Old Brooms For Old Corners.

This morning I, along with everyone else who is not a member of Team #NoSleep, woke up to the news that President Mnangagwa had announced his 22 member cabinet late last night. It seems some were ready with analysis and opinion pieces literally the moment the press statement was released, something I find quite odd seeing as most of these ministers have not even had a chance to put bums to seats let alone outline policy. Some have even complained that this has taken “agonisingly long”, as if the President was sworn in barely a week ago and has had a lot on his plate. Many have complained about the retention of many familiar faces that have been implicated in corruption in the past and at best have shown lack-lustre performance in their decades in cabinet. I too look at their retention with trepidation but I believe, as I will try to outline below with a focus on economics, that context is key. I will leave the implications of installing military men in cabinet to others more qualified.

The ghosts of still-born mega-deals.

When Chris Mutsvangwa was still ambassador to China he led the effort to secure deals with that country which, whilst great for the Chinese, did not yield the desired results for Zimbabwe due to various reasons, chief amongst them ZANU PF infighting for a slice of the action going back to at least as early as 2005. Following the 2013 elections much was made of mega-deals with China that would ensure Zimbabwe’s recovery and the success of ZANU PF’s economic blueprint ZimAsset, to date it is unclear what exactly these mega-deals were or are. None of this came to pass as four years later the country is in a far worse economic condition to the point the army even noted this as one of the reasons for their coup that wasn’t a coup. Again, it is still a mystery as to why the mega-deals never materialised however I have it on good authority that ZANU PF and in effect, presidential, succession was a nagging issue for the Chinese who wanted assurance of continuity after Mugabe. As we all know now, Mugabe’s idea of succession was not that popular outside of Blue Roof.

Another mega-deal that seemed to mysteriously go up in smoke was the 2015 multi-billion dollar Dangote investment in power generation and cement manufacturing. After a flurry of activity reportedly under the personal watch of then VP Mnangagwa himself, Zimbabwe’s government went to all lengths to facilitate the consummation of the deal only to be tripped up by political risk concerns. This deal, like those with the Chinese have been on ice for years now, could the change in government be what breaks the impasse? Granted much has happened around the world as China and Dangote have turned their attention to other markets but a repackaging of these deals by Chinamasa, Bimha, Mutsvangwa and a willing President Mnangagwa could see them back on track and finally spur into life Zimbabwe’s recovery.

The Lima Plan.

In 2015 Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa was on an outreach mission to reengage international lenders who had long abandoned Zimbabwe for failure to repay debts. This culminated in a trip to Lima Peru where he presented an ambitious plan to repay all debts to the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and African Development bank simultaneously by end April 2016. As has become the norm, Zimbabwe missed this deadline and was therefore unable to access further lending despite government’s claim of a billion dollar lifeline from global commodities firm Trafigura to pay the World Bank that never materialised. With Zimbabwe enjoying a now enjoying renewed attention from global lenders and development partners, could there be a resuscitation of the Lima Plan in the short term and a restoration of credit lines within the next six to eight months? The first test will be the visit by the IMF to Harare next week.

Out with the Populists in with the Reformers.

Former President Mugabe never really enjoyed a good relationship with his finance ministers particularly from the start of the current economic crisis in the late 1990s namely, Herbert Murerwa, Simba Makoni, Christopher Kuruneri and Patrick Chinamasa. The more they advised caution, the worse the relationship, Mugabe famously said to Herbert Murerwa in 2006:

“We are under sanctions and there is no room for the type of bookish economics we have at the Ministry of Finance,” 

Patrick Chinamasa, despite his many mistakes in an effort to please a demanding and diametrically opposed boss, is nothing if not a reformer. He has consistently called for fiscal restraint but only to be rebuffed on occasions too numerous to mention culminating in his recent short-lived move to the now defunct Ministry of Cyber Security.  President Mnangagwa too shows all the signs of being a reformer and in the short term this combination could yield spectacular results for Zimbabwe if Chinamasa is given the independence to carry out the much needed reforms he is all too aware of. It will be interesting to see how his reformist agenda is received by the rest of government. Another man who was brought in as a reformer but had no choice but to tow the Mugabe line is Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya. He is now the man tasked with facilitating the return of stolen money under the ninety day exemption and overseeing the recovery of the financial sector and with Chinamasa, dealing with international financial institutions.

Policies, policies everywhere but not a sign of implementation.

