INTERVIEW: Blessed Mhlanga
Zanu PF politburo member and deputy secretary for the youth league Lewis Matutu last week torched a storm when he disclosed that Zanu PF bigwigs were fuelling the foreign currency parallel market. After his disclosure and threat to name and shame the party’s top brass implicated in the scam, he claimed he had received death threats. NewsDay (ND) senior reporter Blessed Mhlanga spoke to Matutu (LM) on problems affecting the local economy and plans by the governing party to fix the electricity, fuel and currency shortages in the country. Below are excerpts:
ND: Zanu PF won the elections and will be running this country until 2023, but there seems to be a lot of economic problems and the people are suffering. Are the youths happy with the current state of affairs?
LM: Zanu PF won the elections to govern the country, but the party did not invite economic problems because you don’t get into power so that people can suffer.
It is the responsibility of our government to make sure that whatever economic problems that were there before and that we are experiencing now are sorted out and that we have got a strong economy. It is clear that no one would be happy in an economy which is not functioning well, but it does not end there.
If you are not happy about the economy, you must do something to make sure that it becomes a better economy. Now, in our approach, we believe that participation and involvement in whatever is taking place, if you are productive, like some of us who have pieces of land and some of us have got small industries, just a contribution to the economy is a way of saying one is not comfortable, but I will do A, B, C, D, so that it can become something better.
ND: Do you think that the Zanu PF leadership, particularly led by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, has solutions to the current economic crisis?
LM: Definitely, the party has solutions and I will tell you why I say so. The President has been saying that we must push our production because if we are not productive, we cannot expect anything from our economy. We are referring to the issue of making sure that we have got small industries that are functional.
Entrepreneurs and small businesses have always been key to each and every economy.
Looking at other economies, for example Rwanda’s, which we are admiring today, it is backed up by small businesses and entrepreneurs. So, because the President is talking about production, I am very confident that he has the capacity, together with other leaders who are not corrupt.
ND: But the local currency is failing because it is losing value every day and when those in business sell their products, they cannot restock because the currency is always falling against the hard currency. Do you think that the small enterprises that you are talking about will survive in this scenario?
LM: It is not everything that requires foreign currency when we talk of small industries, but it is our mentality as Zimbabwean people that fail us. We should not be importing so many products when we can be producing them locally. If we keep on referring to currency as if everything revolves around currency, then we have issues.
The President has said we have started a process to make sure we introduce a new currency, but right now, the environment is not conducive because it would be eroded and then we would, as a country, go back to zero. For us to think that we need foreign currency to start small businesses, then it is something else. We do not really need foreign currency to manufacture chemicals, for example toiletries?
It goes to show that (the problem is with) our thinking because our people have got a tendency of politicising everything. We can actually generate foreign currency from horticulture without actually using (foreign currency) to start up the business through exporting our produce.
ND: The biggest problem in Zimbabwe is corruption and Zanu PF has been fingered as the most corrupt, what is your view on that?
LM: It’s good that you have mentioned that the party has been fingered as the most corrupt, but what is corrupt is not Zanu PF, but the corrupt are individuals within the party. If you look at government, there is massive corruption within it and that is why the President has said he will have his own anti-corruption unit to make sure corruption declines.
ND: Have you seen any results?
LM: We have seen some results. The problem is that some people would want to see results based on certain individuals being arrested and if those people are not in jail, then they believe that nothing is happening. But how about all those people who have been to court because of corruption and are charged? If anyone has been found guilty, then definitely, they must go to jail. Right now, there are people who still feel safe in their minds.
I communicated a few day ago that those in Zanu PF and those that are in government who know they have cases of corruption pending, where they need to answer to certain allegations, must be excused and excuse our President because they are tainting the good image that is currently being created. I would tell you now, but it is just a matter of time, but not a very long time, after all before we name people and their evils, they should be punished because no one is special.
It is not about Zanu PF being at the top of corruption, but about Zimbabweans who occupy influential positions. There are also people in the private sector who are very corrupt. If you look at Bakers Association of Zimbabwe, I do not understand how they operate because they have been getting money from RBZ (the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe) and they create shortages in Zimbabwe in terms of flour as raw materials to produce bread and then when they realise that the government is trying to go for other alternatives, they quickly rush to the government to try and negotiate.
ND: But why does the government continue to give them the money if they are not delivering on their services?
LM: I doubt if they are getting any money from the RBZ now and that is why then the President said let’s have people at growth points, townships and small towns and many different areas producing bread. As you can see, government is supporting people who are willing to produce bread, buns and other cheaper products as a substitute to expensive products that are coming from bakers and other players.
It is because government has realised that it doesn’t work to continue giving people foreign currency, yet they are not able to use it properly. I will tell you that each and every sector has its own problems. Fuel, where people would get foreign currency, they spin it first and then they go and buy fuel later.
That is why you then realise queues would not end easily and I am sure there are still a lot of them right now, but we are heading towards a very good and positive direction, where all the players in the industry are allowed to import fuel and they can have the money to do that. So those challenges, where people would get money from the RBZ and then spin it on the black market and later on import fuel which would still be inadequate, are being dealt with.
