NO VACANCY HERE! A National Moto. (Part 1)

 

“Like Saturn, the Revolution devours its children.” Jacques Mallet Du Pan 1793 

It has long been known that Zimbabwe’s politicians regardless of party affiliation, are not given to discussions about succession, whilst simultaneously talking about the importance of the country’s youth. The ruling elite continues to introduce laws and measures that not only seek to ensure their privileged status but extend it at the expense of the general population. However, this resistance to succession is not unique to politics.

No Country For Young Folk.

Zimbabwe is a classic case of a country led by people who are stuck on the fact that they liberated the country but at the same time do not recognize that the country is indeed liberated and events of the last twenty years have not helped. To this end, they stay in power purportedly to protect the liberation they ushered in, never letting you forget it. In this spirit of liberation the late eighties and early nineties saw the emergence of a black male business elite buoyed by favorable government policies and generous loans. Whilst there are a number of admirable businessmen who emerged, the not so admirable were never far behind, along with corrupt and corruptible government officials. In 1990 these self-proclaimed economic liberators formed the Indigenous Business Development Centre to “secure” said liberation. Barely four years later the Affirmative Action Group, AAG, was formed in response to the perceived slow pace of progress in IBDC. In reality, it was a collection of the more radical and flamboyant elements in black business who wanted their own platform from which to shine, personified best in the character of one of the founding members, Philip Chiyangwa.  He remains a loud voice in AAG despite no longer being it’s president.

In this spirit of liberation the late eighties and early nineties saw the emergence of a black male business elite buoyed by favorable government policies and generous loans.

One trait in corporate Zimbabwe that emerged in this era and continues today, is a reluctance to let go. Granted, founders and experienced managers have a lot to contribute but you will be hard-pressed to find a Zimbabwean board, public or private that has ever actively groomed new talent and rotated members out at the end of their terms. This is something that was symptomatic before the economic collapse beginning in the late nineties and has only become more entrenched since.

In banking we trusted.

The early nineties saw Zimbabwe welcome a number of black-owned financial services firms most notably banks and insurance companies either newly established or through acquisition of interest in existing businesses.  Jump to late 2003 and the country was gripped by a banking crisis which, if the Reserve Bank is to be believed, was engineered by these very founders. Despite this many of the founders continued to head their institutions, even if it meant attempting to do so from outside the country after evading arrest. Others survived or defied board attempts to remove them or get them to relinquish their shares eventually leaving on their own terms. Some, like William Nyemba of Trust Bank and Mthuli Ncube of Barbican Bank were not so lucky, they had their banks seized and closed respectively by the Reserve Bank. James Mushore who co-founded NMBZ in 1993 fled the country to avoid imminent arrest in 2004 to only return six years later and later left the bank in 2014. In 2015 he joined the board of Meikles Africa in 2015, they have an interesting way of explaining his time away from 2004 to 2010.

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Who’s company is it anyway?

This resistance to succession is so entrenched in Zimbabwe you will find it in just about any sector. John Moxon, Executive Chairman of Meikles is embroiled in a years long battle to topple him having joined in 1970 and been on various Meikles boards since 1980. Anthony Mandiwanza has been Group Chief Executive at Dairibord for almost 20 years and joined the company in 1980, oddly enough none of this information is on the Dairibord site. Retired Justice Leslie Smith has been Chairman of the National Blood Service Zimbabwe, NBSZ, since 1977.  Michael Fowler and Zed Koudounaris are a founding shareholders of Innscor and have featured on the board in various roles, they are currently non-executive directors.

Drill down to management in corporate Zimbabwe and you will likely find this resistance is rife. With limited opportunities for upward mobility and the dire consequences of unemployment in a failing economy, people will do all they can to hold onto their positions for as long as they can. Even with companies struggling to pay salaries on time, sometimes not at all, employees hold onto their jobs regardless.

What’s good for the party is good for the board.

This economic liberation of the eighties and nineties is devouring the children of two generations and eyeing a third. We routinely berate political parties for not having clear succession plans but the best laid plans of politicians will come to nothing if there is no succession in the economy. It is sheer suicide to wait for the current executive to die off in the hope that this will finally present an opportunity for new blood.

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure,” Thomas Jefferson November 13, 1787. 

