BY PETER MUTASA
“The worst of our economic woes are now behind us,” President Emmerson Mnangagwa bragged on his Twitter handle, adding that the “worst is now behind us”.
“In 2017, 5% of stock in Zimbabwe’s supermarkets was locally manufactured. Today, 45% of our supermarket supplies are proudly made in Zimbabwe”.
It is astonishing how the President, who is obviously expected to be fully informed about what is happening on the ground could confidently make such assertions. There are two or rather three possibilities.
Firstly, it is possible that the President is completely misinformed by his advisers, especially his ministers.
This is not uncommon considering that since the later former President Robert Mugabe’s era, various ministers inflated impacts of government policies to appear as if their ministries were doing well.
The infamous one being former Agriculture minister Joseph Made’s assurances that there was going to be a bumper harvest in the 2004 season. Made had hovered around the country in a helicopter and counted everything green as crops awaiting harvesting.
He was quoted in the Press stating that: “You see, God has been smiling on us and we are lucky that in the northern parts there were good rains in the last few days and crops are doing well.”
As a result of his numerous annual misrepresentations, the late former President Robert Mugabe reportedly rejected food aid.
In 2005, he sarcastically told donors that: “We are not hungry. Why foist this food on us? We don’t want to be choked. We have enough.”
Made misinformed Mugabe about the state of food security, resulting in serious consequences for the nation. Many villagers faced starvation and the country had to import lots of grain using the little foreign currency we had.
Perhaps, the most stupid one was when Mugabe was misinformed and believed that some spirit medium (Rotina Mavhunga) had discovered a rock oozing purified diesel in Chinhoyi.
A lot of superstitions and half-baked scientific conclusions were drawn to support this ludicrous claim.
Worryingly, this was believed by many ministers including those tasked with State Security. In addition, this crazy tale was also backed by the so-called analysts who could even spew their nonsense on the national broadcaster’s various outlets.
It was only after a lot of resources had been wasted that the government, full of specialists, finally accepted that it had fallen victim to an unsophisticated scam.
Without any consequences to the ministers and State security bureaucrats involved, Mugabe jokingly ended the matter talking about how his ministers had fallen for the scam. Mavhunga was subsequently arrested but none in the administration faced any reprisal.
It is, therefore, possible that despite the well-developed and experienced public bureaucracy, the President can still be deliberately or unintentionally misinformed.
On this one, it is not yet clear whether he is a victim of misinformation or he is alive to the realities but simply playing politics.
In such a case, the workers and citizens must use the constitutional provisions to demand accountability and censure those that may be misinforming the President. We cannot afford to sustain the dangerous precedent of impunity that was the hallmark of the Mugabe regime.
Making the Head of State and government believe that everything is well and under control when we face an economic crisis is dangerous to the welfare of all citizens. Workers are reeling under serious hardships that we expect the President to acknowledge and address as a matter of urgency.
If the President was made to believe that the economic woes are behind us, it means his government will not craft sound policies to address the many economic problems that various segments of the nation are facing.
This is a matter that every worker and trade union must be concerned about.
The second possibility is that Mnangagwa is simply pushing forward a propaganda line fully aware that the economy is deeply in crisis.
For many years through Zanu PF manifestos, the government has been over-promising and underperforming. However, despite the clear failure to meet their promises, various officials including the President confidently pronounce successes.
A good example is the two million jobs promised in 2013 manifesto. In spite of evidence to the contrary, the then Zanu PF deputy director of communications Psychology Mazivisa claimed that they had created over-two million jobs.
His infamous argument being that they had not specified that these would be formal jobs and counting the number of those doing informal jobs, they had surpassed the target.
In July 2017 during a youth discussion forum, he shocked and disappointed many when he said: “Yes we promised that. But you see what people tend to forget and I want to say this on record and I hope this is the last time we are saying this as Zanu PF. We did not say we were going to create 2,2 million formal jobs.
“We said we were going to create 2,2 million jobs, and when you define what a job is it includes casual jobs. For example, you can use the word job in the sentence as follows; I gave him a job to wash my clothes. And that sentence is grammatically correct. We have created millions of jobs in the informal sector. ln fact we have exceeded the 2,2 million jobs, we are now at the last count including the formal jobs at over three million jobs.”
ln its 2018 election manifesto, the ruling Zanu PF party promised many things and now three years down the line, these remain a pie in the sky. Some of the promises were:
- to build 1, 5 million houses by 2023
- to build 2 000 schools
- create jobs
- end international isolation through re-engagement
- economic growth of 6% per annum
- open Zimbabwe for business and attract foreign direct investment
- zero tolerance to corruption.
lt is evident that the government has failed on most of these promises. It is aware that elections are few months ahead and propaganda based on self-serving inflated achievements has to kick in. That such propaganda is coming from the highest office shows how determined the ruling party is to once again lure voters to vote for it despite its failure to deliver.
ln addition, the President is also on record stating that his administration is a second republic different from the Mugabe regime. The official line is that in this so-called new dispensation, citizens enjoy constitutional freedoms, security of persons is guaranteed and citizens are more prosperous than before.
Clearly, evidence on the ground points otherwise. On August 1 2018, the so-called new dispensation shot and killed unarmed citizens in central Harare for exercising their constitutional rights. In January 2019, many complaints of abuse and brutality by State security against defenceless citizens were reported.
These included alleged rape, gruesome torture, murder, theft and mass arrests. There have also been many cases of abductions.
I am a victim, having been almost abducted more than twice. My 19-year- old nephew was not so lucky and was abducted and severely tortured when the abductors failed to locate me at my house. They also severely damaged my house in one of their nocturnal raids.
