Dollars And Nonsense. A Zimbabwean Tragic-Comedy

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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.

Why We Need To Stop Saying “South Africa Will Be Another Zimbabwe”

Yesterday I listened to a podcast of a talk-show hosted by one of my favorite radio presenters, the topic was, Is South Africa on the brink of Zimbabwe’s fate?. Newspaper publisher Trevor Ncube and another guest were in studio talking about a warning Ncube had tweeted about how South Africans risked becoming like Zimbabwe. Now this warning is not uncommon, in fact, it has become more commonplace with every passing economic and political scandal in South Africa, no need to mention them here.

With every person who repeats it this theory has gained traction, become increasingly easier to swallow so much that I too, have said a thing or two in this regard. However, after some reflection, I realize I have been wrong. South Africa is not on the road to becoming another Zimbabwe and never will be.

 

I realized I too, had fallen victim to easy comparisons and the expectation of African failure because, well, this is Africa and that’s what Africans do right? Our continental post-independence history does not do us any favors, from Ghana to South Sudan there are just too many stories of failed or failing states. It becomes easy to believe there is a template for African failure and resign one’s self to the “fact” that at least we’re not as bad as (insert name of appropriately failing African state here). This illusion allows us a false cushion from our reality, even today, with things as bad as they are in Zimbabwe you will frequently find somebody saying “at least we’re not as bad as . . . . . “.

 

Now in South Africa, Zimbabwe has become the ultimate bogeyman. From that scary story told to by business to the media so they keep an eye on government and not them, to a shrill cry on talk radio from sunrise to sunset and beyond. I believe this is wrong and incredibly misleading. South Africa is a unique country with a history and economy like no other, she should only be measured against herself. An often trotted out line when government talks about how great things are in South Africa is “before 1994. . . .”, it is now 22 years after that and 26 since the country set on the path to majority rule. South Africa should be measuring herself against the goals set since 1994 and what has been achieved since. Measuring South Africa against Nigeria or Zimbabwe is a cheap cop-out when the post-1994 data is there for all to use. It is always curious to me when people don’t pay more attention to this.

 

It is also easy to berate South Africa for not having achieved economic freedom for all after 22 years of independence but that is unfair considering what a mammoth task that is, despite successive governments’ promises. A man I admire recently gave this analogy:

 

If the white economy was a cup of boiling water and the rest of the population a lake of cold water, pouring the cup into the lake will not change the temperature of the lake.

 

He was speaking to the redistributive practices of every developing state, post independence, it is not just an African problem. In South Africa, things started out a little differently. The first 20 years of democracy saw the economy grow by over 60%, a phenomenal achievement, however, the demands of the population reliant on this economy grew by far more, now please allow me some statistical latitude. Prior to 1994 10% of the population controlled and benefitted from virtually the country’s entire means of production. Post 1994 an economy which had been designed to benefit some 5 million odd now had to sustain almost 40 million. What is really scary is, this is pretty standard for post-colonial independence and comes with a hefty social development debt from international financiers that, more often than not, can never be paid off.

South Africa did a remarkable job of growing the economy under this incredible pressure and for the most part, citizens were accepting of the challenge before them, “Mandela Magic” some called it. Fast forward to 1998 and then deputy President Thabo Mbeki’s famous two countries speech, suddenly it was out in the open that despite government and the majority population’s efforts, South Africa had entrenched economic structural problems characterised by jobless growth and growing inequality that were not just going to be swept away by post-94 euphoria. Considering all this, how does one even start to bring Zimbabwe into the picture?

 

The increased service delivery protests since and more recently nationwide unrest across tertiary institutions are testament to the growing impatience of citizens who have grown tired of waiting for their elected government to deliver. The protestors have it right, they know South Africa is not another Zimbabwe and are calling on those responsible to account. The protestors know to measure South Africa against what was promised and what was delivered. South Africa is a country gifted a bounty that is more than adequate to sustain her citizens and a majority citizenry willing to do the hard work to make this happen. Problems arise when those who have benefitted from historically skewed resource allocation want to maintain their status at the expense of those who are just trying to get ahead in life. Try telling them “at least you’re better off than Zimbabwe” and let’s see what happens.

 

Do Zimbabweans Really Speak So Well?