In Part 2 next week I will look at the economic distortions in Zimbabwe as a consequence of of this culture of holding on as the economy has contracted, what this means for Zimbabwe’s recovery and possible solutions.

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Based in Johannesburg South Africa, Ricky Marima is a recovering economist and twenty year veteran of building businesses across a variety of industries. He currently works at knowledge startup RemNes where he guides clients across the continent to ask the right questions about the 4th Industrial Revolution. You can reach him on ricky@remnes.com

 

 

How Do You Say Unicorn In Your Language?

This article first appeared on LinkedIn, follow me there.  

Earlier this week I attended a talk on the 4th Industrial Revolution and as expected, some of the usual buzzwords were thrown around, including “this could be the first African unicorn”. To date, American and Chinese startups have dominated the unicorn rankings with India a distant third, however, there is yet to be a unicorn from Central and South America or Africa. Chances are the world will not see an African unicorn anytime soon and here is why.

A time before unicorns

Before getting to the impossibility of the existence of an African unicorn, nevermind a decacorn or hectacorn, a little history. In 1999 VeriSign bought South African internet certification firm Thawte Consulting for $575 million, at the time some believed VeriSign had grossly overpaid for a company that few outside the tech sector had ever heard of. Turns out Thawte was VeriSign’s biggest and only competitor as a digital internet certificate provider and acquisition made more sense for both companies rather than competition, VeriSign also took into account Thawte’s future revenues in it’s valuation. At the time Thawte founder and then 26 year old Mark Shuttleworthe was quoted as saying the sale was the best way for his company to unlock it’s value. This begs the question, if Shuttleworth had held on for a few more years could Thawte Consulting have been Africa’s first unicorn?

..could Thawte Consulting have been Africa’s first unicorn?

South African founded Dimension Data, or DiData, as it later came to be known, was Africa’s first breakout tech star. Listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in July 1987 for a modest 150 cents a share and raising R7,5 million, DiData went on to list on the London Stock Exchange in 2000 raising over $1,5 billion. The dotcom crash of the early 2000s was not kind to DiData seeing its share fall from R70 in late 2000 to less than R2 in 2003. Though they did ride out the storm and manage to rebuild, DiData were eventually sold to Japan’s NTT Dokomo in 2010 bringing an end to an era in African tech companies. Whilst being founded in Africa, DiData does not qualify as a unicorn, they’re 1987 IPO barely raised $1 million.

Follow the money

Since then, a number of tech startups have emerged across the continent garnering significant interest, notables include Nigeria’s Andela, online retailer Jumia which now spans from West to East Africa and a slew of fintech startups. It is amongst fintech startups that much of the hype around Africa’s first Unicorn is focused. Flutterwave, billed as the next big thing in payment platforms raised $10 million this July in Series A funding led by Silicon Valley venture capital funds Greycroft and Green Visor Capital, to put this in context, between January 2015 and August 2017 African fintech startups raised just over $100 million in funding. Also in July, Andela raised $40 million in Series C funding led by African venture capital firm CRE Venture Capital to bring it’s total funding to date to $80 million. Now, whilst these are not numbers to be sniffed at, they’re not exactly shooting the lights out when compared to what is required to even have a chance of achieving unicorn status.

between January 2015 and August 2017 African fintech startups raised just over $100 million in funding

Much of this startup funding originates outside of Africa which presents entrepreneurs with a number of problems not least of which is competing for the attention of a small investor base. Whilst, as will be explained in the next paragraph, Africa has significant private and public cash reserves, the appetite for tech investment is simply not there. On a continent where spending on telecoms is still seen as a nice to have, spending on basic infrastructure and poverty alleviation takes the bulk of public investment funds and tech is barely a consideration, if at all. This disconnect sees businesses across sectors looking offshore for funding even from inception. Ironically, technological advancement is partly to blame for this as the growth in mobile money in Africa races ahead of traditional banking.

