ERIC Bloch, who died last week at the age of 75, was one of those personalities you didn’t have to meet to know much about them because over the past two decades or so, he was an ever-present in many Zimbabweans’ lives because of the reach of what he did, ranging from being a quizmaster in a contest for high schools on TV, and as an economic commentator in newspapers.
CONWAY TUTANI ECHOES
Said economist John Robertson: “He (Bloch) was a chartered accountant and he did a lot more than I do, as clients approached him for accounts, legal and economic advice while I only deal with economics.”
From his prodigious writings, one could deduce that Bloch was knowledgeable, confident and tenacious. And this was even made better by the fact that he was gregarious, not blinkered and virulent like some of his detractors. He sought and enjoyed the company of others without imposing himself by announcing his presence and credentials.
One big criticism is that Bloch was in the habit of writing overly long sentences, sometimes making it difficult to follow his line of thought. Every sentence needs to connect to the next, but when a sentence is too long, something gets lost.
Bloch distinguished between patriotism and patronage. He always pointed out how political patronage, if unchecked, was going to destroy the economy — and the damaging effects of that are plain for all to see. Only this week, we had one Ace Lumumba boasting on Facebook about his shopping escapades in New York where is part of President Robert Mugabe’s bloated entourage to the United Nations General Assembly. Lumumba is there by virtue of abuse of political patronage.
It can be surmised that young as Lumumba is, he is a runner or front for somebody. He can’t have achieved so much so soon. This spells one word: Patronage. And there is no end in sight. Is it any wonder that the loan fund of the Zimbabwe Youth Council, where Lumumba is chairperson, has been looted left, right and centre?
Bloch also did not take refuge in some wild conspiracy theories regarding the economy, but dealt in facts and figures; in the here and now.
This week, we had a panellist, one Chakanyuka, on ZTV’s Media Watch programme self-righteously, indignantly and, indeed, ignorantly seeing the hand of the West behind the warning to people in West Africa to desist from eating monkeys for now.
Chakanyuka pontificated: “People there have always eaten monkeys, why stop them now?” Well, monkeys are known carriers of the Ebola virus. Chakanyuka, here in Zimbabwe, are people not advised to avoid meat from cattle in areas hit by anthrax outbreaks? Would you eat a beast that has died from foot-and-mouth disease? How can you distort a pure health issue?
It is such people that Bloch did not indulge and begged to differ with without apology. Debates are not always a matter of who is wrong or right; sometimes it’s a matter of different opinions being discussed. But when a person is completely off on whatever topic and patently wrong like Chakanyuka, it ought to be pointed out — which Bloch always did, but unfailingly with respect. Bloch proved to be a thorn in the flesh for a ruling class convinced that they are right about everything that they can’t just accept that there are different opinions.
In his tribute, Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) president Charles Msipa said Bloch was deeply committed to the economy of Zimbabwe.
That is why Bloch readily accepted to be included on former Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono’s advisory panel in 2006. This is not to say each and every idea of Bloch’s was unassailable.
Like everyone else, he could be right, he could be wrong. But Bloch’s and others’ advice did not count for much because Gono listened to the politicians, who he — rather over-submissively, obsequiously, subserviently, like an “ever-obedient son” — called “my principals”, much more than the experts like Bloch. So, Gono was bound to fail — and he did so disastrously and spectacularly — without tarnishing Bloch and others.
Now, the whole nation — specifically, the suffering majority — is on the verge of being made to pay through the nose the US$1,35 billion dished out by Gono — through his most ill-advised quasi-financial activities — as farming input loans to the rich and powerful, but never paid back. Yes, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Debt Assumption Bill will offload total liability onto the ordinary person who never spent a cent of this money.
Against Bloch’s and other experts’ advice, they thought they could rewrite economics after the discovery of diamonds, but they haven’t succeeded. The natural resource curse has predictably manifested and is in firm grip of the economy as other productive sectors have come to a virtual standstill or even regressed. They have now taken desperate taxation measures targeting the powerless and voiceless poor.
We have a ruling elite that isn’t interested in solving problems, but are interested in preventing solutions. They would prefer to ensure greater destruction rather than let others appear to succeed. Last month, former State Enterprises and Parastatals minister Gorden Moyo described how, during the inclusive government from 2009-2013, some sound proposals to revamp State-owned companies were allegedly shot down (by you know who) because they would give leverage to the party that proposed them, adding that some investment deals got stalled because “some ministers did not get under-the-table cuts”.
Said CZI president Msipa: “We are all poorer with Dr Bloch’s death.”
A great loss indeed.