HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsPre and post-Zimbabwe governments: Two sides of the coin, but different coats

Pre and post-Zimbabwe governments: Two sides of the coin, but different coats

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What an incredible week it was. On May 22, it was announced that oil had been discovered off the coast of Namibia. Namibia joins Angola, Zambia and Mozambique among Zimbabwe’s neighbours to discover oil.

Report by Tapiwa Gomo

On the same day, the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, was appending his signature on the country’s new Constitution into law, sending the more than 33-year-old Lancaster House document into the archives.

President Robert Mugabe signs the new constitution while Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai looks on recently
President Robert Mugabe signs the new constitution while Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai looks on recently

But the President’s speech after signing the Constitution raised curious issues and revealed interesting differences on how the pre and post-independent Zimbabwe handled similar situations.

“We signed a document (referring to the Lancaster House Constitution). It had its own favourable parts, but it also contained unfavourable parts. There was recognition, yes, of our sovereign nation, but within it you had protective measures which the British wanted to serve the settlers here and their interests, naturally,” the President said after signing of the Constitution.

“What happened from the 18th of April to this day, were actions by a sovereign people. Yes, we had these hitches in the Constitution. The settlers were to be
protected . . . ”

He went on to inform the nation that: “Although political power was with us, in practice we did not have economic power. The political power that we had, which is the power we have used now, enabled us to realise fully the meaning and significance of the political power. The meaning and significance of total sovereignty control of our economy in toto.”
So, for many years, we ran the country on political power because we deliberately conceded economic power to the “settlers”.

This, perhaps, explains why the ruling party’s attempts to rectify this anomaly when political power was under threat, the country went into a severe economic crisis. Blaming a “settler” for taking “his economy” away is a porous argument. Similarly, using sanctions as an excuse for all things gone wrong still misses the point especially when, in the first place, we allowed the “settler” to feed us.

Some of the Lancaster House Constitution clauses that referred to the economy, especially land, expired 10 years after independence, but political power became so comfortable such that we forget that we were not owners of our source of income.

We were fed by the “settlers”, while we enjoyed political power and forgetting the power of politics is derived from the economy. We gave away what Ian Smith refused to concede to the British government when he declared the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI).

We even mourned louder when the “settlers”’ cousins imposed sanctioned on few individuals in government at the time. The Rhodesian government used the period when they were under sanctions to build their economic base. They never called them illegal or blame anyone for their effects.

Perhaps, let’s rewind the clock back to 1965 when the Rhodesian front declared UDI in an attempt to become a self-governing territory, following a whites-only referendum in which voters had overwhelmingly backed independence.

Smith and his people were not invaded — they were settlers or invaders — and yet they had the guts to demand both economic and political independence from Britain.

We were invaded and colonised and yet gutless to compromise on the basic reason of our struggle — the economy. For Rhodesians, political power and economic power are symbiotic.

And independence is not given easily unless one demands it because in most cases, it means loss of income for one who holds the power. Consequently, following Britain’s lead, the United Nations and other Western countries imposed sanctions on Rhodesia in 1968, including cutting links between the sterling pound and the Rhodesian currency, seizing assets and banning the import of Rhodesian tobacco.

A German company commissioned to print Rhodesia’s new currency after they dumped the sterling destroyed batches of banknotes after Britain successfully lobbied the German government to scuttle the order.

Rhodesia went ahead anyway and made its own currency locally without mourning. The currency went on to perform very well on the international market, as well as being stronger than the British pound sterling.

The same story would be replayed after Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono announced on July 30, 2008 that the Zimbabwean dollar would be redenominated. After meeting the redenomination order, once again a German money-printing firms reportedly stopped printing Zimbabwean currency as part of the sanctions.

The Rhodesian Front at the time was not deterred by these developments as they took the situation in their stride in building a home-grown resilient economic base.

Consequently, the economic sanctions though somewhat successful, some strategic minerals were exported to willing buyers in North America, leading to a stronger economy which didn’t need Britain. Similarly, with diamonds today, Zimbabwe could have easily surpassed what the Rhodesian government did, but — alas — we remain beggars.

The Rhodesian economy experienced a major boom in the early 1970s to become the second largest in Africa at the time. Real per capita earnings for both blacks and whites reached record highs, although the disparity in incomes between blacks and whites remained, with blacks earning only about one-tenth as much as whites.

The manufacturing sector, already well-established before UDI, had to readjust as sanctions forced the Rhodesian industry to diversify and create many import-substitution undertakings to compensate for loss of traditional sources of imports.

Rhodesian processing of local raw materials also grew rapidly. Major growth industries included steel and steel products, heavy equipment, transportation equipment, ferrochrome, textiles, and food processing.

This formed the foundation of the economy that was supposed to have been inherited by Zimbabwe together with political power at Independence, the same economy which was left in the hands of the “settlers”. It is the same economy that the “settlers” took away when political power became angry.

So, who is to blame?

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