Unlike in the United States, Africa has incredibly limited financial resources to direct towards new industries and with a financial sector dominated by global players who have other priorities besides the continent, talent and foresight are the least of our worries. In a 2017 study funded by South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry, the University of Johannesburg found that country’s top fifty listed companies were sitting on R1,4 trillion in cash reserves as at 2016 up from R242 billion in 2005. Added to this, in 2012 South Africa allocated R827 billion to the National Infrastructure Planmeant to fund healthcare facilities, schools, water, sanitation, housing, electrification, construction of ports, roads, railway systems and electricity plants. My point, even the continent’s most developed and financially complex economy has basic priorities it has to put ahead of creating unicorns coupled with an incredibly conservative private sector when it comes to investments in general but particularly in Africa. That said, one cannot go without mentioning South African firm Optimal Energy’s attempt to build a commercially viable electric car, a valiant effort that ended in 2012 taking over R300 million of public investment funds with it.

South Africa’s top fifty listed companies were sitting on R1,4 trillion in cash reserves as at 2016 up from R242 billion in 2005. Added to this, in 2012 South Africa allocated R827 billion to the National Infrastructure Plan

Where the founders are

Last but not least, founders are exiting before they realize the full potential of their businesses because, sooner or later they figure out that nobody with the money to do it, is really willing to risk funding a potential African unicorn when they can invest that money in a Silicon Valley firm with much greater chances of success. The thing is, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, if nobody is willing to put hundreds of millions into an African business then nobody will put hundreds of millions into an African business and there will be no billion dollar African startup. This has been true of Thawte Consulting, MXit, Jumia, Optimal Energy and Andela to name a few. A common thread amongst founders is that they are serial entrepreneurs who after exiting their startups have gone on to new businesses, never mind that the startups that we know them for are likely not their first businesses but just their best known. No matter where in the world you are, serial entrepreneurs are necessary for progress because economies can only grow through doing, the more we do, the more jobs we create and the more we create, the faster and more inclusive this growth will be.

A common thread amongst founders is that they are serial entrepreneurs

There is always something new out of Africa

Whilst Africa has been a leapfrogging champion, creating unicorns will not be one of those instances, much still needs to be done to deepen African economies before we can even dream of creating a conducive ecosystem. This may very well just be an exclusively American phenomenon but the news is not all bad though, the desire to create Silicon Valley clones across Africa may very well be the impetus to create something completely new that the world didn’t even know we needed.

“ex Africa semper aliquid novi”

Pliny the Elder

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Based in Johannesburg South Africa, Ricky Marima is a recovering economist and twenty year veteran of building businesses across a variety of industries. He currently works at knowledge startup RemNes where he guides clients across the continent to ask the right questions about the 4th Industrial Revolution. You can reach him on ricky@remnes.com

Cooperation Over Competition Is Africa’s Economic Future.

This article originally appeared on my LinkedIn page.

Good economic news has been in short supply for South Africa in recent months. From shocking allegations of state capture to the second cabinet reshuffle in less than two years and stagnant growth. A ratings downgrade proved inevitable in 2017 but there was a glimmer of hope with cautious reports of in September of green shoots emerging.

In continental news Egypt was named Africa’s top investment destination by RMB, knocking South Africa off the top spot for the first time in the seven years of the rating. South Africa and Nigeria continue to tussle for the title of Africa’s biggest economy but with a larger population and better overall growth prospects, the odds are in Nigeria’s favor. The news is not great either when you look at South Africa’s ranking in the 2017-18 WEF Global Competiveness Index (WEFGCI) or the World Bank’s Ease Of Doing Business Index.

This is by no means strictly a South African story, look at any African country and you will find they are struggling with at least one index or another. But what if we looked at things differently? What if instead of focusing on who is the best African country, region or city we looked at how through cooperation, African countries, regions or cities can overcome their individual weaknesses? It makes no sense for the African Union to trumpet African economic integration but in practice intra-regional cooperation has been woefully slow, for example, SADC’s intra-regional visa is still a dream after more than a decade of negotiations despite obvious economic benefits. It also makes no sense that a continent endowed with incredible resources competes for global investment and countries find themselves in a spiral to the bottom trying to attract foreign direct investment by giving up non-renewable resources that could fuel long term growth through beneficiation for immediate gain, the trade in unexploited oil blocks all along the east coast comes to mind.