ND: In the Bakers Association of Zimbabwe and the fuel sector, there are Zanu PF benefactors and people believe that they are going untouched, because of that.
LM: Who are those people that are untouched? If they are truly there, we would want to know them because inasmuch as they may be associated with the party and they are doing something, that is corrupt, we do not care who they are associated with. After all, Zanu PF is an organisation for a lot of people, masses. So even if there are individuals, they will be dealt with. If you have examples please tell us so that we can deal with the matters.
ND: I will give you an example of Dr David Parirenyatwa who has pending cases in courts as of today, but Mnangagwa still gave him his full-time job in the party, why did he not wait for the court cases to end if he is serious?
LM: Yes, he is still appearing before the courts, but there was no need for the President to judge him because he had a case in the courts. Until and unless someone has been proven guilty by the courts, that is when we can say they cannot occupy a position within the party.
Actually, a person who is going to court is better than someone who has never been tried or caused to appear before any court. We have such people, whether they are in the party or the government that have never been tried, it is now time for them to come up and clarify certain issues so that we understand their operations.
ND: We have a new dispensation, is it really a new dispensation given the problems that we are facing?
LM: Definitely, looking at the players, more and more political parties are now established. Democracy has also been advanced and I think we have done quite a lot taking a look at the previous President who committed to price controls.
Our new government has recognised that it is not good for the economy and, therefore, it is something new that was not there before. Looking at the general environment, everyone is free to express themselves in a manner that they feel is good for them.
ND: Are you being genuine given that there are a number of people who have been arrested for calling the President names and a number of activists and labour union leaders who have been beaten up by the police in this new dispensation?
LM: If you are referring to the people who were arrested at the airport, they deserve to have been arrested because they have got a case that they must answer to in the court, and if they are innocent, they should prove that before the court because they are not immune to prosecution as long as they are in Zimbabwe.
There are issues surrounding those people. If you see a person getting arrested and the American ambassador is making noise, then you should know that something is not right.
ND: So far, we have not seen any of the convictions for the people who have been arrested over the August 1 killings, is this prosecution or persecution?
LM: That is not true, the State is not failing to gather the allegations, but it is critical to make sure that they gather enough facts before putting someone on trial because we would be bending the law. It is necessary that they become thorough in their investigations in such sensitive issues.
That is what I think, considering that I do not know what is happening at the courts and I do not know what they are deciding on such particular cases, but there is need for them to be thorough before someone is charged.
D: You say the party is capable of delivering when the country does not have fuel, does not have power, is in a serious foreign currency crisis and a serious local currency crisis, how is that going to be possible?
LM: It is not fair for you to say that the country does not have power, we do, but it is just that the power is limited, the power is simply not enough. We have limited foreign currency because we are not exporting enough. This is simple economics and that explains why we are pushing for production. On the local currency, the RBZ cannot keep on printing more and more money.
In economics you know how it is; when too much money is printed, it is a disaster and when there is little money in circulation, it is also a disaster, so there is need for a balance. When we say we have got limited things like power, currency and that our economy is struggling, no one is denying those facts, but we are saying what are we doing to make sure that those problems disappear?
Going to the streets, vandalising property, burning tollgates or doing anything that falls in that criteria will not make this situation any better, our economy will never be run by (that way), but our ability to produce more and more for export can boost the economy.
ND: Some, particularly the MDC, are saying that the only way to deal with these problems is to do away with the current government, how do you see it?
LM: I had an encounter with one young man and had some dialogue. He said he wanted to eliminate the current government. However, in reality, the demonstrations do not solve anything and (so will) removing the President (do so); of which I doubt he will be allowed to do anything of that sort. We will not allow these demonstrations because lives were lost and property was vandalised.
ND: You demonstrated to remove [former President Robert] Mugabe?
LM: Mugabe was not removed by demonstrations. He was removed because he did not want to be embarrassed after an impeachment process started. Another reason for Mugabe’s removal was that our central committee of the party, following our constitution, had chosen to vote him out and replace him with the current President.
ND: If the military had not gone to the streets, do you think Zanu PF had the means to impeach the former President?
LM: Let’s differentiate between political pressures and removal of someone. There was political pressure from the masses to remove the former President, but that political pressure did not remove him from power, neither did the presence of the military on the streets remove him from power. The processes of impeachment and the decision of the central committee in the party removed the former President.
ND: Was that not an attempt to sanitise a military coup?
LM: I do not think so. A lot of people will say a lot, but a military coup will never be explained or defined in the manner in which the former President left his rule. He was too old with a very young and irresponsible wife, but that is something else for another day. It was not even a military coup because what characterised the whole process does not reflect any military coup in any way.
We have heard a lot of such military actions in different countries, Sudan is an example where chaos is there and people are fighting to such an extent that the African Union and other organisations had to say you are no longer part of us because of the military coup. That did not happen in Zimbabwe, not at all.