NEARLY 200 families in Budiriro, Harare, are sleeping in the open when it is raining after their homes were demolished by the local authority. Pictures of wailing women, furniture strewn outside and bulldozers ploughing into houses were reminiscent of 2007 winter action —Operation Murambatsvina.
The demolitions were done under the pretext of the residential area being illegal.
For the first time, City of Harare did this by the book — obtained a court order before unleashing the bulldozers on the hapless poor.
Legally speaking, the council was correct but there is a difference in how it treats the rich who commit the same breaches of the law.
Sam Levy, the Chinese and Solomon Tawengwa got away with it when they built illegal structures.
They were given an opportunity to regularise their structures and operate.
One thing is clear; if one has money and political influence, their transgressions can be overlooked. unlike the poor.
Looking at this abuse of the poor in isolation does not help.
We can better understand it by using ideological lenses.
It is becoming explicit that the government, as constituted now, represents capital, it is for capitalism, neoliberalism or Post-Washington Consensus.
The government or Zanu PF to say has rebuffed its scientific socialism for neoliberalism, worshipping capital without any apologies.
It is busy reorganising the class system — poor/working class, middle class and rich class — so that it can fit into the realm of neoliberals supported by the Brettonwoods institutions.
It is going all out to use the rule of law for the support of capital, shut the informal sector through taxation, make the poor a read pool of tenants at properties of the rich.
It is important to revisit Finance minister Mthuli Ncube’s 2021 budget statement.
Ncube, for the first time, conceded that the COVID-19-induced lockdown was devastating for the poor and working class.
Conservative estimates say as many as 300 000 jobs were lost during the lockdown.
Ncube said: “In line with the economic rebound projected in 2021, formal employment is projected to grow with about 150 000 formal jobs expected to be recovered after having been lost due to COVID-19 pandemic.
“Similarly, incomes are also expected to rise, with per Gross National Income per capita expected to increase to US$1 835 from the current levels of US$1 156.”
It is interesting that Ncube, conveniently, did not tell Parliament how many families had benefitted from the cash transfers for the poor and vulnerable.
He also deliberately did not tell the august House how many jobs were saved by his $18 billion industry bailout he had announced in May.
It’s not an oversight that the numbers were negligible, henmce, he was embarrassed to spell them out.
Ncube went ahead and evaded another kick in the teeth by using euphemisms instead of direct language that government was going ahead to retrench workers and where possible suppress wages and salaries.
The minister, on page 63 of his budget statement, said the government would control expenditure by: “Gradual reduction of the wage bill from the current levels (of around 50% of total expenditures) towards 30% of total expenditure and below 10% of GDP.”
The government is hell bent on making sure that the poor go back to the slave wages or else they are squeezed by taxation till they can’t bleed anymore.
Ncube knowing fully-well that many people are outside formal employment and have been taxed only through Value Added Tax and 2% IMMT, suggested a further squeeze on the poor.
The 2021 budget statement proposed that presumptive tax for informal sectors will be increased to $10 000 a month for bottlestores, general dealer shops, hair salons among others.
On top of this, Ncube proposed another US$30 rental tax for those renting small cubicles to operate from that would be collected by the landlord on behalf of Zimra.
In other words, informal traders are going to be paying more to exist.
The minister extended the 2% IMMT introduced in October 2018.
This is a tax that affects mostly the poor as they are the same people who are struggling to access cash from the banks and in a day do more transactions than an average rich person.
It is embarrassing that the minister has allowed banks to charge transaction charges as high as $50 each time one swipes his card in a shop.
For argument’s sake buying a loaf of bread through swipe now costs $125.
Like the rich property developers, the rich people are still insulated from paying equitable tax.
Some have empty mansions that pay no rates, some have idle riches that they inherit and are never taxed.
They are actually promised less taxes for them to invest in business and pay slave wages and laugh all the way to the bank.
As the Budiriro families get soaked in the summer rains, with no prospect of getting formal jobs they still face the threat of new taxes proposed by Ncube.
They are now in the clutches of a vicious cycle of poverty.
The poor continue to carry the can but for how long?
The dark clouds of instability are rising.