Intra-Africa trade has only increased to 15% of total African trade in the period 2010-15 after languishing around 8-11% for the prior eight years due to numerous logistical and political bottlenecks. There is, however, hope that the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) will usher in ways to circumvent many of these bottlenecks as red tape lags behind technological advancements such as blockchain and industries now possible thanks to increasingly ubiquitous high speed internet. Faster internet speeds, rapidly mushrooming local content across all online platforms, increasing inward as every country has at least one international airport and growing intra-Africa travel is showing we Africans, are all the gateway to Africa. With blockchain cumbersome foreign exchange regulations that have long hindered intra-Africa trade could be a thing of the past. Couple this with high speed internet, one is now able to have cross-continental teams across all sorts of industries working simultaneously on the same project and not having to wait an eternity for payments or juggle exchange rates.

Blockages that have existed for decades are set to be overtaken by a new breed of entrepreneurs who do not see borders and lethargic legislation as they lead Africa’s resurgence. Cooperation, not traditional ideas of competition, is how Africa’s much talked about youth dividend will be realized. Rather than aspiring to be Africa’s top -insert favorite index here-, in the next thirty years national borders will give way to regional economic blocks anchored by mega-cities modeled by unique population growth, migration and urbanization patterns. Governments will focus on facilitating this cross-border entrepreneurial spirit through relevant educational systems, infrastructure development projects and meeting their developmental mandates.

Hyper-inflation, the second coming?

Inflation is defined as too much money chasing too few goods, simple enough right? In recent history Zimbabwe became the textbook case of hyper-inflation in the modern era and just as Venezuela was about to take over this mantle, Africa’s “most educated” country is again in the headlines for all the wrong economic reasons.

In late 2008 Zimbabwe’s inflation peaked in November 2008 before the government stopped releasing figures and subsequently  adopted a multi-currency system of the Zimbabwe dollar in early 2009. Fast forward to September 2017, Zimbabwe has effectively run out of foreign currency to support the multi-currency system and for the last two years the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) has been trying to convince citizens to use bond coins and notes at an equivalent rate as the United States dollar with waning success and growing resentment. As a black market for US dollars and a parallel pricing structure have emerged, people have started to ring the alarm bells fearing hyper-inflation has returned. While this may not be the case, the consequences of the current situation are possibly far worse than what we saw in 2008.

Yes, Zimbabwe is in the grips of inflation, however, the primary good in increasingly short supply at this stage is the US dollar. The bad news is this is having a rapid knock-on effect with the latest sector to experience shortages being fuel as there is simply no money to import it. Medicines are already in short supply in hospitals with reports of the lack of basics such as headache tablets and water.

Whereas the previous hyper-inflation cycle took eleven years to peak, this one will be much faster and vicious. It seems the government is aware of this and as usual, has chosen to go after those alerting the nation to the problems instead if fixing them. Just as citizens are all too aware of the indicators of the return of critical shortages, so too is the government. Expect more such arrests and shutting down of any spaces that allow people to lament the state of the country. Expect a raft of legislation designed to stop you finding alternatives to the shortages, including but not limited to:

  • even tighter restrictions on access to money,
  • the private importation of goods,
  • restrictions on access to information and alternative points of view through social media targeting and possibly blackouts.

Also expect conditions to get much worse much quicker, at the current rate Christmas 2017 will be a grim time indeed. With elections in 2018 and the opposition still not able to muster a real challenge, the ruling party has no incentive to act in the interests of Zimbabweans and is more interested in internal succession politics, the real question is, once the next leader of ZANU PF emerges, will they have done so decisively enough to focus on economic recovery in a post-Mugabe era? As has been said by others before, you can’t rig the economy, so despite all the political maneuvering, Zimbabwe’s economic problems and their consequences, may yet still influence the outcome of the elections long before people go to the ballot box.

A Bitter Harvest Of Shattered Dreams And Broken People.

Apartheid, the worst mental experiment ever visited on African people, was in force in South Africa for 46 years between 1948 and 1994. My country, Zimbabwe, has been under the rule of one party and one man, for 37 years going on 38. In those 37 years they have built a formidable system of control that can only be rivaled in its insidiousness, bloodlust and the total devotion of it’s practitioners by apartheid. Much as in South Africa under successive apartheid governments, ZANU PF control almost every facet of Zimbabwean life and that which they do not control, they ban. Next year Zimbabweans go to vote and it is highly unlikely that the ruling party will lose that election or the one that will follow it in 2023, so by the time we get to 2028, ZANU will have been in power for 48 years.