In 1986 I was a ten year old boy going on eleven doing grade 6 at a highly rated government school in Bulawayo. One day our teacher, Mr. Lewis, a Welshman, says to me “You speak so well that if I was to close my eyes I would think I was listening to a white boy”. I was so pleased with myself I went home beaming and couldn’t wait to tell my parents about this amazing compliment Mr. Lewis had paid me. I cannot remember my mother’s reaction but my father said dryly, “and you think that is something to be proud of?” I was ten, what did I know? That day marked me for the rest of my life and informed my interest in history and how we Zimbabweans came to speak English to begin with.
I was reminded of that day when recently on Twitter I got into a debate with someone who believes Zimbabweans are superior to other Africans, especially Nigerians, because we speak English so well. Now it is one thing to think you are highly proficient in a particular language but it is totally another to laude this proficiency over others when the language in question is the result of colonial conquest and was forced upon your ancestors just as it was upon countless millions around the world. Can one really say they are superior because they have more fully adapted the ways and graces of those who formerly oppressed them?

Now don’t get me wrong, I fully understand the functionality of English as a medium in the world that we live in but I am also acutely aware of the way it has been used in the past and even today to obliterate indigenous culture, religion and thought. It is for these reasons that I see no reason for someone who is descendent from these obliterated cultures to celebrate their proficiency in English AND laude it over others who share the same scars of having their history robbed from them. I just don’t get it.

The discussions went on all day with many Zimbabweans telling the author of the claim that he was wrong in his assertions but he stubbornly held on. The low-point for me was when he responded to those who didn’t agree with him by tweeting “this isn’t going to expand anything. A lot of you are being primitive on here.” I was left wondering, if this was just his arrogance, ignorance or something worse. Had the black self-hate I read about online manifested itself in this young person? Did he really believe that his affinity to whiteness made him better than other black people? Was he really telling me of all the traits and talents he had developed, speaking English well was the one he prized most? If so, was he the only one? Soon enough others came out in support of this position but none with such fervour and commitment as he who started it all. He was unapologetic, as a Zimbabwean, he was proud to speak English so well and other Africans should just deal with the fact that we are just better at it.

Interestingly enough, at least two Nigerians contested this saying their English accent was better than that of Zimbabweans whilst a number of southern Africans, particularly South Africans, were insulted and none too polite in their responses. What this did show me though, was that the majority of interactions were united in their rejection of using English proficiency as a yardstick for superiority, in fact, they rejected the entire notion of one African being superior to another. This something that I take to heart because I have never understood the zeal with which our governments attempt to outdo each other in whatever ranking comes out of whatever organisation that claims to have authority of whatever sort. One that particularly bothers me is the manufactured fight between South Africa and Nigeria to be Africa’s biggest economy. As a collective we would be so much better off if we looked to the least developed countries on the continent and together worked to uplifting them out of that dire situation, but I digress.

The British were very good, no, uniquely excellent in spreading their language and culture across the world as part and parcel of their brand of global conquest for over six hundred years. It is wishful thinking to imagine we can erase that legacy in Zimbabwean minds in two generations but one hopes that with each generation this influence is tempered by our rediscovery of ourselves as a people with a past, present and future that is not dependent on affinity to the so-called global standard of doing things. As Zimbabweans, we need not speak so well to get ahead.

N.B. This post first appeared in Her Zimbabwe.

Of Carts And Donkeys: Why it is wrong to think exports will restore and sustain Zimbabwe’s economy.

Unlike the chicken and egg riddle, in economics, there is no question that a strong domestic economy is always the basis from which strong exports are built. This is why it remains a wonder to me that every other day there is talk of how Zimbabwe’s exporters need to ramp up production and take advantage of international markets. At the same time the Minister of Trade and Industry, Mike Bimha, is telling any foreigner who will listen that Zimbabwe is open for business with a vibrant domestic market. A few weeks ago Minister Bimha reportedly went as far as to invite a South African business delegation to take advantage of the current jobs bloodbath and set up shop in Zimbabwe because local industry is practically stalled. So local producers must export whilst the domestic market is serviced by foreign firms who come in and produce? How does this work? This is the same thinking with the Look East policy that has seen Chinese firms benefiting from generous investment initiatives going back at least a decade with no reciprocation. It is now clear there was never any incentive for the Chinese to do so to begin with because Zimbabwe did not negotiate a trade deal, they simply gave the family jewels away.

What Zimbabwe needs to do is focus on deepening the local economy, a Marshall Plan, if you will. The first step is to restore trust in the government, nobody puts in a country where those who run it cannot be trusted to honour their commitments unless they themselves are not trustworthy. Next would be to restore local industrial capacity to supply the domestic market by investing in base infrastructure such as roads, rail, electricity, education, telecommunications, health and housing. This can only be done once Zimbabwe becomes a viable investment destination, a factor largely determined by the level of government’s trustworthiness. For too long Zimbabwe has tried to sell itself as primarily a source of raw materials and a conduit to the continent with the domestic economy treated as ancillary to that. The central location of Zimbabwe previously made it ideal for channeling southern and central Africa’s produce to the ports of South Africa and Mozambique and imports up north. Any benefit falling to the local economy was more of mere consequence rather than actual intent. This is Zimbabwe’s colonial legacy, it is still strong and highly evident in the trade language of today’s government. But there is hope.

