PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe yesterday conceded that his Zanu PF government had grossly mismanaged parastatals and turned them into “awful money spenders, awful burdens around our neck”.
BY OBEY MANAYITI
He described the parastatals as literally dead and ready for burial. Addressing captains of industry at State House in Harare, Mugabe, however said he did not envy South Africa, as its system of doing business had seen the black majority largely unfree yet the African National Congress ANC leadership seemed satisfied with it.
He also lashed out at South Africa’s ruling ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe describing him as “stupid”, in a development that could trigger a fresh diplomatic tiff with the neighbouring country.
Mugabe upped the ante yesterday, saying South Africa was “economically unfree”, as he continued a verbal onslaught on the neighbouring country.
“We didn’t fight just for freedom. I made this remark in regard to South Africa and, what do they call him, Gwede Ma(ntashe), stupidly reacts, yes, they only fought to remove apartheid,” he said.
“The country went to war for a number of years, lost men and women within the country, outside the country in order for us to regain what was our lost country.
“Defeat the settlers, as we have done and then came those of us who were out and joined those who were here and say together we fought this struggle, together we have won and here is now a free country, ours together,” he said.
The attack came hardly two weeks after Mugabe blasted the late former South African President Nelson Mandela’s alleged soft spot for white South African capitalists.
In the backdrop of the latest attack is First Lady Grace
Mugabe’s alleged assault of a South African model, Gabriella Engels, at a Johannesburg hotel, which could have made relations between Pretoria and Harare frosty.
Grace only escaped possible arrest and prosecution for assault after she was granted diplomatic immunity, which enabled her to fly back home, with the victim’s lawyers still pushing for her private prosecution.
After Mugabe lashed out at Mandela, Mantashe hit back, subtly hinting that the Zimbabwean leader had ruined his country’s economy.
But at yesterday’s meeting, Mugabe insisted Zimbabwe had the right to comment on South Africa because the two countries’ “revolutionary objectives” were the same.
He said he was worried about what he called lack of freedom in South Africa and at one point he met with ANC leaders, who claimed to be satisfied with the state of affairs.
“You are just fighting for the removal of apartheid and not for freedom and independence, as we were doing, and they said well freedom was given to us by Britain in 1910.
“It is a legal thing, we cannot change it, why can’t you change it?
“A revolutionary party saying it cannot change it, then all our efforts, even ourselves, could be in vain if we cannot change the laws that our oppressors made,” Mugabe said.
He said South Africa was isolated in terms of its governance system.
“Ours was not just freedom, we wanted freedom of the nature that gave us independence and the right of ownership of our country. That’s it, that was the difference. The difference is in our system, Mozambican system, Namibia, Angola are on one side, different from South Africa.
“They left the very persons they said had imposed apartheid on them in control of their resources,” Mugabe said.
Unlike in South Africa, Mugabe encouraged Zimbabweans to take charge of their economy.
Ironically, there are an estimated two million Zimbabweans living in South Africa, who fled the worsening economic woes back home.
Mugabe, in his response to concerns raised by captains of industry said: “We certainly share your concerns over the underperformance of the State enterprises and parastatals, whose current contribution to the national GDP (gross domestic product) is around 11%, 12% down from the peak of 40%,” he said.
“I can reveal to you a Cabinet secret.
“We were discussing this subject on Tuesday (and) I was very negative about it and I could see the Minister of Finance (Patrick Chinamasa) getting more and more depressed by my speech, which ended by, these are non-performers, what we must do is to find coffins for them and bury them with the words ‘rest in peace’.”
He described parastatals as “awful money spenders, awful burdens around our neck”, even giving the Britain scenario where they became the source of conflict between the Labour and Conservative parties.
Mugabe said they were not being made accountable and left with ballooning expenditures lacking control and huge debts from international money lenders like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
“So I said Minister of Finance, well you can go your own way and they said important ones must be kept, but the others we should get as many coffins as there are, those which have caused us immense expenditure, they should certainly go,” he said.
Mugabe said the Zimbabwean set-up proved a huge toll on former Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) boss Mike Ndudzo.
“So, I said to my people we have also tried. We built lots of parastatals and companies which are as good as parastatals that look after themselves even in the name of State companies and you would have one person like Ndudzo running the whole of IDC, multifaceted companies and how do you expect even given that he is a very sincere man and well trained?” he said.
Auditor-General Mildred Chiri has for several years painted a gloomy picture of the state of parastatals.
Mugabe also talked about corruption, the need for mechanisms for ease of doing business as well as plans to revamp the economy.
Presenting the concerns of the business community, Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries past president Charles Msipa said although there were opportunities in Zimbabwe, the cost of doing business was very high.