It is no secret Zimbabwe is “blessed” with policy crafters but what has been sorely lacking is implementation. If President Mnangagwa is to be believed, his administration will focus on correcting this. It would not be surprising at all if the new administration, rather than start from scratch,  simply dust off the some old policies, update them and get to work implementing. It would save a lot of time, labour and money, especially on critical economic and legal reforms that have been pending for years. So whilst many have criticised this cabinet for being full of the same old faces, I am inclined to believe there is a valid reason for this. These same old faces will not need to start from scratch, they are already aware of what needs to be done, who needs to do it and how. What has lacked in the past is a reason for implementation and this is no longer the case, government has no choice but to fix the economy and to do so urgently. If one wants to take a more macabre view, even those who have been eating know they can only eat from a functioning economy. There is much work to be done and whilst a rising tide lifts all ships, cautious optimism remains the default position at this stage.

 

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

 

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.

***

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

 

 

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.

Smoke & Mirrors, Lessons from the elective congress that wasn’t.

The much-hyped ZANU PF elective congress finally took place last week in Harare from Tuesday to Saturday and there was no shortage of fireworks throughout. With the frenetic talk of factions in recent months many expected a showdown like never before but in a move to preempt this the outgoing politburo recommended that rather than elections the First Secretary appoint the new politburo and this was approved by congress. This gave President Mugabe sole discretion to appoint his two vice presidents and second secretaries, the national chairperson, the heads of departments of the politburo, the committee members of the politburo and the deputies to the heads of department.

President Mugabe was expected to announce these appointments on Saturday night but in another move to possibly keep the peace he said:

“I could not rush to choose people. I would want time to look at the new names, new people that have come into the central committee and see which hands we could put to the politburo,”

“…I haven’t seen what the provinces gave us. I don’t want to rush it, so be patient. By mid next week, by Wednesday or Thursday, we will make an announcement. We will let you know because we cannot go far. We will have to choose the two vice presidents and the chairman, and the secretary, one who is in charge of our secretariat, the job Mutasa was doing.”

In a week where everything seemed to be going right for the first couple as they secureed their leadership positions in ZANU PF and in effect Zimbabwe, this would have brought finality to internal strife that has gripped the party in recent months. There is much speculation as to why he did this ranging from his advanced age to him wanting to enjoy the extended grovelling by those seeking appointments. I have another theory.

The President now effectively has sole control of ZANU PF’s decision-making structures which means the party’s fortunes rise and fall with him now more directly than before. Once appointed every politburo member can now rightly claim they have been directly appointed by the President and that they speak on  his behalf. As they are no longer voted for who is to say that anyone else’s authority beside’s the President’s will be adhered to going forward? The politburo itself may now be of little meaning as a decision making body. President Mugabe may be wondering if, by appointing the wrong people to key positions how will he control them considering the alleged coup plot that has caused such ructions in the party? This may explain why throughout his speeches on Saturday President Mugabe continually emphasised service to the party and the nation saying at one point

“I want to say thank you. I know I am not greater than people. As a leader, I am your servant, . . We must treasure and take care of Zimbabwe.”.

Maybe realising the delicacy of the task President Mugabe said he needed more time to consider politburo and presidium candidates. Now I am not sure, but I assume the ZANU PF constitutional amendments do not allow for the central committee to review politburo appointments made by the President. ZANU PF has guidelines for who is eligible to contest which post based mostly on experience but this has been rubbished by the unopposed election and subsequent appointment of Grace Mugabe as Secretary For Women’s Affairs without her having held any prior position in the party. This is not to mention her vicious attacks on various senior members in previous months without being challenged whilst she was still an ordinary member. This apparent suspension of the rules can only make the pending appointments more difficult and less predictable. President Mugabe is famous for taking his time to make seemingly key appointments and I would not be surprised if come Friday there is still no decision on the politburo, presidium and the vice presidents, remember second Vice President John Nkomo died in January 2013 but his replacement is yet to be announced.

It is not unreasonable to think the events of the last week have left an old man drained and he needs time to come to terms with the fact that he has, amongst other problems,  a potential constitutional crisis on his hands with a Vice President he has publicly accused of treason but has taken no action against. These events have also brought about the realisation that he is surrounded by people who no longer take his word as gospel but now merely pay him lip service. Considering how he went on at length about the liberation struggle only to be passed a note from his wife saying he should wrap up, is President Mugabe now realising just how out of touch he is with the relative youths in ZANU PF leadership? The liberation struggle was such a simpler time, you were either with or against the movement, nowadays there are factions within factions and unparalleled intrigue.

