INTERVIEW Obey Manayiti
Zimbabwe celebrated its 39th independence last Thursday amid a deteriorating economic situation in the country that has seen prices of goods skyrocketing as people’s disposable incomes continue to shrink due to the collapse of the real time gross settlement systems (RTGS) dollar to the benchmark currency, United States dollar.
Zimbabwe had pinned its hopes for economic revival on its re-engagement with the international community, but the odds seem stacked against the country.
NewsDay (ND) senior reporter Obey Manayiti hooked up with Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo (SBM) for a chat during Independence Day celebrations at the National Sports Stadium and below are excerpts of the interview.
ND: We are celebrating 39 years of independence amid a lot of challenges that the country is facing. In brief what, can you say, is worth celebrating today?
SBM: First of all, we must unite as a people and have one identity as a people and it is high time that we draw a line between what we consider as political or tactical differences to the national interest, which is the national purpose of the identified people of Zimbabwe. This is because after 39 years we cannot continue to be seen to fail to have decent politics. We are the same people, therefore, the national interest is that this country must be peaceful. This country must be economically viable, it’s what all of us desire. Let’s differ on how to achieve that and we must unite as a people in that regard. My message to the people of Zimbabwe is that let us go above individual politics.
ND: What can you say have been our highs and lows in the past years?
SBM: What I can tell you is that since our independence in 1980, we went up as a nation and the economy developed, but one of the major causes of the armed struggle which was a bitter armed struggle was unfortunately the issue of land and that piece of our history had not been achieved. So it had to be achieved somehow. The kind of agreements which had been put together at Lancaster House and the kind of guarantees and promises which had been agreed upon unfortunately didn’t work, based on the willing seller and willing buyer concept and, unfortunately, we had to go through what we call land revolution. This had to complete some of the areas or the major causes of the armed struggle. Unfortunately, thereafter, we had our low end and that low end basically became the issues to do with sanctions.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the same look and the same understanding when the land was taken. Some people thought it was wrong to get the land, while some people said the land must be taken, but we had to get it in a different way. The differences were supposed to be domestic differences, but whatever happened
some people then thought they should go and seek for sanctions, but we were supposed to look at the national interest first as a people who identify themselves as Zimbabweans then we sort out these differences. Foreign policy, which I lead is an extension of domestic policy, so unless internally here we have a comprehensive arrangement of our understanding, living and cooperation and unified kind of behaviour, then it will always be difficult.
ND: The generality of the people are complaining about the rising cost of living, all the accusations are coming out against the government for failure to provide an environment for decent lives…
SBM: But people forget that we are a country which is still under sanctions, we are a country which is facing difficulties in terms of having its own transactions. There is no freedom, we are still isolated and that is why the President (Emmerson Mnangagwa) said let us pursue this issue of re-engagement and engagement and ensure that we have the freedom and be a State which joins the rest of the nations in the world and enjoys the freedom of co-operation. I can assure you that since the coming in of the Second Republic there have been serious issues which we are undertaking. Such issues include political reforms and I tell you that we have never had excellent elections like the elections that we had last year. Yes, they were tainted by the August 1 events, but I can assure you that everybody was allowed to campaign and anybody who wished to observe our elections was allowed to do so. Those are major reforms and many more which have been ushered by the Second Republic.
ND: Let’s talk about the current economic challenges that the country is experiencing that have pushed price increases.
SBM: I was just saying we have undertaken political reforms and also economic reforms and that is why the theme of the last budget is austerity for prosperity. We have to pass through this. This economy has been undergoing serious difficulties for the past two decades and to get out of that ditch, it is going to be painful. We cannot pretend that we will get on smoothly, but we have to get out of it so that we become a successful economy again. This is a very temporary phenomenon which we are going through and sometimes also they say in a democracy there must be discipline. We cannot separate democracy from discipline. If you lack discipline then what it means is that people will want to maximise on profits, but in reality profits are basically 10-15%. That is not exactly what is happening on the market. We are saying we must be united in achieving the specific national interest, but if we behave in an undisciplined manner, unfortunately it will pain a lot of people. We could have ameliorated that particular pain if we were disciplined as a society, as a business, as different sectors of the economy. Let me tell you that the process which we are going through at the moment, for example we have just been given a Staff-Monitored Programme, it means the world is saying we are approving you, we trust you with your economic programme which is progressive. The world is saying we can agree with you on what you are saying, but unfortunately if we don’t have discipline it will be hard to get out of this long ditch we have been for the past 20 years.
ND: Are you going to enforce discipline then?
SBM: Definitely, as government we are going to enforce discipline, but what we don’t want is to try and be hard-handed to our people, we want to talk to our people so that they understand that we are together and we are moving in a particular direction. We want to achieve the goal of 2030 because that is exactly the direction of where we are going and the Transitional Stabilisation Programme is only meant to last for two years. After that we are out of the ditch and we then move on and have the normal five-year development programmes which will now be deliberate.
ND: You are spearheading the engagement and re-engagement programme. How is it moving on?
SBM: It is moving on well and all I can assure you is that first there is now very good chemistry within the region. Remember our foreign policy follows the concentric paradigm that the regional, continental and international, and so at regional level that is why the President was going around each and every country so that at least there is chemistry among all the leaders in the region and there is the best chemistry ever.
ND: Are you saying they are copying from our President then?
SBM: It’s just a way of co-operating (laughs). The AU has been understanding on the situation in Zimbabwe and has walked together, for example, now we should utilise as a country the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. This is an agreement which gives us the markets within Africa. There is more than $3 trillion which is available within the continent for trade and we saying let us then identify these markets as a nation, but we can only do so when we are unified. At the international level, remember His Excellency’s target has been the issue to do with re-engagement with those nations who were our friends before and who had turned against us or engagement with those countries who have never been our friends or deepening our friendship with countries who have always stood by us, particularly the East.