Letter from America with KENNETH MUFUKA
Hope is the expectation, against all rational considerations, that desires will be fulfilled miraculously.
When the “new dispensation” was introduced in Zimbabwe, we hoped against past experience that its chief architect, Brother Professor Mthuli Ncube, PhD, would rise up to the occasion.
Hope is that which drives and keeps us going.
It is now a year since the elections, and Ncube’s approach to what he calls belt-tightening, has moved me an incontrovertible conclusion: that the brother does not live in Zimbabwe,
that he has never secured a ride in a kombi, and that he is unaware of the quiet desperation the majority of our people live under.
Ncube’s measures exacerbate the suffering rather than alleviate them.
I am a generous fellow. If any of our readers wish to challenge my thesis, and can prove the opposite; I have set aside a goat for a successful challenger.
There is one proviso: The judgment of my friend Fabian Mabaya shall be binding and actionable.
Here is my thesis.
Surely we cannot accuse a professor of ignorance.
We are, therefore, left with the reality that everything the Supreme Brother has touched has gone sour but why, I may ask.
I shall suggest remedies later.
Here is my observation. I have just returned from Zimbabwe, during which time I criss-crossed the territory in order to be better acquainted with my subject.
First, the brother has no idea of the income lay-out of the general population of Zimbabwe.
At the maximum, only 15% of the able-bodied population is in- formal employment.
In an African society, teachers, civil servants and para-military types form the middle class, about 80% of the income earning population.
This class earns between U$400 and U$500 per month.
An African family serves no less than six people. Under the old system, with supplements from small gardens and corn harvests (maize) from the village, they barely eked an existence.
Almost every family in Zimbabwe today relies on foreign supplements for heavy items like school fees, the jalopy automobiles that trouble the highways are gifts from relatives working
By devaluing the mythical U$-Z$ relationship in one swoop, the U$500 per month became Z$50, a tenth of its original value.
The pensioners that form queues at banks for miserable $90 pay-outs are not the only ones in this scandalous situation.
Even the high and mighty ones, like economist Eddie Cross and the mighty scholar George Kahari, are in the same boat.
A boat in which each receives a $100 voucher leaves very little room for Ncube’s shenanigans.
Martin Luther King said: “I am tired of people telling my people to tighten their belts when they have no belts to tighten, and raise themselves by their bootstraps when they have no
shoes on their feet.”
By hurriedly adopting the Zimbabwe dollar which has no value, the miserable $100 pensioners now find their pensions reduced to one tenth, U$10.
After five years of using the US dollar, Zimbabweans know the value of that currency and no matter how hard Ncube tries, all currencies are measured on the threshold of the US dollar.
That is beyond his control.
The brother failed to understand (which is a Zanu PF original sin) that he is not the only decider of events in the universe.
There is the black market, which has its own mind and cannot be intimidated ether way, to accept the prescribed value of the new Zimbabwe dollar.
Therefore, prices have refused to obey Ncube’s dictates and have followed the US dollar.
He has no control over that. (See table)
The recent changes in petrol and tollgate indices reveal a situation where a brother is trapped in a never-never land.
A freshman student will calculate that generally, all the prices mentioned above are at the minimum four times, or 400% of the US dollar price.
Therefore, at the minimum, if one were to compensate for the new price indices, all workers would have to multiply their present wages by 400%.
In fact, a Z$400 pension would have to reach a Z$4 000 mark in order to buy the basket of essentials it did before Ncube’s shenanigans. My brother, Eddie Cross, has a right to despair.
On agricultural products, including bread, milk and grapes, it does not make sense for us to import while the Kyntyre Estates on the Norton-Harare Highway, and the Nicole Estates
near Chinhoyi, which produced enough horticultural products lie idle.
But the issue of tollgate fees can only have come from somebody who has never been on Zimbabwe roads.
A kombi driver from Marondera to Harare must keep $10 (set price) when stopped by police for whatever reason.
A round trip with 10 passengers each way brings him $300 per trip minus toll ($30 plus $10 police fees).
