Someone once remarked that if an adult resident of Harare, who died sometime in 1980 soon after Zimbabwe attained independence, somehow resurrected in 2016, he/she will not get lost walking along the streets of the capital because there has hardly been any new major construction works that have taken place in Harare since 36 years ago.
OPINION: OBERT GUTU
Such has been the state of infrastructural stagnation and decomposition that has taken place over the past three-and-a-half decades that the skyline of the former Sunshine City has hardly changed over the years.
The colonial government in Rhodesia had less than 15 State-owned corporations or parastatals. Present day Zimbabwe has got 77 State-owned corporations. Virtually all the parastatals that existed before the attainment of independence from British colonial rule were on a sound financial footing by April 18, 1980; the Independence Day in Zimbabwe.
One can easily single out the then Air Rhodesia that had at least 14 aircraft at the time that we became independent. Fast forward to 36 years and you will realise that Air Zimbabwe (Pvt) Limited, the successor company to Air Rhodesia, has less than four functional aircraft! As if this is not enough, Air Zimbabwe is now saddled with a huge debt of $300 million and frantic moves are being made to have the State take over this chronic debt.
Less than 24 months ago, the State assumed the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) debt in the sum of $1,3 billion. The RBZ debt was incurred as then governor Gideon Gono led the central bank embarked on very controversial and patently corrupt and illegal quasi-fiscal dealings wherein farming inputs and farm machinery were dished out to highly placed Zanu PF politicians and other politically well-connected individuals.
The Cold Storage Commission (CSC), now the Cold Storage Company, was extremely vibrant at the time we attained our independence. The CSC depots in Harare, Bulawayo, Marondera and Masvingo were so technologically advanced then that this particular parastatal used to declare profits year in, year out. In addition, the CSC, even for about a decade after independence, was exporting quality beef products into the lucrative European markets and to other major overseas markets.
At the time of our independence in April,1980, the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) was operating one of the most technologically advanced and sophisticated railway systems in Africa; comparable, perhaps, only to the South African railway system. The NRZ, headquartered in the second largest city, Bulawayo, was one of the biggest employers in that city, employing thousands of employees. The Dabuka railway marshalling yard in Gweru was the biggest in Africa.
Today, Dabuka is a rundown, ramshackle, derelict and virtually abandoned railway marshalling yard. The NRZ has not paid its employees for more than 17 months and the country’s railway infrastructure has collapsed. The electric passenger train project that was started several years ago, amidst pomp and ceremony, has since crumbled.
As Zimbabweans, we have to take a long, hard look at ourselves and interrogate the reasons behind the near-total collapse of the formal national economy. Bulawayo used to be an industrial hub with big employers such as the NRZ, the CSC, Dunlop Zimbabwe, Datlabs and Merlin Clothing (Pvt) Ltd, among other big companies.
Present-day Bulawayo is nothing short of a ghost town, with most of the former factory shells and warehouses now having been converted into churches. The same scenario replicates itself in all the other major cities and towns such as Harare, Gweru, Mutare and Masvingo. Kadoma used to be home to one of southern Africa’s largest cheese-making factories run by the Dairy Marketing Board, now Dairibord Zimbabwe Ltd.
Today, Kadoma is another ghost town that is more famous or rather, notorious, for makorokoza (artisanal miners). Ziscosteel and Lancashire Steel used to drive the industrial boom in the Midlands cities of Kwekwe and Redcliff. These two urban centres, today, look more like abandoned urban settlements.
There’s a school of thought that passionately argues that the infrastructural decay and economic stagnation and retrogression that we have experienced in Zimbabwe is a direct result of so-called sanctions imposed on the country by Britain and her Western allies, especially after the Zanu PF government embarked on a violent and chaotic land reform programme in the year 2000. The thrust of this opinion piece is to debunk the myth that so-called sanctions have been the main driver behind the near-collapse of the Zimbabwean economy.
Corruption, coupled with rampant mismanagement and misrule, are at the very epicentre of the collapse of the formal economy in Zimbabwe. A recent study sanctioned by Transparency International-Zimbabwe has shockingly revealed that Zimbabwe has been losing at least $1 billion annually due to corruption. At a time when more than 75% of the population is living in abject poverty [because they are living on less than $1 per day], we have witnessed the emergence of a very small but extremely rapacious ruling elite that has managed to loot and externalise large sums of money from Zimbabwe.
This same ruling elite is notorious for flaunting its ill-gotten “wealth” by constructing huge multi-million dollar mansions in some of Harare’s trendy and upmarket neighbourhoods.
One just wonders how a politician in the Zanu PF ruling elite can afford to build a $5 million mansion in Harare at a time when almost all established businesses and companies cannot even afford to pay their employees regular monthly salaries!
Most companies have since closed down and/or retrenched thousands of employees, but we have some corrupt politicians and other well-connected wheeler dealers buying multi-million dollar holiday villas in Cape Town, Durban, Sandton, Singapore, Dubai and Hong Kong. Something must be fundamentally wrong somewhere!
At this juncture, each and every patriotic Zimbabwean, whether living in the country or in the Diaspora, should draw a line in the sand and say “enough is enough”. The numerous socio-economic and political challenges that our country is facing are, indeed, capable of being successfully addressed and dealt with. It is not the sole responsibility of politicians to extricate Zimbabwe from its present hellhole.
Every Zimbabwean has a duty to roll up their sleeves and immediately start the hard work of re-constructing and retrieving our beloved motherland from the obtaining political and economic quagmire. Zimbabwe is endowed with incredible natural and human resources such that we don’t deserve to be the laughing stock of Africa.
It is our generational challenge to engage a gear up and to start believing in our own ability to resolve our political differences on our own and also to chart a brand new way forward for the establishment of a progressive, democratic and peaceful nation State where Zimbabweans of different races, ethnic groups, colour and creed can live together in peace and harmony.
We should now fervently embrace the doctrine of the pursuit of happiness. In the land of plenty, we don’t deserve to be this hungry and this poor. In the land of abundance, it is a shame for more than 75% of our population to lead a life of penury, degradation and deprivation.
This should be the end of an era of misplaced national priorities, primitive accumulation, endemic and systematic corruption as well as State-sponsored banditry and terrorism. Zimbabwe, certainly, deserves better.
Obert Chaurura Gutu is the MDC-T national spokesperson. He is also a corporate lawyer and social justice activist based in Harare.