It could be too that the purges of the last two months finally took their toll on him. Despite the lack of blood so far, these events remind me of Stalin’s Great Purge of the 1930s where family members accused each other of treason and the allegations got more fantastic by the day. Jacob Mudenda took the allegations against Vice President Mujuru to new levels with this gem

“This plot involved some among us, under the leadership of then Vice-President Joice Teurai Ropa Mujuru and her cabal of senior politburo members, who had been enticed by the Americans and some Europeans with promises that they would pour billions of dollars into Zimbabwe once they succeeded in allying with the opposition formations to oust Zanu PF and its iconic President and first secretary from power.”.

Not done yet Mudenda went on in classic purge mode to encourage the accused to repent and ask for forgiveness before evidence is produced against them. The accused are yet to respond.

With power games at such a high level it is not unusual for the protagonists to continue communicating via back channels whilst in public they excoriate each other. Consider that Vice President Joice Mujuru has only made one public statement and along with her co-accused did not attend congress. Whilst President Mugabe and others publicly heaped scorn on her throughout the congress it is significant that she is not currently in jail considering the seeming seriousness of the allegations against her and others. I would wager that the President is weighing his options as any punitive moves against VP Mujuru may weaken his position. President Mugabe is a master of isolating threats and the best way to do this right now would be to retain Joice Mujuru whilst whittling away her perceived support base effectively making her a lame duck VP.

Being the obedient party cadre that she is, VP Mujuru has kept a disciplined silence and not challenged the first family on their allegations against her. My guess is this is part of a plan for a post-Mugabe white knight campaign for the presidency. As others fall over themselves to make accusations, denials, threats, insults, retractions and counter-accusations, she is the only one who has not descended to this level, making her relatively clean. I imagine VP Mujuru sees the current situation as unsalvageable and could wait out the next few years till elections whilst those who have hounded her tear each other apart. It is much easier to fight a battle on one front against a tired enemy than the current situation where brazen attackers and accusers abound. Already the ranks are thinning out with some perceived candidates for the vice presidency retiring from the race.

President Mugabe may have won this round but the battle for the presidency is far from over and time is not on his side. Despite ZANU PF and the state media’s declarations as to his abilities and inferences to his immortality, the signs of age were there for all to see on Saturday with him making a number of notable gaffs. If the congress taught us one thing it is that the race to state house will be won by the one who bides their time, not by shock and awe tactics which fizzle out into hot air.

To Kill An African Dream

Dreams do not die in an instant, once they start to fade they linger for a time as the dreamer struggles to keep them alive, denying the inevitable. When they do die it is not with the intensity of the death of a thousand suns but the flickering of a candle wick drowning in what once gave it life, it’s own wax.

Recently I was reminded of Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s ascendancy to the Chairperson of the African Union when she garnered more votes than Gabon’s Jean Ping after a very tough voting process in 2012. Most in South Africa’s delegation celebrated this as a victory with dancing and singing once the final vote was in to the dismay of other delegates who thought this behaviour bordered on hubris. Maite Nkoane-Mashabane, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations, was at pains to explain that this is how things are done back home and this was not meant to be disrespectful of the outgoing Mr. Ping or other delegates, unfortunately the damage had already been done. Rumblings about South African arrogance and unsportsmanlike conduct in the AU Chairperson electoral process were rife and even today these sentiments have never quite abated.

On Sunday South Africa’s ruling African National Congress held their final rally before Wednesday 07 May’s general election. It was billed as a victory rally, oddly enough, for an election yet to happen. I come from a school of thought that dictates, no matter how sure a sure thing is, you don’t pop the champagne till the deed is done, it appears the ANC of today does not subscribe to this. Whilst it is plausible to argue that an ANC majority in the general election is a foregone conclusion, should it be seen as a win & if the result is in their favour, should this be celebrated as a victory? If indeed it is a victory then it stands to reason that there is at least one loser and if so who is or are the losers & what have they lost? I will return to this later.

In 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released from prison an entire continent breathed a sigh of relief. I was in high school in Zimbabwe and 11 February was declared a public holiday in honour of the momentous occasion. As I grew up and started to better understand the political legacy of my country and the continent, I began to grasp the enormity of the expectation placed upon the world’s newest democracy at the time. In Mandela was a chance for a nation to change the African stereotypes of institutionalised corruption, intransigent leadership, human rights abuses and selective application of democratic principles. As everyone knows this was for the most part South Africa under Mandela and that after him the rainbow started to tarnish ever so slightly.

As somewhat of an outsider on the inside, as I spend a lot of my time here, I agree with the view that in the years following Mandela’s retirement in 1999 fractures began to appear in the South African rainbow. Some Afro-pessimists said South Africa would quickly go the way of all other African countries because there was really nothing special about the transition to democracy, that once Mandela died the country would burn. Whilst nothing as extreme as that has happened since Mandela passed on in December, events of at least the last five years have brought to the fore the fact that South Africa has significant governance shortcomings and it’s ruling party have adopted some of the unsavoury traits of stereotypical African leadership.