Apartheid was a grand scheme that ensured the management of every aspect of daily life to the benefit of the white minority at the expense of the black majority by whatever means necessary. In the same spirit, ZANU PF has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980 for the benefit of a select elite, by whatever means necessary. Like in apartheid South Africa, this has included mass and targeted killings, forced removals, propaganda wars, using the police as the state’s first line of defence against disruptive elements, complete control of traditional media and, inflicting a terrible mental burden on the entire population.

Mthetho Tshemese, a South African clinical psychologist, speaks of that country’s unfinished business, the deep psychological scars that were inflicted on the nation under first colonialism then apartheid which continue to be the cause of much suffering more than 23 years into democracy. For many decades, but particularly since 1980, Zimbabwe has similarly gone through a collective psychological trauma that presents itself in the most horrifying ways. One just has to open a newspaper to the courts section to read of horrendous crimes people commit against one another, nevermind the impunity with which our politicians commit violence against opponents. Has anybody stopped to think of what damage has been wrought on the minds of people who have known nothing but a brutal regime for over 37 years? I use the term brutal for lack of a more accurate one because it is woefully inadequate to describe a state that has presided over the deaths and displacement of millions since coming to power under the pretense of liberating said millions from a colonial state that disenfranchised them only to do the same, and in some cases, worse.

Today I heard on Zimbabwean twitter of a video circulating about children as young as 9 selling themselves for sex so they can feed their younger siblings. I have not seen this video and do not know if it has been verified but you are free to search for it. Just the thought that this may be true, left my heart heavy. What made this worse were the obscene comments by some people who should know better. This brought me to terms with the real possibility that as a nation, the end of ZANU rule may only be the beginning of a new bitter chapter.

Long after ZANU is gone and it’s next to impossible to find anyone who admits to ever having voted for them we will have inherited this society of shattered dreams and broken minds. What fresh hell will Zimbabwe be then? I worry that a new vicious, violent and desensitized Zimbabwe is forming before our very eyes perpetuated by those who aspire to rule us until eternity. These rulers thrive on chaos or at least the threat of it and a dysfunctional society suits their purposes. A society where a father cannot be trusted with his daughters, a son cannot be trusted with his grandmother, sex is a commodity to be traded for survival, cabinet ministers ban a woman from the country for not wearing panties and the state-controlled media praise the “mother of the nation” for viciously assaulting a defenseless woman whilst visiting a foreign country as ten bodyguards watch.

This is the true legacy of ZANU PF’s misrule and anyone who dreams to unseat them needs to know this is the nation they will inherit. Any ideas of national healing will have to go way beyond standard interviews with victims of direct political violence but to the children, by then adults, who were displaced and grew up damaged since 1980. These are the streetkids who have poured into the cities since the mid 1990s. They are the children who have had to end schooling early to sell sweets and airtime or beg with their parents on street corners in foreign lands. They are the children forced to trade their innocence for survival and that of their siblings. They are the husbands and wives who are only together in name because one spouse had to leave Zimbabwe to go work in Canada and hasn’t been back in so long they’re kids only know them from photos not knowing if they will ever return. They are the graduates who spend their days outside the bottle store looking to put coins together so they can stay numbed with liquor and not have to think too much about just how shitty their lives are. They are the grandmother who at 73 ploughs her plot to raise 8 grandchildren after their parents died of AIDS whilst a profligate state spends millions sending delegates to international conferences. They are the doctors and nurses who simply cannot go on with the pretense of a health system and now unemotionally tell patients the horrible truth that there is nothing they can do for them.

Rwanda is hailed around the world for how they prosecuted the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide and associated crimes, to is also one of the continent’s most economically progressive and investor-friendly nations. In 2016 I visited Kigali and the conversation inevitably came up, though I did not participate, I listened. One guy spoke of how seeing people who killed your family now back on the street after serving 20 years in jail was like a secondary trauma despite Rwanda’s efforts at national healing. What more those who were too young in 1994 to understand what was happening and are only now coming to terms with what actually happened? How do they accept this as part of their history and how does this affect them? What does this mean for the national psyche going forward?

We are a nation of millions of broken Zimbabweans who bear the psychological scars of an oppressive system that has robbed us of our humanity so as to easier subjugate us. This is the nation of Zimbabwe today and I fear for what the future will bring, fixing the economy is very possible but if we are a nation of broken people there is not enough money in the world to fix that. This, is Zimbabwe’s unstarted business.

