By Tafi Mhaka
The old adage, “Things will get better. Don’t worry. Give it time”, hardly ever applies to Zimbabwe’s constant economic challenges and illogical political realities.
We boast a fairly educated population and an abundance of rare and valuable natural resources but rank a shocking number 156 out of 189 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index, a depressing number 124 out of 137 countries on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index and an embarrassing 157 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index; three crucial understandings wholly indicative of why investors have been slow or reluctant to make substantial investments in Zimbabwe since last November; three unmissable realities why national failure is an ubiquitous and seemingly permanent feature for Zimbabweans.
We all have family and friends scattered around the world – 3-4 million disenfranchised exiles hustling for a US dollar, a British pound, a South African rand; hustling for a living out of an involuntary financial obligation born from tyranny and several falsely acquired electoral mandates.
We all have famished relatives and acquaintances – 5.6 million of them, all angry, overtaxed, frustrated, dejected, residing in ramshackle rural and urban dwellings around Zimbabwe; all battling the daily demons and debilitating indignities of living life below the international poverty line.
We have all lost friends and relatives to manageable diseases for a lack of health specialists, adequate health care and proper medication in rundown hospitals and clinics. We have all spent anxious and frustrating nights and days on end holed up in petrol queues, with 20 litre containers and undying hope for comfort.
We have all struggled to get foreign currency at reasonable rates in the best of times; struggled to get cash from a commercial bank; struggled to buy food for our families and pay school fees for children. We have all felt the stinging pain inflicted by a failing economy collapsing under the rugged and brash stewardship of long failed politicians.
Yet, through it all, an unrepentant and self-important clique of highly inept civil servants who masquerade as proudly elected and patriotic leaders all the time, have done outstandingly well for themselves in the lifestyle stakes and unashamedly amassed immense wealth and property in often dubious and undeclared ways but have offered us no magnanimous, visionary and strong leadership in return.
On the back of yet another bungled, divisive and gory electoral process, an increasingly tenuous political atmosphere and an ever-dilapidated economy, fraught with high, rising prices of basic goods, foreign currency shortages, sky high unemployment and a debilitating lack of direct foreign investment, the critical question is: what will ordinary Zimbabweans do about this unjust and corrupted state of affairs?
The Way forward
This government might not last until 2023. All signs point to escalating economic hardships for the poor and no plausible relief in sight and an unbearable mass of political dissent and unrest taking root.
Out of options and riding on a duplicitous wave of new dispensation-branded propaganda, Mnangagwa’s administration has resorted to selling an economic vision premised on making Zimbabwe a middle-income country by 2030. But, 12 days, 12 months and certainly 12 years, is a lifetime and a half on Zimbabwe’s ever-volatile political landscape. Grace Mugabe, Ignatius Chombo et al can attest to that timeless reality.
And besides planning for 2030, whatever happened to the high-sounding “Vision 2020” economic plan Mnangagwa and his political allies sold to us in 1999? Two years away from 2020, if this present and disastrous economic outcome is it, it is clear the much-touted vision has morphed into foul political air and yet another humongous failure for Zanu-PF.
Weighed down by debt amounting to US$16.9 billion, the government’s recent decision to set the Intermediated Money Transfer Tax from 5 cents per transaction to 2 cents per dollar will exact a brutal cost on a financially overextended population. So it is no surprise everybody is livid about this proposed additional tax and remains most unwilling to shoulder the possibly essential burdens and pains of much-needed economic reforms – with good reason.
Tyranny, incompetence, impunity, corruption and electoral fraud shouldn’t be rewarded with passive political acquiescence or blind loyalty. Mnangagwa has zero political legitimacy and no moral authority to lead a long and difficult charge for economic reform.
He has appointed a bloated and unfit-for-purpose cabinet which boasts 13 deputy ministers, two ministers of state and potentially 10 provincial ministers – all flimsy, antiquated, disastrous, highly paid, good-for-nothing political appointments, all meant to accommodate a long standing influence-peddling and money sharing Zanu-PF patronage system which former President Robert Mugabe created and abused. Any credible reformer would not appoint a single deputy minister like Energy Mutodi or Victor Matemadanda in these crushingly tough economic times.
Mnangagwa also utilises an official, fuel-guzzling monstrosity of a paid-for-by-taxpayers car that looks as menacing and utterly wasteful as US President Donald Trump’s “The Beast”; and he always has a gazillion bodyguards in tow.
Why, why, why, in the midst of widespread poverty and economic adversity, does Mnangagwa love to shamelessly flaunt such abusive and flagrant shows of first world wealth and power?
It is perhaps an unsightly by-product of Mnangagwa’s political insecurity and a long standing inability or headstrong reluctance to empathise with the common man’s plight or understand the pressing need to both implement far reaching reforms and lead from the front by displaying unquestionably strong moral fibre.
Mnangagwa’s cosmetic reforms inadequate, stifle change
If Mnangagwa had begun his shaky tenure by calling for the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) to undergo liberal and substantial amendments, that brave move would have heralded a fresh and encouraging start.
If Mnangagwa had started out by explicitly apologising for the August 1 killings and ordering the immediate arrest of the Zimbabwe Defence Force (ZDF) commanders behind the decision to deploy armed soldiers on unarmed civilians, cross-party political unity would be rock solid.
If Mnangagwa had started his controversial presidency by announcing a drastic cut in the size of the ZDF and spelling out a solid vision for a leaner, professional and foreign affairs-oriented Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), everybody might be exhibiting immeasurable goodwill for his economic and political plans.
If Mnangagwa had begun his presidency by abolishing the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services and ordering the immediate privatisation of all Zimpapers and ZBC media organisations, his approval ratings would be tremendously high.
If Mnangagwa had signalled his intention to enact a diaspora vote, introduce electoral reforms and look at ways in which the workings of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) can be improved significantly and ring fenced from catastrophic and undue political influence from Zanu-PF actors, Zimbabweans might be pulling in one progressive direction and collective economic optimism for the future would be at an all-time high.
If Mnangagwa had begun to find ways to ensure all-encompassing support for a massive and independent anti-corruption drive – his political star would shine brightly and his reformative agenda would find find both mass and multiparty backing and strong international support.
Yet all Mnangagwa has offered us since his conflict-ridden, ZEC and Constitutional Court-aided ascension to the presidency is more of the same timid and conservative measures Mugabe thrived on, more of the same dubious state appointments as of old times, lots of officious talk about change (but little discernible action) and a ridiculously absurd and self-ingratiating chicken dance at public gatherings. As things stand, Mnangagwa’s unfailingly weak and highly partisan leadership, not the lack of Harvard-trained economists working in the finance ministry and Reserve Bank, is the primary stumbling block to an influx of foreign investments and a long overdue economic recovery.
Which is why Nelson Chamisa should not negotiate with Mnangagwa or let up on his drive to introduce real political change from outside the halls of parliament. This undoubtedly is the ideal moment for Chamisa to earn his political stripes the hard way and take the political fight to Mnangagwa – lawfully.