Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Tim Mutsekwa: Of pandemics, social distancing and economic ills

By Tim Mutsekwa

In early to mid-1992, someone in my neighbourhood got their hands on a pirate copy of Candyman. Over the months that followed, every night, you’d find a suitably uncomfortable amount of people squeezed into a different living room, huddled around just one TV set, gagging to grab a glimpse of this much-anticipated spectacle.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa at his farm in Kwekwe
President Emmerson Mnangagwa at his farm in Kwekwe

This memory popped into my head last Saturday evening when, I imagined fans of countless other clubs’ scramble to the nearest screen as word circulated that Liverpool had conceded a second goal against Watford at Vicarage Road.

It was a ‘watershed’ moment. A ‘must see’. A ‘drop everything’ occasion. Yet, this was nothing more than Liverpool losing a game of football. There wasn’t as much as an extra-terrestrial or a dodgy VHS in sight.

So, while defeat is not something any fan would ever choose, there is no denying that this moment, for me at least, was unique.

Perversely, I’ll look back fondly on the day I watched fans of other clubs find a little solace in a team dozens of points ahead of them lose a single league game to the Hornets. I mean, that has got to sting.

Now that l have used the globally popular vehicle of football to lure you in, I’m afraid that’s about as light-hearted as this opinion piece is going to get.

The coronavirus is spreading faster than we can contain it, faster than municipalities can track it and here in the United Kingdom, much faster than our testing capacity can handle. By the time you read a statistic, chances are it’s outdated.

Fear of inducing panic or creating economic hardships means most advice is framed as a personal choice, rather than a collective one.

In the absence of government leaders offering concrete plans, we need experts from outside the government right now more than ever. And we need them to be loud and definitive. We need them to bat down misinformation and to be brave enough to speak up with bold pronouncements.

We need them to be calm but sober, to remind us that upending the normal routines of our lives is not in itself a reason to panic but a way to stave off needing to panic down the line. And finally, we need those in positions of authority — managers, community leaders, even household leaders — to heed and act on their advice.

Elsewhere, two decades after Robert Mugabe wrecked Zimbabwe’s economy by urging black subsistence farmers to violently force white commercial farmers and their workers off their land, his successor has thrown in the towel.

Emmerson Mnangagwa fresh from a brisk ‘fandango ‘across the border in the land of ‘’ice’ ’[diamonds, to the less hip], instructed his government to propose settling all outstanding claims against it by farmers by offering them land.

“The object of the regulations is to provide for the disposal of land to persons entitled to compensation,” Land Minister Perence Shiri said in regulations published in the Government Gazette Friday.

The seizures that began in 2000 were ratified by the government, which said they were needed to redress colonial imbalances. A vibrant agricultural industry that exported tobacco and roses and grew most of the food the nation needed collapsed.

Periodic food shortages ensued, inflation became the world’s highest and the manufacturing industry was decimated. What was one of Africa’s richest countries became one of its poorest.

Almost 4,500 white-owned properties and others protected under government-to-government agreements were affected by the program. Zimbabwe’s looming food crisis has exposed government’s Command Agriculture shortcomings despite initial official claims that the country’s subsidised farmer support programme had produced enough grain to last several years.

There was no evil greater than Command Agriculture which was used to steal billions from the people of Zimbabwe through fraudulent Treasury Bills to bankroll a military coup for which Mthuli Ncube now wants Zimbabweans to pay for via his extortionate 2% transaction tax.

Barely three months after telling the nation to eat, vegetables and potatoes, because the country was going through tough economic challenges, Emmerson Mnangagwa told thousands of villagers gathered at his Kwekwe farm that he only ate meat with his meals.

On Thursday, Mnangagwa organised a field day at his Precabe Farm where scores of government ministers were on tow to marvel at their boss’ farming prowess. Also, in attendance were villagers from the local community.

During his address, Mnangagwa could not hide his love for meat to go along with his meals.

“At this farm, we have plenty of livestock including cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and countless poultry. From all those we eat whatever, we want when we feel like,” he told his guests.

It is clear Emmerson lacks compassion and sensitivity for the suffering and a preparedness to alleviate and prevent it.

Zimbabwe appears to be heading for a Venezuela-style meltdown. The international community is caught in a bind. There is no appetite to engage with a government that has shown itself to be as bad as that of the Mugabe era.

How could it justify propping up a vicious regime, knowing that much of the money it handed over would be stolen? Yet the alternative is equally appalling: allowing the economic situation to get so grim that Zanu-PF implodes. There is no guarantee that regime change by attrition — even possible starvation — will work.

As for Zanu-PF, it is locked in infighting. There are rumours that General Constantino Chiwenga, deputy president and the man who led the 2017 coup, wants to push Mr Mnangagwa out. Much of the feud seems to be over control of money making rackets.

There is simply no more money left in Zimbabwe. Cutting expenditure further will lead to collapse. So will printing money. Without an injection of outside money, there is no way out. The west could even consider lifting targeted sanctions, in place since 2001. They have little effect, but give incompetent and corrupt Zanu-PF officials a scapegoat for economic catastrophe.

Zimbabwe would benefit from a clear path toward winding down the sanctions regimes. Fortunately, the country’s existing constitution, revamped in 2013, provides a useful roadmap with an array of reforms. Simply aligning the country’s laws with the constitution would be a significant step in the right direction.

Mnangagwa should undertake key political and economic reforms that are necessary to bring rationality to the economy and confidence to citizens. These include an end to the use of bond notes, the immediate repeal of repressive legislation, and holding those responsible for violence against civilians accountable in the courts, no matter how high up the chain.

Zimbabwe’s leaders must send a signal that no one, regardless of the uniform they wear — is above the law. The United States and other members of the international community could help incentivize these reforms by preparing a comprehensive package to assist Zimbabwe’s economic recovery if democratic and economic reforms are genuinely passed and implemented.

Next, a national dialogue should be held to defuse tension and set the agenda moving forward. To be effective, such an effort should be truly inclusive, with the main opposition, business leaders and civic groups all getting a seat at the table.

A prerequisite to any successful dialogue will be a commitment to greater transparency from government. This is especially critical when it comes to economic management and how the national budget is allocated. It is unreasonable to ask long-suffering people to have faith in the future without access to financial facts.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC), and its most powerful member state, South Africa, despite a lacklustre history of meaningful interventions on Zimbabwe, could play a crucial role in facilitating this process.

Additionally, SADC must send clear, unmistakable signals that another military seizure of power will not be tolerated or recognized as legitimate this time around. Zimbabwe’s neighbours can help take the coup option off the table if they have the will to do so.

Zimbabwe is literally burning, and the time to act is now.The alternative is that things will get worse before they eventually get better. Zimbabwe’s educated people could be participating in one of the most dynamic economies on the continent. Instead, they are witnessing an implosion.

I shall leave it here. Have a wonderful week, till next time.

Tim Mutsekwa (Political Science and International Relations [University of Greenwich], Secretary for Party Business & Investments [MDC UK & Ireland], Twitter : @tsumekwa