Dollars And Nonsense. A Zimbabwean Tragic-Comedy

IMG_4832

On 01 January 2008 I was arrested in Bulawayo after an undercover policeman bought a beer with R20,00 in a shop I owned yet we did not have a license to sell our wares in foreign currency. The police also found US$120,00 in the till which they took as evidence. I was released the same morning and in about September that year went to court where I pleaded guilty alongside my manager and we were each fined US$200,00. The court called the fine a deterrent. Less than four months later, Zimbabwe legalized the use of multiple foreign currencies making the license requirement redundant. Such is the unpredictable nature of the Zimbabwean economy.

By 2010 and we were predominantly using the USD as our currency of choice in Zimbabwe. However, deflation hit heavily after an initial appreciation slowing down the local economy, this was not helped by a sustained depreciation of regional currencies against the USD, particularly the South African Rand, currency of Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner. In 2015 the government officially demonetized the Zimbabwe dollar, something the economy had already long done. As the USD appreciated much was been made of how Zimbabwe’s exports had become less competitive and local production was dying as imports become increasingly cheaper. This led to the introduction of the import ban that wasn’t really a ban but, according to government, just restrictions in the form of SI64 in 2016. At the same time some analysts even went as far as to say the USD was ruining Zimbabwe’s chances of recovery and pointed to the  China’s Renminbi being recognized by the IMF as a main world currency as reason for Zimbabwe to officially adopt the currency of our erstwhile friend.

Whilst this didn’t quite transpire, flawed arguments against the USD led to the introduction of bond notes in 2016, the currency that’s not really a currency but should be accepted as a currency on par with the US Dollar which is still a real currency, according to the Reserve Bank. This has done little to alleviate cash shortages and the plethora of economic problems that Zimbabwe faces. These problems have, in many cases, worsened due almost completely to policy flip-flopping by the government in general and the Reserve Bank in particular, who at times, have been nothing short of dishonest. A case in point is the actual introduction of bond notes which saw legal challenges and duplicitous statements from none other than the Reserve Bank governor John Mangudya. Mangudya has also consistently ignored government profligacy’s contribution to the downward economic spiral blaming everything from Visa and MasterCard transactions to blaming payment of DStv subscriptions as a form of externalization.

Zimbabwe has also seen a spate of new and increased taxes in the last three years as government tries to mop  up any hard currency out there to feed it’s insatiable appetite for ultimately fruitless expenditure, including the rather dubious 5% Health Levy now charged on airtime and mobile data. Wether this money will benefit the supposed beneficiaries is anybody’s guess.

As we hurtle towards elections in 2018 Zimbabwe’s biggest problem remains what it has been for decades, an untrustworthy government that chops and changes economic policy to suit ruling party politics on a whim. Unfortunately with the opposition in disarray with no clear economic blueprint either, some have said the only real hope is a reformed ZANU PF. As some cry and others laugh out of a need for comic relief, one can only wonder in dread what the future holds for southern Africa’s former bread basket.

We Don’t Need Another Hero.

it’s been a phenomenal two weeks in the country of my birth, Zimbabwe. The events of the last fourteen days across the country have caught everyone unawares. From the initial demonstrations at Beitbridge border post on June 20th when SI 64 was first implemented to the burning of the customs warehouse and closure of the Zimbabwe and South Africa border for the first time in over a century, media and government were at a loss to explain what had changed in the mood of the country. Little did they know more was to come.

Hardly two days after relative order was restored at Beitbridge, Monday saw running battles between police and Kombi drivers across parts of Harare as the latter went on strike in protest against traffic police corruption. Police deployed their standard tactics only to be met by an emboldened resistance that saw reports of them being beaten back by enraged protestors. As the day went on pictures emerged of excessive police force along with increasingly violent resistance.

