THAT things could be on the verge of boiling over is not an overstatement, but for the “big boys” these are the best of times as they are making a killing.
Echoes: CONWAY TUTANI
But it should be pointed out from the outset that the buck stops with the government. When a stabilising class of workers such as civil servants are pushed to the limit, it becomes dangerous. The government, as the employer, has to take full responsibility for that and not try to pass the responsibility on to someone else.
I can bet my last dollar that there were no teachers and nurses in that motley crowd of violent lumpen elements on August 1, 2018 because, one, teachers and nurses do not have time for that because they will ordinarily be at work; two, they are not stupid and ignorant, so would not buy the lie that the announcement of the presidential election result had been improperly delayed; and, three, most of them having property — whether moveable or immoveable, however meagre — would not join in the orgy of destruction that erupted.
French philosopher Voltaire, referring to the British class system, said people of these islands “are like their own beer: froth on top, dregs at bottom, the middle excellent”.
Quite a blunt and harsh judgment, but one with some home truths in it. Yes, there is abject poverty in some rural areas and ostentatious and meretricious display of ill-gotten obscene wealth by the nouveau riche, but Zimbabwe as a nation has always valued middle-class virtues of hard work, honesty, thrift and self-help. And civil servants are representative of that esteemed middle class.
It’s hard to imagine the Zimbabwean bourgeoisie taking to the streets, but someday soon they could turn around and say: “Sorry, but we’re not going to take it anymore.” That great stabilising force in our society is being impoverished fast. They are failing to save anything, with their salaries being entirely consumed by the basics.
However, pointing out this should not be misinterpreted or misconstrued as vindicating and now supporting those who are openly wishing things to come to the boiling point so that they capitalise politically — not at all. Life is not as automatic as that. We should be careful not to be misled by people who are not looking for solutions, but who are simply looking for victories. It’s all about their own interest, their own ego, their own position. They are into quarrelling instead of questioning.
Back to the “big boys” who are profiteering from the people’s misery, this week, I tendered to the cashier US$5 at a branch of the largest supermarket chain in Zimbabwe, but was given $2,31 change in bond notes even though I suspect the cashier had US dollars in the till. With such crookedness, will it then make a difference to civil servants even if they are paid in US dollars? I suggest that the separation of currencies should start at shops because that is where most of the US dollars are being intercepted and disappearing from circulation, not start the separation with bank accounts. That way, more US dollars will be in circulation, not salted away by retailers as is scandalously happening currently. That is the height of immorality.
Then, we have the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) saying dollarisation is counterproductive and the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) saying dollarisation is the solution. Well, a keenly observant Zimbabwean has seen through it all, commenting: “Who generates forex or import substitution between ZNCC (retailers) and CZI (manufacturers)? Answer: CZI. Who benefits more from currency manipulation and product profiteering between ZNCC and CZI? Answer: CZI. One can see why CZI is not as critical of the government as ZNCC.” No one is saying ZNCC is rotten from top to bottom, but that when people cheer every statement from the ZNCC criticising the well-meaning Finance minister Mthuli Ncube, they should be careful not to applaud what is denying them of their money or making it lose value.
Economist Pascal Mandeya has quite rightly blamed the currency crisis on both government, which owes the Reserve Bank US$7 billion, US$2 billion of it in overdraft; and the private sector, which owes private banks US$5 billion in loans, US$1 billion of which has been passed on to the government’s special purpose vehicle, Zimbabwe Asset Management Corporation (Zamco), as non-performing loans.
But some people conveniently omit the private sector from the currency crisis equation. And the private sector has been conveniently deflecting all blame on the government.
Lesson: Some people are not what they seem. Wrote Mandeya: “While some TBs (Treasury Bills) were issued directly to banks to meet government salary payments, the banks were under no obligation to discount TBs issued to the public. These would have been discounted by depositors without increasing deposits. Banks have made good profits out of this situation and since they are effectively protected from depositors by law, they have no incentive to resolve the crisis.”
These are other bloodsuckers for people to target instead of firing salvoes solely at the government, which is at least trying to mend its ways.
Debt, like everything, has a set of rules which come with it — and these rules include repayment. But, as one can see, there was never any intention in the first place to repay many of these bank loans. In fact, there was and is connivance between some banks and private firms to salt away and even externalise foreign currency, leading to the current situation.
If the worst comes to the worst, the public can resort to what some Chitungwiza residents did this week. A group of residents took matters into their own hands as shown in a report with the headline Beer consumers block overcharging outlet from receiving beer from Delta. They decided to discard passivism for activism. Indeed, consumers should look in all directions to identify bloodsuckers in the scheme of things and take them on — as happened in Chitungwiza. Picketing outside such shops is an option that is frequently and readily used in neighbouring South Africa to good effect.
Karl Marx said: “Workers, you have nothing to lose, but your chains.”
I say: “Consumers, you have nothing to lose, but your passivism in the face of your exploitation!”
It’s time to doorstep and confront bloodsuckers at each and every level under whatever guise because it’s not only government which has been shortchanging the people.
Conway Nkumbuzo Tutani is a Harare-based columnist. Email: email@example.com