It is notable that barely days after President Mugabe gave his surprisingly brief State Of The Nation Address parliament is seized with passing a raft of laws aimed at creating a more investment friendly environment. Needless to say, last week’s visit by Nigerian businessman Aliko Dangote and the announcement of his intent to invest in Zimbabwe could not be coincidental. This has been borne out in various news stories of the behind the scenes negotiations culminating in last Monday’s whirlwind visit. The local broadcaster had hardly scrambled together their usual analysts and Dangote had already left Harare. Since then cabinet has approved all of Dangote’s projects, though I am not sure what that means as no plans have yet been presented to them, let alone drawn up. Meanwhile the Zimbabwe Investment Authority’s Nigel Chanakira has said they will not be found wanting when the time for issuing all necessary investment permits comes.

Whist I have many questions about what this deal means for how Zimbabwe conducts business I am cautiously optimistic. I am hoping government may just have finally painted themselves into a corner such that they have no room to mess this up as they have done countless times before. Another reason to like this deal is that it is totally about local capacity building to cater for Zimbabweans. The coal will be mined locally for domestic power generation to feed a cement plant that will primarily supply the local market. It is now to wait and see how local businesses are going to compliment these developments and thus deepen the economic multiplier effect.

This is what it means to put the domestic economy first. It is not prone to the whims of export markets and fancies of international commodity brokers. The more integrated the domestic economy, the better it will carry a country through any international crises. It is the donkey that will pull the proverbial cart and it must be fed. If such efforts can be replicated across other industrial sectors over the next ten years there is hope yet to see a Zimbabwe restored to it’s rightful economic status in our lifetime.

Zimbabwe Sees Boost In Regional Exports

Today the world woke up to the news that Zimbabwe has become a regional powerhouse in an unexpected field, load shedding. Whilst it is widely known that Zimbabwe has struggled with power generation for a number of years, it has only recently come to light that Africa’s most literate country has turned this national lemon into the proverbial lemonade.

Following a state visit to South Africa in April this year by President Mugabe, South Africa and Zimbabwe signed a variety of trade pacts. It is believed amongst these was a commitment by South Africa to increase it’s imports of load shedding from Zimbabwe by 500% phased in over 3 years to allow Zimbabwe to ramp up production. South Africa is believed to have wanted an exclusive deal but Zimbabwe resisted this siting her positions as chair of both SADC and the AU. Zimbabwe trade negotiators felt this resource must be shared with all of Africa. Unofficial sources have stated that load shedding exports to South Africa could be the economic panacea that Zimbabwe has been looking for after a similar deal with Nigeria fell through.

Zimbabwe is also a major global exporter of skilled and unskilled labour with South Africa being a major market. It is possibly the runaway success of this trade that swayed the Zuma presidency to conclude the mammoth load shedding deal.

Zimbabwe will also be ramping up exports of specialist financial services to South Africa and the greater SADC community, chief among them, currency devaluation and inflation fuelling. Early gains have already been recorded in South Africa with the ZAR now at near record levels to the currencies of western imperialist states. Inflation however, has proved to be rather stubborn and a specialist team has been seconded to Finance Minister NhlaNhla Nene from Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Finance as a matter of urgency.
Other areas where Zimbabwe has provided services to South Africa include:
Service non-delivery
Ghost worker deployment
Legislative bungling
National debt maximisation
Government Accountability reduction measures

As part of a cultural aspect Zimbabwe will also be deploying experts in historical revisionism to ensure the struggle against apartheid is forever remembered as it should be.

The Unbearable Heaviness Of Blackness

Ricky In Real Life

Can one exist as a black person in South Africa without anger? Is it logical, possible even, to just want to exist without the burden of all this continent’s, no, this world’s history upon your shoulders? I am increasingly finding it difficult not to question the seething black anger I come across daily on social media. There is a toxicity, a contagion in that rage that I simply have no stomach for. Society (read politicians, media, friends and family) manipulates this anger and sets us up to be adversarial with just about everybody we meet. We are taught to always be wary of the invisible “they” because at any moment all we have can be taken away. We must work twice as hard as “they” do for even a quarter of what “they” have. The “they” is a shifting target depending on which marginalized black group is being addressed.Basically, we are…

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