The recent stage-managed revelations of disgusting salaries earned by some parastatal bosses does not surprise me – what surprises me is how we, Zimbabweans, are always hoodwinked by simple tricks such as this.
What surprises me is how soon we forget that the same people who are now stage-managing the rot in the parastatals were the same people who made us believe that the death of our economy was a result of sanctions.
How, and why do we forget that not so long ago, the same people covered to a great length rallies and campaigns asking for signatures in protest of sanctions?
And have we forgotten how Zanu PF used the removal of sanctions as a precondition for effecting other changes that were being demanded by the opposition?
This small lie, which was believed and is still being believed by so many, was magnified by the same media which made even the region to believe that our problems were sanctions-based.
Still today we believe as if we did not know all along that sanctions, if they had any effect on the economy, came around 2000.
I believe strongly that the so-called rot being exposed today is a gimmick to make people believe that Zanu PF and government are keen on stamping out corruption for it is corruption and not sanctions which killed the economy.
Today, I know the cost of corruption on the economy, but I am yet to get a figure on the cost of sanctions on the economy.
I am also challenging those, who today, have become champions of corruption busters to explain their stand on sanctions which they made people killed the economy.
Only the gullible will believe that what we are being shown in the State media is meant to clean the act. In reality, it only goes as far as confirming the fact that corruption killed Zimbabwe. And that at the centre of it all, sits Zanu PF, and its insatiable bigwigs who take and take without any shame and yet lie and lie with a straight face.
The corruption which has been confirmed today dates back to the early 90s when the economy slowly gave in to a huge government and unbridled expenditure.
It’s a fact that at independence in 1980, Zimbabwe spent a lot of money on health, education and various other sectors to bridge gaps created by an unfair and unjust system.
Spending on education rose from Z$227,6 million in 1979 to Z$628m in 1990 while health expenditure went up from Z$66,4m to Z$188,6m.
A huge public service sector, subsidies, the 10-year involvement in the Mozambican civil war from 1982 to 1992 and then subsequent drought years further debilitated the economy such that by the mid-90s prices had become unstable.
The budget operated on a deficit and taxes became high. This drove public debt higher. To recover lost economic growth, the government accepted the Enhanced Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap) in 1991.
The programme that ended in 1995 meant that all subsidies had to go; public enterprises either be nationalised or privatised to enhance growth; streamline government by cutting down on expenditure.
Esap was supposed to be a short-term programme that would first snuff out some jobs in order to create more. But it did not work. The privatisation or nationalisation of public enterprises without better management led to further decline in productivity. Government did not reduce expenditure.
No jobs were created. And the deficit went further up. Instability chipped in. A few black businesspeople operating as advocates for black empowerment demanded their entitlements and government acknowledged them by giving contracts and concessional loans.
This further put pressure on government forcing it to borrow domestically thereby causing even more instability. Consumer prices skyrocketed.
Under Esap, government was also forced to fall into heavy debt and international donors refused to write off the debts because the Zimbabwean government had failed to honour its part of the deal.
After the failure of Esap, government cooked up the Zimbabwe Programme for Economic and Social Transformation (Zimprest) in 1996. Zimprest was supposed to be implemented by government, business, labour and civil society through the National Economic Consultative Forum (NECF).
Although Zimprest was promising in the first two years when growth reached 7%, the depreciation of the Z$ because of low tobacco and mineral prices hit the economy hard. This was followed by a disastrous 1997/98 rainfall season. Inflation took its toll and most industries did not perform as expected.
One major event that drove the economy onto its knees was the ex-combatants’ payouts in 1997 when government was forced to fork out Z$4 billion as compensation to former freedom fighters.
Since the money had not been budgeted for, the Z$ tumbled a record 72% against the US$ and the stock market crashed by 46% on November 14, 1997 signalling the economic meltdown that is still haunting the country today.
The payouts depleted foreign reserves, which, according to Kingdom Financial Holdings statistics at the time, fell from $760m in early 1997 to $255m by November of the same year. This exposed the local currency which at the time was worth $1,315 to the US$.
The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe was also exposed because it meant that with such low foreign reserves, it could only underwrite imports for a month.
Government’s debt in 1997 was more than $60 billion and it was estimated that servicing the debt cost more than a billion a month. Servicing this debt ate into resources that could otherwise have been channelled towards education and health which started to decline.
In response to the crisis, the government increased bread, sugar, soft drinks, kombi fares, milk and mealie meal prices and the consumers rioted in protest.
As if that was not enough, Zimbabwe was sucked into the Democratic Republic of Congo civil war in 1998 resulting in the International Monetary Fund and several other donors suspending financial assistance.
By 1999, it was clear that the economy was heading west. The final nail was the haphazard takeover of farms by ex-combatants as part of their demands. This drove agricultural input down.
People looked for alternatives to Zanu PF, and Morgan Tsvangirai saw an opportunity. The MDC was born and with it came the targeted sanctions which never affected Zanu PF bigwigs because they still travelled the world in big entourages, spending State money.
Just like now when Zanu PF is trying to make people believe that it’s bent on cleaning up, the party used the targeted sanctions as a reason for the death of the economy. And we believed them.
What killed our economy and country is corruption. Sanctions were a diversionary tactic just like the stage-managed exposures are a diversionary tactic.
Maybe for the nation to believe that Zanu PF is serious with cleaning up, all those who have been confirmed as beneficiaries of corrupt activities must be thrown out. It should not just be a matter of wait-and-see, but one of urgency.
Otherwise, we have been here before. It’s just a different time and different event, but the players are the same.
Wonder Guchu is a Zimbabwean journalist based in Namibia