If by bad luck there is a new police crew, he must pay another $10 fee.
A kombi has two crew members. On a bad day, he will actually make a negative return on his investment in addition to police harassment.
At today’s interbank exchange rate, a size 13 tyre nominally costs Z$120, but the sellers are unwilling to “release them” (Zimbabwe English) unless one has US dollars. “Come
tomorrow, we will work something out,” the seller says.
Usually these kombis are bought by relatives in the Diaspora in the hope of providing some form of employment.
The kombi driver pays road service taxes and vehicle inspection fees as well.
He also spends at least five hours a week on petrol queues during which time his kombi is out of service.
A simple observation of the windscreens shows that half the kombis have to do with broken windscreens because of broken tarred roads.
Any increase in toll fees, petrol and vehicle inspection fees is to wish these hardworking souls bankruptcy.
They are daily on the verge of bankruptcy.
I know, my sister, who drives a private Toyota Corolla, has perfected the art of waiting for me to come home.
She generously allows me to use her car, but points out that tyres are snakeish and that the engine needs a complete service.
It is not necessary to say that kombi drivers are practically living in hell.
Brother Ncube has no idea what these brothers go through.
So many exceptions to the US dollar have been made that the return of the Zimbabwe dollar is doomed to failure.
Zimbabwe is not the only country with this problem. As of last week, Pakistan found that all tourist and airline tickets, if paid in dollars, will maintain a stable index.
For instance, a quotation in rupees cannot be guaranteed even for a week due to the volatility of the rupee.
Our problems originate from lack of common sense on the part of Zanu PF and a deliberate ignorance of past experiences in Zimbabwe and in other countries.
The textbook definition of inflation is too much money chasing too few goods.
In Zimbabwe the re-introduction of the Zimbabwe dollar without gaining popular trust, after depreciating the money in the banks intensifies lack of trust.
The inter-bank rate of U$ to Z$ at 5.5 never existed, even while the Reserve Bank spokespersons spoke noise (Black English).
In Zanu PF acting-out (grandstanding in Zimbabwe English) and acting –up assumes a significance of its own.
Reality on the ground is irrelevant.
Nobody ever went into a bank, as my white sister Cathy Buckle has said, with US$10 and bought Zimbabwe dollars at the 5.5 to 1 interbank rate.
Due to drought and deterioration in the exploitation of fertile land, our crop yield is 54% below average.
The great farmers mentioned, Kyntyre and Nicole families, did not depend on rainfall.
They closed the two-week window in February, when a Chinook- like dry wind threatens cops with irrigation.
The great dairy expert, Zimbabwean Irvin Reid, is in Kwara State, Nigeria.
The Nicole family is in Zambia. When I sneaked into Zambia my host told me the Nicoles are having the last laugh. They are selling corn (maize) to Zimbabwe in US dollars.
I was told not to mention the name of the director of the Dairiboard. He was called a sell-out when he pointed out the loss of dairy expertise. Dairiboard buys milk from South Africa.
“Common sense, my dear boy, Kenny, use your medulla oblongata!” the great schoolmaster JMD. Manyika used to tell me.
Common sense requires the government to let go the oil companies.
They can buy their own fuel and sell it wherever they want. The Feruka oil pipeline was built by Lonrho.
There is no sense in having Irvin Reid teaching Nigerians how to manage dairy products when we are buying our milk products from South Africa.
Why does somebody not sneak into Nigeria and bring the white brother back home?
It was once suggested to me that Brother Ncube rushes to the implementation stage before a trial run and I pleaded on his behalf.
I am afraid that the brother has lived in the corridors of learning for too long-and common sense has departed from his medula oblongata.
Cry my beloved Zimbabwe.
This article was initially published by the Standard newspaper. Award-winning writer, Ken Mufuka, spent 10 years studying Life and Times of Robert Mugabe: Dream Betrayed (Afro-media-2018). His books can be found at Innov Bookstores in Zimbabwe or at kenmufukabooks.com.