Zimbabwe needs new heroes
By Allen Hungwe
For me, the liberation struggle will forever stand as the defining era of the history of Zimbabwe.
The liberation struggle will always be the foundation upon which the future of the country will be built. Every defining moment of a country’s history always has heroes and heroines who have stood as the gallant instigators of that history and its decisive moments.
The liberation struggle certainly had its own portion of heroes and heroines. Some of them are late, and will always receive our invaluable regard.
Others are, however, still alive and must accordingly be recognised for their role in having been a part of the struggle.
However, I am totally convinced that our country now needs what I have termed as “the transition frontier for heroes”.
We desperately need a new breed of heroes. We need new heroes, able to pick up from where the past heroes have come from and gotten us to. Heroes are nearly always specific for a certain period.
Beyond that, they cease being relevant, and at worst begin losing their heroism as the challenges of changing eras threaten their significance. There are some critical issues that have convinced me that Zimbabwe now needs new heroes.
Firstly, I have seen how the government of Zimbabwe has put concerted efforts into attempting to rescue what it calls ailing or closed-down industries. At one point, there was a fund set up simply for this purpose.
At the time of the dollarisation, the impetus brought about by this currency change led to injection of capital to re-open some industries that had earlier closed down.
Unfortunately, some of those companies that were opened after dollarisation have now closed again or are about to.
In Bulawayo, the case of ailing and closed down industries has been topical. A few weeks ago, a South African business delegation led by that country’s trade minister visited the city’s now deserted industrial areas because government was calling for revival of these industries.
This scenario simply demonstrates just how much the heroes of yester-year have become obsolete in the context of new realities and demands for relevant solutions today.
The issue here is that: when these industries closed shop, the type of industrial processes and equipment they employed has now become too costly to operate. They have therefore become uncompetitive given the new technology being employed by similar industries across the globe.
In that case, reviving the industries will simply return them into operations but without being competitive in terms of production output, cost of production and product quality.
Should the task to get them to re-establish their operations be successful; then sustainability will become the next bottleneck. As happened with some in 2009, after the dollarisation, they will still fail to compete with imports, and will eventually close again.
This is what led to one member of the delegation led by the South African trade minister to say what was on offer was simply industrial space and not industries, as the Zimbabwean government had conveyed.
Besides the issue of equipment, there are also indications that some of the products have also become overtaken by market trends. For example, there is a specific company that was once a market leader in producing baby napkins back in the 1990s.
There is still a push by some government officials to get it back into full operations. Those who have had young children within the last five years will tell you just how much the baby market is moving away from napkins to “pampers”.
This disconnect is a classic example of how the heroes of yester-year have become incapable of leading the country into a creative and innovative future. It reflects just how much a whole country is being held at ransom by a past-thinking mind-set not able to engage with today’s solutions.
It has led to questions on whether the country needs to revive ailing and old industries or it needs to establish new technology industries? Are historical products still relevant or is there need for emphasis on new product lines that supply new niche markets in relevance to new market demands? Why do we bring in investment delegations and offer them opportunities in pre-historic industrial establishments, when it is only the industrial land that is worthwhile?
Government has also recently released the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim Asset). The document contains some passionate intentions around what needs to be done and what the country needs to project at.
While many don’t disagree much with the pathway set in Zim Asset, it is the fundamental issue of the capital to drive it, which government is surprisingly mute on, and therefore exposes a disconnect with reality. There has been a lot of pomp and fanfare in launching the economic blueprint, yet government is unclear where resources to operationalise the outlined plans will come from.
Upon winning the elections on July 31 and forming government thereafter, many of us expected that there would be concerted effort in creating a common compelling vision for the country.
Many developmental states that have now matured have always begun with a compelling national vision. Countries like China, Singapore, India and Brazil have had to start by crafting national visions which have always become persuasive in bringing that vision to reality.
Today, Zimbabwe merely embraces the ZANU-PF election manifesto and now Zim Asset. However, these documents simply focus on outlining targets rather than a national vision.
A national vision attempts to address a couple of questions. What values define our nation? What nature of a state do we desire to see in the medium to long term? What status do we desire to achieve for general citizens of our country in the medium to long term? Where do we desire to locate our country in the midst of the global community in the medium to long term?
I have always encouraged ZANU-PF to learn from the Chinese when it comes to transformative government. Besides their 10-year renewal of leadership, which is a form of seeking new heroes, the Chinese also usually take courageous decisions to consider their country’s real standing in the context of changing global and local dynamics.
In November, the Chinese launched the “Third Plenum” — a progressive review of socio-economic fundamentals meant to align the country to the compelling need for continued development.
The “Third Plenum” isn’t simply a wish-list; it is a practical development review, which the Chinese seem to have ample capacity and resources to implement.
Realising the fast changing domestic and globally socio-economic and political dynamics, the Chinese have taken courage to adopt a modicum of reforms all meant to trigger and sustain growth. It’s interesting that the Chinese “Third Plenum” has been launched after the party’s change of leadership earlier on this year.
The notion of new heroes prompts the courage to bring about positive national transformation. There seems to be a correlation between the conception of new heroes and the relevance of their solutions to the development of the country.
Maybe it’s time for Zimbabwe to realise the need for new heroes. The Chinese seem to be doing that and what better lessons for Zimbabwe than from its “Look East” policy.