Furthermore, in the so-called second republic, journalists were arrested and detained after exposing corruption. Some like ZimLive editor Mduduzi Mathuthu had horrific experiences as his relatives were abducted and tortured.
Trade unionists, student leaders and opposition leaders are wantonly arrested and threatened. People are living more in fear now than in the past regime.
In addition, all freedoms have been suspended. Citizens were in some instances allowed to protest in the first republic, but now it is no longer permissible under the Mnangagwa regime.
There is a growing tendency to hide behind COVID-19 restrictions, but this argument does not hold water.
Well before COVID-19 restrictions, ZCTU leaders and activists were arrested around the country on October 11 2018 while attempting to peacefully protest against Finance minister Mthuli Ncube’s austerity measures and erosion of salaries.
Sheila Chisirimhuru, gender co-ordinator for Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union Of Zimbabwe was arrested and convicted for protesting against poor salaries.
Many other trade unionists have been harassed and arrested while carrying out bona fide trade union work.
In terms of working conditions and standards of living, no amount of propaganda can sway the majority view that we are worse off than in the previous dispensation. All workers’ wages and pensions have been eroded in this dispensation. Many workers such as teachers, nurses, doctors, and private sector employees are enslaved and literally working for nothing.
In the so-called new dispensation, workers are no longer demanding real salary increases but just restoration to what obtained during the Mugabe era. In the past dispensation, workers earned somehow decent wages and the cost of living was lower. In this so-called new dispensation, besides the propaganda, life is unbearable and working conditions are sadly parallel to colonial and apartheid conditions.
Domestic workers are earning an equivalent of US$9 per month which is only sufficient to buy nine loaves of bread. Their minimum wage of $2 549 can only purchase 25 loaves of bread. During the Mugabe era, the average wage was around US$300. Teachers used to earn US$520 and now they earn around US$100. The situation is pathetic and dire.
It is, therefore, mere propaganda to suggest that there is an improvement in security of persons, freedoms and prosperity in the current dispensation.
There is a real possibility, therefore, that the President is aware of the dire situation and the economic implosion that we face but chooses to believe his hangers-on’s propaganda. This maybe to soothe the ego of the administration and to pacify the not so analytical citizens who are facing economic hardships. Such propaganda is used to create hope and optimism when the authorities are aware that the economy is tanking
Workers and citizens have to take the President to task if this is the case. The President has an important constitutional role in terms of section 90(1) (c) to ensure protection of the fundamental human rights. The Constitution includes socio-economic rights such as right to education, healthcare and water as fundamental rights under the Bill of Rights.
Clearly, if the President is driven by partisan goals and acts on the basis of propaganda on social and economic matters, he may fail to protect these fundamental rights of citizens. It is expected that in his discharge of his constitutional role, the President relies on facts and not self-serving propaganda in order to craft sound policies.
An active citizenry entails the civic society’s role to debunk the propaganda and enlighten communities about the actual facts. Trade union educators, organisers and leaders should challenge these views that are clearly not based on the daily experiences of the workers and citizens are going through.
ln terms of section 67(2)(d) of the Constitution, trade unions and civic society have the right to organise and mobilise citizens to collectively demand well-informed social and economic policies that are based on facts, not propaganda. It is provided that every Zimbabwean citizen has a right “to participate, individually or collectively, in gatherings or groups or in any other manner, in peaceful activities to influence, challenge or support the policies of the government or any political or whatever cause.
The trade unions need to collectively challenge this notion that “our economic woes are now behind us”. Our members are in deep distress and need the government to acknowledge the economic crisis we face for it to urgently come up with remedial measures.
The third possibility which must trouble every citizen is if the State bureaucracy including Cabinet that advises the President, indeed, believes that “our worst economic woes are now behind us”, then we are in real trouble as citizens.
The Constitution bestows among other functions an important role of developing and implementing national policy on Cabinet (section 110(3)(d)(e). If our social and economic national policies are going to be developed based on the belief that we are now out of the woods, then we face a dark future.
It takes total lack of care having seriously analysed the fragility and failures of almost every aspect of our economy to be convinced that we have nothing to worry about. There is no excuse for the Cabinet members to make such a conclusion and advise the President as such. That is not different from Made’s ineptitude around food security that caused serious hardships and losses. That is also not different from believing that pure diesel can ooze out of a rock that led to serious embarrassment of the Mugabe government.
This calls for serious dialogue with the government and President. Civic society needs to urgently and succinctly express the alternative view about the state of the economy. Economic performance and status cannot be based on just one or two indicators.
My view is that we have State failure and one of the indicators is an economic implosion that has seen the majority enduring painful socio-economic hardships. There is a serious mismatch between incomes and the cost of living. The recently increased local authorities’ rates, public transport fees, cost of food and schools fees against stagnant salaries are a clear sign of serious socio-economic imbalances. This surely cannot support the President’s emphatic statement that the worst economic woes are now behind us.
It is clear that the nation is now divided between the ruling elites together with their cronies on one hand, and the majority poor working class and suffering peasants on the other hand. ln fact the worst economic woes are devouring us and based on this self-centred approach of the politicians in power, there is no respite in sight.
Unless citizens build a united front and utilise the constitutional provisions to challenge both repression and neoliberal policies forced on us, we will continue to wallow in misery and poverty. Clearly the government is detached from the realities affecting the citizens. Trade unions must come together and demand restoration of the value of workers’ salaries that were deliberately eroded by the government through currency debauchery. This cannot be won in sector battles but through general strikes and citizen mass actions.
- Peter G Mutasa is Zimbabwe Congress Of Trade Unions president. He writes here in his personal capacity.