In the run-up to tomorrow’s elections allegations of the conflation of party and state by the African National Congress have become increasingly concerning with state resources allegedly used by the party in its campaigns culminating in a story this morning of an ANC election agent being found with ballot papers in his home, allegedly for safekeeping. All this whilst the Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Pansy Tlakula has been embroiled in allegations of impropriety which simply won’t go away.

All this has contributed to tarnishing the dream that was South Africa for the rest of the continent. Whilst there is some truth to the claim that Africans in general aspire to South Africa’s level of economic sophistication it is also true that many Africans aspired to the dream of 1994 of an exemplary nation that made respect of the rule of law and protection of all who live in it paramount. This  is where South Africa has failed Africa, killing the dream of hundreds of millions leaving us to grapple with the disbelief that if the dream is no more, what hope is there for the rest of us? If South Africa with all its resources, global goodwill and the best constitution in the world can get so caught up in “African problems” what hope do the rest of us have with our leaders’ lack of appreciation for democratic principles?

This brings me back to the ANC’s “victory” rally on Sunday. Whilst elections are about raising emotions as politicians look to keep their jobs, ruling parties are often prone to developing a sense of entitlement treating elections as a slight distraction from business as usual. I for one hoped this fate would not befall South Africa but it has. For a party to declare the result a foregone conclusion so blatantly reminds me of ZANU Pf’s star rally in Zimbabwe’s 2013 general elections on the last Sunday of campaigning at a packed National Sports Stadium in Harare. This was not my dream for South Africa.

An election is a chance for the people to make their voices heard by voting into office those who can best represent their interests. An election is a chance for elected officials to account to the people for what they have done with their mandate. This is no longer the case instead you have career politicians who put themselves and their needs ahead of the nation and allegiance to a President above all else. This presents the danger that those who did not vote for the ruling party and do not adopt its views run the risk of being marginalised from state resources, already such claims have been widespread at local government level in municipalities not governed by the ANC or where communities have expressed displeasure with the party. When a political party has a victory celebration before a single vote is cast in the country what message does this send to the citizenry?

The Freedom Charter, one of the founding documents of the country drawn up by leading minds of the fight for democratic rule in June 1955 under the umbrella movement the Congress Of the People, proclaims “South Africa belongs to all who live in it”. One wonders just how this will be possible in the current political climate, how will the interests of those who do not support the ruling party be protected? It is one thing to have the best constitution ever written but it is quite another to live by it every single day. If they can disenfranchise their own citizens how will this government protect the interests of migrants who can’t vote but have made a life in this country? The selective application of tenets of this supreme law is what has left many an African nation broken. This has seen Botswana rise as a moral beacon replacing South Africa, in my view a much more significant setback than being ranked the second biggest African economy after Nigeria. Inappropriate comments about other African countries by the President and ministers in his cabinet do not inspire confidence.

The greatest achievement of apartheid was to separate the South African mentally from Africa by creating a fear of black Africa which is pervasive across all races to this day. This fear has become even more entrenched since 1994 and is unfortunately not taken seriously by any political party. It is this fear, not arrogance, that causes South Africans to project themselves the way they do across the continent and it continues to entrench a horrible apartheid legacy. As South Africa goes to the polls tomorrow I wonder how many citizens realise just how important this vote is to Africa and the immense consequences their actions will have throughout the continent. I honestly hope I am wrong and the dream is not dead, that South Africa will find its moral compass and restore its position as a true African success story, dragging all of us into the light that is unfettered democracy and real economic freedom.

 

An inconvenient Prayer

It is generally agreed that Zimbabwe is a deeply Christian country although I’ve never been convinced of the veracity of this. These days the lines between Christianity and traditional beliefs have become increasingly blurred, just go to a Catholic mass if you don’t believe me. My wife who grew up going to churches that adhere to strict Catholic doctrine was surprised at the unfamiliar songs language and drums at last Easter Sunday mass at Christ The King in Bulawayo.

As the political and economic troubles of the country have continued two places have seen a dramatic rise in patrons, churches and drinking places, though serving diametrically opposed communities both attempt to offer their patrons a chance to forget their problems and a moment of solace. I will not debate who does a better job of it but am reminded of a certain communist and his views on the masses and their opiates of choice.

