No, Minister. An Open letter to Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa
By Petina Gappah
Allow me please, to introduce you to one of my favourite words, assuming of course that you do not know it already. It is a wonderfully evocative Yiddish word for which there is no one-word equivalent in English.
The word is ‘chutzpah’, which can be defined as gall, temerity or cheek laced with breathtakingly staggering arrogance. You pronounce it, Minister, like you are about to throw up, because chutzpah, real chutzpah, is vomit inducing.
As a lawyer, you will appreciate this ultimate example of chutzpah that I have elaborated for you. It is based on an example given by the Yiddish lexicographer and writer Leo Rosten.
A young man kills his father and mother because he wants to inherit their money. He is convicted of their double murder. At his sentencing, the judge asks him if he has anything to say in mitigation. With tears in his eyes, he looks squarely at the judge and says ‘Please have mercy on me, Your Honour. I am, after all, an orphan.”
That, Minister, is chutzpah.
I can only congratulate you for having outdone this young man. Indeed, the definition of chutzpah should be replaced with your smiling face as you read from the Budget Statement your plans to tap into diaspora inflows.
A few years ago, our fearless leader, President Mugabe, dismissed the entire diaspora with disdain. According to Mugabe, the Diaspora is entirely made up of people who have run away from Zimbabwe to clean white people’s bottoms in Britain.
Not six months ago, during the election campaign, your party put out jingles mocking various groups of Zimbabweans, including Zimbabweans abroad. Hapana chiriko ikoko, was the chorus of one particular jingle that poured scorn on people who had dared to imagine a life for themselves outside the Zimbabwe ruins that your policies have created.
Yet you now have the temerity, the audacity, no, the chutzpah, to address Parliament with a straight face and talk about “confidence-building measures” that will bring diaspora inflows.
You correctly observed in the Budget Statement that the global economy is recovering from recession, while the Zimbabwean economy is facing what are euphemistically known as “challenges”. The shining quality that Zimbabweans at home and abroad embody is resilience.
Zimbabweans, wherever they find themselves, are, for the most part, endlessly enterprising and hard working. They love their families. They believe in education. They will sacrifice the little they have to fund education, to provide healthcare and to ensure that family members are buried with dignity. And yet your party has consistently portrayed those in the diaspora as shirkers and cowards that Zimbabwe can do without.
Now, when it suits you, you want to use sovereignty and patriotism to cudgel them into funding government schemes for hydro-electric power provision and other castles in the air.
Sovereignty and patriotism, Minister, may raise a cheer or two when you blather on about them at the Zanu PF Congress every December, but they are not convertible currencies. If your government wants Zimbabweans abroad to invest in government bonds, it cannot be entirely on your terms.
You must prepare an environment that would attract any investor, an environment that offers security, predictability, policy consistency and basic integrity. These are qualities that will attract all investors, not just Zimbabweans abroad. Hate speech against the diaspora, Minister, is not a confidence-building measure.
In addition, your government has to address issues of particular interest to the constituency you wish to attract. There is still the unresolved issue of citizenship. Your government forced people to give up their Zimbabwean citizenship.
The new constitution now guarantees dual citizenship for Zimbabweans by birth, but your government colleague, our perennial Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede, has been telling anyone who will listen that dual citizenship is not provided for in the constitution.
And while we are on that industrious gentleman, please permit me a small digression: you may want to tell the Registrar-General when you next see him that the international code for Zimbabwe is ZW or ZWE, and not the ZIM that he puts in our passports.
Let’s also talk about the vote. If the diaspora is so valuable to this country, if the remittances made by the bottom cleaners matter so much, surely the views of the remitters on how the country is governed also matter? Your government must develop mechanisms to ensure that their votes count.
So the answer is no, Minister. It is the ultimate chutzpah for a government that has striven to make life difficult for its diaspora to expect support from the very people that it has consistently derided. The bottom cleaners will continue to support their families directly by sending money home.
But there will be no takers for your diaspora bonds, which is a pity because they are, in theory, a fantastic idea. Even the best ideas, however, depend on implementation, and in this case, implementation depends on trust.
If you are unable to fully engage, Minister, I recommend that you listen to your party’s own jingles. There is nothing for you there in the diaspora. Hapana chiriko ikoko.