By Gift Kugara
Zimbabweans on Sunday woke up to a shocking admission by the state weekly newspaper, The Sunday Mail, that the colonial government of Ian Smith had fared better at managing the economy that the ZANU PF government which has been in power since independence.
The Sunday Mail is widely regarded as a ZANU PF mouthpiece. It has been the chief propaganda platform for ZANU PF, the party led by President Robert Mugabe and has ruled Zimbabwe for 33 years.
In Sunday’s refreshingly honest editorial, The Sunday Mail wrote comparing the post-independence and the Rhodesian governments, “The racist Rhodesian regime had its many blemishes but you have to acknowledge its ability to identify quick win economic solutions.”
The implication is that the ZANU PF government has not shown the same capacity over its 33-year rule.
Observers have said this direct attack on Robert Mugabe’s government which is made worse by comparing it unfavourably to their traditional punch-bag, the colonial government, is unprecedented.
“It is unthinkable that of all papers, The Sunday Mail would acknowledge and give credit to the colonial government and in the process attack ZANU PF by showing that the latter has fared worse”, said a commentator who wished to remain anonymous.
In the same editorial, The Sunday Mail castigated Robert Mugabe’s 33-year rule with brutal honesty regarding its poor record of policy implementation.
Commenting on the widespread power outages that have left domestic and industrial users without electricity for up to 15 hours per day, The Sunday Mail criticised Robert Mugabe’s government for failing to take pre-emptive measures to address the power deficit.
“Zimbabwe’s power deficit is not a new challenge”, wrote The Sunday Mail. It went further, “In the 1980s and 90s , the nation should have taken significant measures to address the power deficit. How we failed to do this is mind-numbing.”
This confirms criticisms that have been levelled against Robert Mugabe’s rule over the years, an observer noted. “Finally, we have a state newspaper that is rabidly pro-ZANU PF, admitting failure.”
The paper went on to describe Mugabe’s government record of policy implementation as “dismal”, further cementing criticism of the opposition MDC formations.
“There were all manner of high-sounding blueprints and well-articulated strategy documents, but all the plans came to naught because policy-makers and bureaucrats are good at policy formulation but dismal at implementation”
Mugabe was recently retained as President of Zimbabwe in controversial circumstances, for the seventh term since he was first elected as Prime Minister of newly independent Zimbabwe in 1980.
The MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai, former Prime Minister in the Inclusive Government, has refused to acknowledge the results, arguing that the electoral process was manipulated in ZANU PF’s favour.
Although SADC and the AU have said the elections were peaceful, they have stopped short of describing them to be “fair”. The US, EU and other Western countries have not endorsed the results, further isolating and frustrating the Mugabe regime which is desperate for Western acknowledgement.
Throughout the campaign, Tsvangirai and the MDC argued that Mugabe and ZANU PF had failed dismally at managing the economy, which has shrunk drastically from a strong and diverse economy inherited from colonial Rhodesia at independence in 1980.
Julius Nyerere, Founding Father of Tanzania and strong supporter of Zimbabwe’s liberation efforts in the 1970s, is said to have told Mugabe at independence that he had inherited a jewel economy and that he should not destroy it. Nyerere’s words seem to have gone unheeded.
Facing serious economic challenges under Mugabe’s rule, ordinary Zimbabweans have often been heard to say, it was better under Smith, much to Mugabe and ZANU PF’s chagrin.
Although the recent election was supposed to usher a new era of hope, Zimbabwe is going through a period of gloom and uncertainty, with local and international confidence at its lowest levels.
Below we reproduce the full Sunday Mail editorial
Editorial Comment: Power outages: Is solar the way to go?
After weeks of public anxiety over unrelenting power cuts and blackouts, the Minister of Energy and Power Development, Cde Dzikamai Mavhaire, finally called a Press conference and explained to the nation what is happening.
For weeks on end, newspapers have been inundated with inquiries from a glum public keen to know the cause of a worsening power supply system that has seen homes, factories and even hospitals going for hours or days without electricity.
Invariably, affected consumers would complain bitterly about the power cuts and then ask the all-too-familiar question: “Where is the Minister of Energy and what is he saying about these power cuts?”
Some members of the public — perhaps out of malice more than anything — even asked whether Cde Mavhaire was based in Harare or Masvingo.
Well, Minister Mavhaire addressed a Press briefing in Harare on Wednesday. He told journalists that Zimbabwe’s maximum demand for electricity was 1 730 megawatts per day, but the local power stations and imports were producing only 1 167 megawatts. This leaves a shortfall of 563 megawatts.