In recent times I have come to question the religious fervour that has swept up so many Zimbabweans regardless of where they are in the world. This is evident on social networks which allow a window into how we relate as Zimbabweans across the globe, I doubt you can go through five “Twimbo” profiles without seeing some religious reference. An often heard and read refrain when people discuss issues Zimbabwean is “Mwari pindirai”, meaning “God intercede”. When your team loses a game you see it. When a politician says or does what politicians say or do, you hear it. When a taxi/combi driver does what taxi/combi drivers do, you hear it. A banker, lawyer, butcher or priest steals from ordinary people, you hear it. A major corruption ring is exposed, you hear it.

You hear it in just about every situation, sometimes sincerely, sometimes comically. It is the equivalent of “I give up” and I have come to believe that’s exactly how people mean it, especially when it comes to our seemingly never-ending crises. The recent exposés about ridiculous executive pay at parastatals and urban councils has seen “Mwari pindirai” take on even greater prominence in everyday language, both spoken and written. I’ve even read it in reference to the new white pressure group Zimbabweans Against Sanctions who have been met with much suspicion online.

I am tired of hearing this refrain because it is a symptomatic of a new culture of giving up, it is a copout. People abdicate their responsibilities with a well-timed but inconvenient prayer and will insist that “now it is in God’s hands there is nothing else that we can do”. It is symptomatic of a people who increasingly convince themselves that there is nothing they as individuals can do to change their lot. It is tempting to forgive Zimbabweans for being this way after so many years of all kinds of crises, or plagues if you prefer, but I am not about to do that. People continue to utter “Mwari pindirayi” as they go about their daily lives as if waiting for someone from somewhere to come and solve all their ills. This expectation of an unknown saviour has opened a space that has been quickly occupied by charismatic pastors promising any miracle you can think of, as long as you believe, and tithe of course.

A people who defined themselves by their work ethic and go anywhere attitude are now at the heart of Southern Africa’s pastorprenuer culture. Is this really what we want to be about? Are we so intent on ignoring our problems that we will take any way out that presents itself? One day we will wake up from this collective stupor and realising just how much we have given up will collectively call out “Mwari pindirai” only for a voice to answer back “but what did you do for yourself?”.

The Fifth Beatle (Syndrome)

I am no music aficionado but I am sure many around the world have heard of the Fifth Beatle. Various versions of this legend exist, however, I want to use one as an analogy for the quandary that many Zimbabweans find themselves in.

The Fifth Beatle is a title used to describe the member of a group who drops out just before that group hits the big time. You know the story, wife/husband leaves spouse for greener pastures because things are tough only to find the grass is not greener and the abandoned spouse finally finds success. It’s like that other guy from Boys 2 Men or the other girl from Destiny’s Child that nobody remembers. Sound familiar now?

The just concluded elections, like any since 1980, was billed as the precursor to a new era in Zimbabwe. All candidates took on the role of messiah promising political and economic emancipation to the electorate, yet, here we are again, back to a life where the abnormal has become normal. The realisation that things are not any better than on July 30th has been cause for many, who are able, to reconsider whether they should stay in Zimbabwe or they should go on to greener pastures.

I have been one of those who has struggled with this for years and events since July 31 have been cause for much review, despite that I have long been apprehensive about the election process that brought us here anyway. That said, what do I do now?

Do I continue to stick it out and hope for the best or do I pick up sticks, sell what I can and emigrate? In the last decade I’ve had my share of feast and famine, however, I am no longer the youth I was then. Because of that I pay a lot more attention to political rhetoric and it’s impact on my decisions, economic and social.

I know now how the decisions by those in authority affect me and those immediately around me. I’m smart enough to know what my bank managers means when he or she says their interest rate is high because it includes a political risk component. I’ve heard so many acronyms for mostly failed business funding initiatives that my head spins at the thought. I understand what the Reserve Bank Governor means when he says the country is in the midst of a crippling liquidity crisis. I can see the holes in the government’s indiginisation policy and the dangers inherent in it’s implementation. I know what it means to foreign investors when the industrial index loses 10% in one day and 14% in a week and the government makes statements contrary to economic development.

Besides commitment to family and this being the country of my birth, what else keeps me here? I must acknowledge there is an element of fear of missing out on Zimbabwe’s recovery when it eventually begins. Paradoxically, the longer this recovery takes to come, the greater this fear becomes and the greater the lost opportunity becomes in one’s mind. The fear of the unknown and regret over the journeys not taken can be paralysing. Am I the only one who is going through this? I don’t think so. To those in the same situation I wish you well, your decision is your own, as for me, it’s time I risked being the Fifth Beatle.

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