A nation of window-shoppers

TWENTY-FOUR hours is a very long time for many a worker in Zimbabwe. So many things can change in that space of time — from joy to sadness and back to despair — especially when dealing with a regime that is clueless on arresting the deteriorating economy.

This week was politically terrible. A week that came after the statement from Home Affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe of a coup plot. The security forces were on high alert and citizens movement into central business districts of cities was severely curtailed.

The security forces deployed a mentality siege on the citizens. On Monday, it was the capital Harare that was on partial lockdown. Under the guise of COVID-19 regulations that say only essential movements are permitted and most people should stay at their homes.

Many took as much as two hours to get into the city centre from suburbs that are within a mere 25km radius of the capital.

On Tuesday, the second city of Bulawayo had its fair share of the public inconvenience.

The City of Kings and Queens resembled a ghost city — only security forces and health personnel had the right of passage into the city centre.

The rumours started flying that a coup was imminent and that the State was in fear. People spoke in hushed tones and many discussed November 2017, but were afraid of another false dawn.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has miserably failed and dashed the people’s hopes in a long two and half years. The public is disillusioned.

And finally, on Wednesday the lockdown was in Mnangagwa’s home city of Kwekwe. It was under total lockdown. People were confined to their homes. Around 10am, images and videos of nurses and doctors at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals demonstrating went viral on social media. It, for a moment, looked like that was the spark that was needed to tip the unpopular regime over the brink, but that was before the regime announced a surprise salary adjustment for civil servants.

Finance minister Mthuli Ncube announced a 50% salary review of all civil servants and a US$75 COVID-19 allowance. The reviewed salaries and allowances are with immediate effect.

“Pursuant to government’s commitment to continuously review and improve the remuneration framework for civil servants, taking into account the transitory economic challenges being currently experienced in the country, which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, government makes the following announcement:

  • With immediate effect, all civil servants’ salaries will be adjusted upwards by 50%. This increase also applies to all government pensions.
  • In addition, all civil servants will be paid a flat, nob-taxable, COVID-19 allowance of US$75 per month.
  • Government pensioners will be paid a flat, non-taxable, COVID-19 allowance of US$30,” Ncube said.
    The allowances are only payable for a period of three months starting June.

Many among the citizens celebrated, believing the regime had finally given in to re-dollarisation.

Citizens started discussing the impact of the policy on the local currency and would prices of goods slide down to reflect the reality of a working-class country that takes home a measly less than US$100 home?

The discussions quickly took a different turn when presidential spokesperson George Charamba came to explain how the COVID-19 United States dollars allowance would work. Charamba using the Twitter handle @Jamwanda2 explained the civil servants would not get the allowance in cash but electronically via a card they would be able to swipe in shops.

By Thursday morning, civil servants were downcast and their unions had started issuing out statements rejecting the new civil service remuneration deal.
Zimbabweans are back into the currency debate again. Many of them, without caring about where the forex will come from, want immediate re-dollarisation of the economy.

Their main argument is it stops inflation and the greenback is a better store of value. Many complain that they are tired of being mere window-shoppers.

It eludes many that the consumerist approach is the basis of neoliberalism. Unfortunately, Zimbabweans want to consume what they do not manufacture or produce. We have merely become a consuming nation. And there lies the fault with dollarisation without production. Sooner than later, the country will be back in the same position of having forex shortages.

Mnangagwa, in pursuit of foreign direct investment, keeps harping about privatisation of State-owned enterprises, deregulation of markets and liberalisation of foreign exchange. This is a recipe for disaster. We cannot keep importing when others have adopted protectionist policies to keep their local industries running, creating jobs and wealth for the nation.

The ambivalence on currency policy by the regime will keep all those with excess money on the fence. The economy will further deteriorate and throw many into full-time window-shoppers, creating a recipe for social instability. How long can the working-class continue being mere window-shoppers and not able to consume because they are underpaid? The clouds of chaos are looming large on the horizon.

Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist based in Harare. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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