To be fair to Minister Mavhaire, a lot of the criticism being levelled against him is uncalled for. He is newly appointed and there is no doubt that his first task is to gain a thorough understanding of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the power sector before he starts implementing a turnaround strategy.
Zimbabwe’s power deficit is not a new challenge. In fact, one could argue that the demand for electricity has lessened in recent years owing to a drastic decline in the capacity utilisation and productivity levels of the manufacturing sector.
In the 1980s and ’90s, the nation should have taken significant measures to address the power deficit. How we failed to do this is mind-numbing. There were all manner of high-sounding blueprints and well-articulated strategy documents, but all the plans came to naught because policymakers and bureaucrats are good at policy formulation but dismal at implementation.
In those two decades, the nation seemed serious about confronting the energy challenge. So serious, in fact, that in September 1996, Harare hosted the World Solar Summit. It was a grand occasion, a huge statement for Zimbabwe’s commitment to the exploration of alternative energy solutions.
The thinking was that solar energy, alongside biogas, wind, geo-thermal, coal-bed methane, ethanol and hydro-electric power, held great promise and could be the panacea to Africa’s energy woes.
At the World Solar Summit, the World Solar Programme (1996-2005) was launched to address energy problems through the increased use of renewable energy technologies. Zimbabwe — being host and chair — was at the very heart of these cutting-edge initiatives.
There was a comprehensive plan of action centred on a selection of high-priority renewable energy projects at the national or regional level to be implemented between 1996 and 2005. The programme was meant “to foster the research, development, commercialisation and rational use of renewable energy resources and technologies.”
The Summit set out to prioritise “strategic projects” that would be selected for their outstanding value to renewable energy policy, legislation, research and technology demonstrations, and they would be executed voluntarily and collaboratively by all participating countries.
One of the proposed strategic projects was the creation of a Global Solar Energy Information System that would stimulate international co-operation through exchange of scientific and technical information.
Another proposed strategic project was the World Solar Energy Education and Training Programme that would broaden solar energy education opportunities, enhance technology transfer, and unify standards worldwide.
Have these lofty ideas been implemented? By now, Zimbabwe should have been manufacturing, on a large scale, solar equipment for local use and export. Surely, the level of technology required in manufacturing solar panels and inverters is not beyond the ken of hard-working, skilled and highly educated Zimbabweans.
At 300 days of full sunshine per year, Zimbabwe is blessed with abundant sunlight. Why should domestic consumers rely on expensive thermal power yet a simple solar kit comprising a panel, inverter and cabling can enable them to harness photovoltaic energy free of charge? It just does not make sense anymore.
In the past, rural communities decimated forests while foraging for firewood. These days, urban dwellers are also accelerating the deforestation menace by resorting to firewood for cooking. At this rate, many tree species could go extinct in our lifetime.
If trees were elephants, we would witness in Zimbabwe’s forests the equivalent of the Hwange cyanide calamity every single day. There’s no better definition of an ecological disaster.
To solve a plethora of challenges, Zimbabwe has to expand its generation capacity while vigorously pursuing alternative energy sources.
We used to import electricity from four countries. There is no guarantee that Mozambique will continue exporting power to Zimbabwe. As Mozambique’s economy grows — buoyed by the construction sector, coal exports and newly discovered gas fields — Maputo may run out of surplus power to export to Zimbabwe. What then?
And when we talk of an energy deficit, we are referring to the entire consumer spectrum encompassing domestic, commercial and industrial users. On the economic front, there are untold stories of countless companies that have collapsed under the weight of unsustainably high electricity bills.
The racist Rhodesian regime had its many blemishes but you have to acknowledge its ability to identify quick-win economic solutions. For instance, a whole host of strategic companies and industries directly depended on cheap electricity from Lake Kariba.
Mines, fertiliser makers, major farms, engineering firms and the manufacturing sector all relied on Kariba power. Without this cheap (back then) source of electricity, Rhodesia’s industrial and mining companies would have flopped.
It defies logic that in today’s Zimbabwe we expect mining companies, fertiliser manufacturers and large farms to continue operating viably on the backdrop of expensive or erratic electricity supplies.
Textbook economists may not openly say it, but the brutal reality is that every nation under the sun must identify its strategic economic players and subsidise their power supply.
The energy sector is the lifeblood of economic development. In the lingo of today’s armchair commentators, it is a key enabler of economic activity. Zimbabwe must get it right.