In response to the burning of the Beitbridge customs warehouse, Minister of State Security Kembo Mohadi, who is from Beitbridge, exclaimed:

“We are very much disturbed. Why should the South African businesspeople try to influence our policy formulation? They have their own laws and we don’t meddle. It is sad that they chose to mobilise our people against the Government. The burning of tyres during demonstrations is foreign to us and we suspect a third hand is involved in the chaos that rocked Beitbridge town on Friday,” 

Mohadi also blamed the police for being unprepared leading to the army having to be called in. The police, for their part, have been consistent in  cracking down viciously at any sign of protest but have at times appeared at a loss when confronted by protestors who are not scared of them anymore. Instead, they have now started to look for the ringleaders of these protests, another old policing tactic.

Now whilst the police and government try to get control of the situation the media have been excitedly keeping the world informed and as is their nature, trying to find that unique angle to differentiate their coverage from that of the competition. The irony is, many are as confused about this new wave of resistance as the state, and like the state, have resorted to classic theories to explain what is going on. In this effort, they have identified an ideal leader who fits the desired profile in a Harare pastor, Evan Mawarire.

Mawarire has risen to prominence over the last few months after a series of Facebook videos of him venting his frustration at the state of the country resonated with fellow Zimbabweans inspiring others to share their stories of frustration. His use of social media to galvanise people has been nothing short of phenomenal and he has attracted other equally talented and frustrated Zimbabweans to his cause under what has come to be known as the #ThisFlag citizens movement. Collectively they called for a stay-away on Wednesday 06 July which saw the country come to a virtual standstill and protestors in running battles with the police in Harare and Bulawayo. Following on this they have published a list of demands and are threatening a second stay-away next week.

#ThisFlag is now the ideal one-stop-shop for publishers looking for a ready-made media package for anyone wanting to know what’s going on in Zimbabwe today and its all here on social media, or so some local and international media would have us believe. It is at this point that I become wary. The last week has seen all sorts of people claiming credit or being assigned blame for what has in reality been a collective effort who’s time has come. The MDC-T’s Obert Gutu was quick off the mark after Wednesday’s stay-away to claim that this was only possible because of them, an act that was roundly condemned across social, digital and print media.

Now that the dust has settled, the state and media alike, are looking for ringleaders of the protests, albeit for different reasons. The state so they can put an end to the protests, the media so they can find new heroes and villains to replace the tired characters of the seemingly eternal Zimbabwean political soap opera. Why shouldn’t they? This formula has worked marvellously for both of them in the past. Only problem is, this time around what’s happening in Zimbabwe does not fit this mould. This is popular resistance against a political system that has failed Zimbabweans for too long and now seeks to starve them. I don’t know where started but it certainly was not on social media and it certainly was not on July 01, Zimbabweans have been frustrated a damn long time and have been using various means to just get by in spite of a state that has continued to make life harder for them.

Recent moves by the state, notably the introduction of bond notes and S I 64 have been the most brazen of a number of unpopular moves going back as far as 2000 or even 1980, depending on who you speak to. All these own goals have seen Zimbabweans from all walks of life saying they have had enough, from advocates to vendors to taxi-drivers to pastors to journalists to students. Every Zimbabwean who is not benefiting directly from the patronage system that is our government today has had enough and are finding means of expression, no matter where they are. In Bulawayo youths who I saw growing up were arrested for demanding Mugabe must go on Wednesday, they are out on $40 bail each. A few weeks ago a woman wrote of how she lost her child to an inept health care system. Two people who have been creating platforms for Zimbabweans to communicate with and develop each other tweeted about how they were interviewed by the police about their activities in the same week. People are sharing their dissatisfaction with the state and they all need to be heard, to position some as heroes this early in the night is to set us all up for failure. We are all important and we all deserve support.

The world wants to tell us social media has become a new frontier in the battle for a normal life in Zimbabwe and in response the state has threatened to control social media, even allegedly disrupting the internet during Wednesday’s stay-away. Barring social media or the internet entirely will not put food in peoples’ bellies or bring back lost children. It won’t restore the tens of thousands of jobs lost annually, let alone the millions ZANU promised during the 2013 elections. Employees are only as loyal as their last paycheque and in Zimbabwe regular paycheques have become increasingly rare. As the state & media look for heroes and villains a country demands a return to normalcy so they don’t have to ever again read in a WhatsApp message about a relative dying in a hospital because there was no water.

We don’t need another hero in Zimbabwe, our history is riddled with them and since 1980 their legacies have been used to control and cajole us. We need all our stories to be told and a responsible government that values the life of every citizen.