are all being unproductive and they are not allowed to be retrenched. So the working person is in trouble. We’re all in trouble. I don’t know how it is going to play out, but economically, our shops are full, and if you came to Zimbabwe now you wouldn’t think there was any problem at all. But salaries are shrinking, unemployment is rising, and in a country that is not generating any foreign direct investment, something has to break.
Ben: Yes, most families end up in a situation where they are getting remittances from other family members who are working in South Africa or working in the U.K. or that keeps them going. But we’re running 85% unemployment, plus, at the moment.
Ben: Yes. So, there is only 15% of the workforce that is actually employed.
Craig: They’re the only taxpayers, obviously.
David: Seems like it is ripe for revolution. 85% unemployment—that’s a lot of people to complain and blame and cause mischief.
Ben: Well, the trouble is there is such a huge level of fear in the country, and everyone knows what happens to you if you do decide to cause a demonstration or whatever. The last guy that went to a rally with 20,000 people and said that he was going to lead the people to Unity Square in a peaceful march disappeared. He vanished into thin air and he has never been seen since. That was back in March, Itai Zamara. So, everyone knows what happens to you if you decide to lead some form of protest. You disappear, you get killed, you get beaten, you get put in jail. So fear is the biggest problem that everyone faces. No one wants to disappear, particularly.
David: Right. Fear is an interesting thing. I remember sitting in our dining room when I was a younger man and my mom served pot roast for guests from out of town. Occasionally like that, they would just show up and there would be the guests. My mom would say, “Well, you could have called.” In this case, she did call, and she had time to put something on for dinner. And they got halfway through the dinner and it didn’t seem like our guest was eating much so my mom, sort of in her hospitable way said, “Is there anything else I can bring you? Are you feeling okay?” And his response was, “I’m a vegetarian by choice. I was a part of Mugabe’s regime early on and part of our tactics were to go into the village and kill and eat the leader. And when I became Christian, I just had a hard time eating meat since then.”
And the idea of fear can be so extreme. In this case where you are forced to watch your father or your grandfather be just eaten. You can be overwhelmed by fear. Living in a country where you don’t exactly have security, you don’t have the protection of the rule of law, there is a whole host of reasons for you to exist with fear. Again, I bring it back to, you are men, you are fathers, you are husbands. What is it that you do to create a sense of calm when naturally there could be a fear that permeates everything that you do?
Ben: Fear is obviously the petrol of dictators. Dictators cannot continue without fear being a prominent part or the most important part of their strategy. And so long as a population is cowed by fear then they will remain in place, essentially. But it is important for us as Christians not to allow fear to rule us and rule out lives. You know, the command in the Bible not to fear comes up more times than any other command throughout the book, apart from the command to love. And I am really interested in that because Jesus talks about love casting out fear.
So, these two greatest commands, or these two most oft-repeated commands, first of all the command to love, and secondly the command not to fear, are linked by Jesus. And perfect love casts out fear. So, if we understand that we are perfectly loved, and we understand that we are the children of the living God, the one who threw the stars into space, the one who created each one of us fearfully and wonderfully, then suddenly, what is there to fear of man, because we have this amazing God. We’ve got a big God. We’ve got a God bigger than we can even ever possibly imagine.
And so I think that is where we need to get to, to the point where we understand just a little bit more about how amazing this God is that we serve, because he can take us out of situations, and we know that his promises are true and he will never allow us to go through more than what we can resist. He will give us the strength in whatever situation that we face. So, what is there to fear then when we know that and we know that his promises are true. And for some, the faith starts to waver at that stage.
But because we have been through situations where we’ve seen God comes through, we can look back at those situations and we can say, “Well, God, you were there at that time, and you were there at that time, and you were there at that time, and you are going to be there this time in the future, as well. And that is an amazing privilege to know and to have the faith that we are able to overcome whatever fears may come our way as a result of the threats that Satan likes to throw out at us.
Craig: Satan rules by fear, and the only antidote to that is the Lord Jesus, and His love, which casts out fear. So for me, it is to go in the opposite spirit, what Jesus would do. And that casts out fear. So, for me, my future hope and prayer for Zimbabwe is complete and utter reconciliation. And that is my path, that no matter what anybody does to me I’m not going to allow the actions of someone else to determine how I live my life. My mission is reconciliation to all, to whoever, and with the love of Jesus, going as he would have gone, in the opposite spirit. And that love is what breaks down fear.
David: Gentlemen, thanks for taking the time to share a bit of your history, your home country’s history, your encounter with evil and your response to it. In the last few days there are many people who have been able to learn from the strength of choices which you have made, knowing that will serve us in our lives, as well, in many ways, and in many years to come. So, thank you for your transparency and your willingness to travel to be here.
Ben: Thank you.
Craig: Thank you, Dave.
David: Well, for me, it is a mind-bender to think of going from having a farm in Africa, to farming Africa, and enabling others to do that. It is a disposition which I can’t fully conceive of, perhaps I can imagine, but there is a redemptive theme in that. It is clear that you are talking about individual choices that someone has to make to manage their own rage, to manage their own sense of injustice, and to move toward forgiveness. Does that seem insane in our modern world? Perhaps it does, but I have seen people who have been destroyed by cancer and a loss of health simply because they allowed bitterness to destroy them when something did not go right in their lives. One of the themes that I develop in my book is the issue of disturbance. We all experience disturbance of some sort.
Kevin: No one is exempt. No one is exempt.
David: That can be the death of a loved one, that can be marital infidelity, that can be the loss of a job, that can be implosion of any variety. And do you know what you have? You have a response that occurs and it is either driven toward redemption and cohesion….
Kevin: Or bitterness.
David: Or bitterness and destruction.
Kevin: For the person who wants read the story of Ben Freeth, the book is Mugabe and the White African. And this gives history. In fact, there are color pictures inside of just some of the destruction and some of the background of what actually went on there at the turn of the millennium.
David: Managing resources is far more complex than looking at a balance sheet and saying, “Here are the assets that we are dealing with. The reality is, you develop a broader set of assets over time as you mature as an individual. And you develop things such as courage, such as virtue, such as trustworthiness, such as the ability to forgive. These end up being valuable assets that you draw on at different points in your life.
Kevin: So you can lose the farm, but you can still continue to farm by having what is inside of you cultivated.
David: Absolutely. And think, ultimately, the issue of legacy for me, ties to how well have you managed all of your resources, not particularly limiting it to the issue of financial resources. So this to me, I think, was an interesting conversation with both Craig and Ben to capture what it looks like to deal with crisis. Crisis takes a variety of forms. It is not always a collapse of a society, like you have in Zimbabwe, but here you have not only operating on a black market and living in the context of hyperinflation and having all of your financial resources ripped out from underneath you.
David: But how do you live as an individual, not just from the standpoint of resources, but how do you wake up the next morning, and not just want to go insane. I think this was an interesting exploration and I am grateful for them spending to them for spending the time with us.