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Disaster capitalism revisited

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STIR THE POT -PAIDAMOYO MUZULU

THE principality of Monaco is a city in France. It is a playground for the rich and famous, its citizens are cosmopolitan and are not afraid to flaunt their obscene wealth.

Monaco has its own tax and financial laws different from the rest of France. It is a tax haven, home to millionaires running away from their own countries and united by their filth riches and disdain to develop their own original countries.

Monaco is a dream President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his Finance minister Mthuli Ncube have for Zimbabwe’s picturesque resort of Victoria Falls. A dream that has been in the works for three years and is about to be realised.

COVID-19 pandemic could not have come at a better time for them to actualise this dream. The duo is ready to implement their plan during the COVID-19 pandemic. It fits well into Naomi Klein’s seminal book – Shock Doctrine, the Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

Klein’s book talks of the Chicago Boys — a grouping of neoliberal economists that are disciples of Milton Friedman. These are economists who believe in free market economics, privatisation and deregulation of the economy. Ncube is a classical disciple of Friedman.

Friedman and his associates believe that disasters are a necessary ingredient to implement deep economic structural reforms. They postulate that economic structural reforms are better implemented when citizens are in shock, and resistance is at its lowest.

Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mnangagwa and Ncube have been in overdrive to privatise public institutions and State-owned enterprises, health and education provision. They have also made it very easy for capital to invest.

Last year, the administration fast-tracked the privatisation of St Annes, Norfolk and partially United Bulawayo Hospitals to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. The rich even in a global pandemic were shielded from the ravages of the virus. Others made a killing in profits by supplying personal protective equipment while others were doing COVID-19 tests at exorbitant costs far out of reach of the majority poor.

This was not the only signal to Mnangagwa administration’s privatisation agenda. It went further to create Special Economic Zones (Sez) with the resort town of Victoria Falls getting an offshore investment status. To cap it all, Victoria Falls now houses Zimbabwe’s only United States dollar stock exchange.

Mnangagwa further declared Victoria Falls a city, a city that operates on different financial rules to the rest of the country. This effectively made it a State within a State.

In a coup de grace, Cabinet this week, made far-reaching pronouncement on Victoria Falls when it announced new partnership agreements to develop the new city. A move meant to irrevocably make Victoria Falls a playground for the rich despite it being a national heritage that should be enjoyed by all Zimbabweans — both rich and poor.

The Cabinet communiqué read: “Cabinet considered and approved three proposed joint ventures which were presented by the Finance and Economic Development minister Muthuli Ncube. The partnership agreements, which were assessed and recommended for approval by the Zimbabwe Investment and Development Agency (Zida) are as follows:

“Proposed feasibility study financing agreement in connection                with the development of the Victoria Falls Sez; proposed joint venture between the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) and Zambezi Crescent (Pvt) Ltd.”

The statement further read: “Cabinet approved the proposed feasibility study financing agreement in respect of the development of bulk Infrastructure in the Masuwe Area of the Victoria Falls Sez. Cabinet was advised that Mosi Oa Tunya Development Company (MOTDC), a parastatal under the Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry ministry, procured Old Mutual Life Assurance Company Zimbabwe (OMLAC), to finance and undertake the feasibility study for the development of bulk infrastructure at a cost of US$430 948 29.

“In lieu of payment for the feasibility study cost, MOTDC will grant OMLAC a lease over 55 hectares of land for construction of a 4-star hotel with a 5 000-seater conference centre; a hospital facility; a golf course; and a shopping mall on land to be allocated by Government.

“OMLAC will then have to pay rentals after recovery of the cost of the feasibility study. The proposed arrangement is part of the whole process of unlocking value in the Victoria Falls Sez in that the feasibility study will inform the viability of proposed economic activities and infrastructure needs.”

It needs no further proof to understand who are the private investors. Old Mutual is the oldest pension fund on the African continent controlled from South Africa. It is the same fund that has benefitted in the past from Zimbabwe’s stupid and anti-people dollarisation, de-dollarisation and partial re-dollarisation policies. The policies lefts thousands of poor workers robbed of their hard-earned investments and this is the new money being reinvested into a national asset for profit. Why was  the National Social Security Authority (NSSA), a government-controlled pension fund with billions of United States dollars in cash and investments not roped into the project?

The answer may be found easily, NSSA is the government and Zanu PF piggy bank. The party apparatchiks still need cheap funds to bail their ailing companies and money to campaign for the 2023 elections. Whoever would be controlling the fund has unlimited power to abuse its investments without sanction as has happened in the past.

The government further privatised the national park that surrounds Victoria Falls for 25 years in return for a paltry US$3 009 000. It is not unreasonable to assume Hwange National Park will soon be added to the menu.

The Cabinet said: “ZimParks will provide exclusive rights to the use of the lodges at the camp and their surroundings. The project will be implemented as a joint venture over 25 years with the parties sharing profits on a 50/50 basis.”

The die is cast. Welcome to the new Monaco and the rich have carved their own lansberum, space under the sun. Neoliberalism on steroids is now here and the poor will fund it with their blood, sweat and tears. The “new dispensation” is finally home.

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