We seem to have been putting up with a lousy government, forever besetted corruption, nonsensical monetary and macroeconomic policies forever. First, we had the Rhodesian government from 1960 onwards, which resulted in the imposition of mandatory United Nations sanctions and then the liberation war. Were these inevitable? I do not think so. But with the national leadership we had at that time, both were unavoidable.
Guest column: Eddie Cross
Then we had the Robert Mugabe government for 38 years. Was this inevitable? I do not think so, but given the situation in 1980 and thereafter, it was probably unavoidable. The cost has been staggering by any measure. Our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita is a miserable US$1 200 — in Botswana it is now close to US$13 000, while in Mauritius it is now about US$35 000 per capita – both states were poorer than Zimbabwe in 1960 and in 1980. China was poorer than Zimbabwe in 1975!
The human cost of bad policy and leadership has also been heart breaking. A third of our population has fled to greener pastures, another four million have died prematurely from every malady you can imagine. Many diseases we thought were beaten in 1980 are back. The migration of millions to other countries has been qualitative as well as quantitative — most were well educated and many with vital experience and skills.
The problem? One word – leadership.
When finally, the Mugabe regime overstepped the mark and forced the Emmerson Mnangagwa-group to take action against him, the relief throughout the country was palpable. The people of Zimbabwe, from Beitbridge to Nyamapanda, poured out onto the streets in celebration. The celebrations went on for days and I saw perhaps a million people, gathered in Highfield — the very centre of the nationalist movements that had won our Independence in 1980. The symbolism was inescapable. We were delighted and relieved to see the back of the corrupt oligarchy that had abused us as a nation for nearly four decades. It brought to mind the fall of the Wall in Berlin in 1989.
Perhaps, we could tolerate a bit of a mixed bag in terms of leadership after the ‘military assisted transition’, but when Mnangagwa achieved a narrow majority and became President, I think we had the right to expect more. He had made all the right noises — he was going to put the past behind us and build a new Zimbabwe in which every citizen would have the same rights; he was going to compensate the farmers; he was going to engage with the international community and institute the reforms needed to secure assistance. He was going to deal with corruption and end the culture of entitlement. He was going to restore the rule of law and respect for the Constitution.
Who could argue with that? No one who had the welfare of the country at heart. Then he appointed a new Cabinet — younger, five technocrats and a significant proportion of women and Ndebele speaking ministers. The two Vice-Presidents did not inspire, but so what? They did not have much influence or real power. In particular, we welcomed the appointment of a real professional as Minister of Finance.
That was six months ago. After the high expectations that we all had once the Mugabe era had been closed down, the country has slid deeper and deeper into a feeling that nothing has changed, corruption continues, even at the highest level of government leading to implications that the President himself is involved and a beneficiary.
The President of Pakistan has just been sentenced to a long prison sentence just because he could not explain where his wealth had come from. If we applied that principle here, I do not think a single person in the past Cabinet would escape the net. Many others would end up in jail — military officers, senior civil servants and managers and directors of State corporations.
But not a single person of any stature has been convicted — not even Cuthbert Dube from PSMAS who, together with other senior managers and directors took more than half the total revenue of the medical aid society over three years. Not even the former Minister of Mines responsible for the Marange scandal, which resulted in diamond revenues amounting to over $23 billion disappearing over an eight-year period.
It’s not that the new leadership has done nothing, they have done a great deal and I have given them recognition for all of those things. They have dealt with the fiscal deficit which was completely out of control. They have demilitarised the Joint Operations Command and installed new leadership in the armed forces and the security establishment. They have scrapped indigenisation — the greatest single impediment to new investment, they have tried hard to be more open to business, but with very little to show for months of rhetoric. They have stated their intention to scrap POSA and AIPPA – both Acts which have stifled national debate and opposition for many decades — perhaps more than 70 years.
But they have not given Zimbabweans the economic, financial and political freedoms that have been promised by successive governments. This failure is now destroying everything that they have achieved since November 2017.
We have a Reserve Bank governor, whom the President says will be there for another five-year term, who is clearly out of his depth. He insists that the ‘Bond’ currency which he created is valued at 1:1 with the US dollar, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
Yet despite this — we have government departments and even Zimra demanding payment in real US dollars for services and in taxes. We have schools demanding part of their fees in hard currencies.
The fuel industry is in complete shambles, some outlets sell fuel only to ‘card holders’, others ask for hard currency, even on the forecourts.
Where the ubiquitous swipe card can be used, we have queues kilometres long and people sleeping in their vehicles. Yet the State denies there is a problem? Are they nuts?
It is not that we do not know what the solutions are. In 2009, in a 15-minute statement, Patrick Chinamasa abolished exchange controls, price controls and restrictions on gold sales and allowed us to trade in many currencies.
In 10 days, the fuel shortages vanished; in a month you could buy whatever you wanted at market driven prices, and in the currency of your choice.
In six months, we were nearly fully dollarised and inflation was close to zero. Revenues to the State grew by 70% per annum (that is not a spelling mistake) and standards of living improved every year.
If you put a mealie cob in a can with a hole the size of a hand in one end and put it where the baboons can find it, a baboon will put his hand in the hole to grasp the cob — and will not let go to get his hand out even when threatened.
Many of our leaders are just like that baboon — they have their hands in the till and cannot let go even if they are threatened. There can be no progress in this country until our leadership starts to put our national house in order and compels all those ministers and officials or even just politically connected individuals, to take their hands out of the till and allow us to repair the damage that they have done to us a nation over the past seven decades.
That is what the people are asking from you Mr President — not more words, action, not more promises, delivery and most of all real leadership to take us out of the morass we are in and give us a start on the long road back to a better quality of life.
This article first appeared on eddiecross.africanherd.com