THIS was a week and a half. A week that was pregnant with national activities, starting with a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday and ending with the presentation of the 2023 national budget statement. Buffeted in-between was the State of the Nation Address (Sona). However, all was a cheap mimicking of Chinese politics.
On Tuesday, President Emmerson Mnangagwa chaired the Cabinet meeting that decided to amend the Criminal Code to include the controversial patriotism into citizens. In other words, the Patriot Bill is now coming disguised in a cocktail of changes within the general Criminal Code.
The above is an amendment that is highly prioritised in the face of the 2023 general elections. It is a law intended to curtail opposition leaders and activists from fraternising with diplomats. The changes will radically transform the political operating environment and will act as the hanging sword of Democles to opposition leaders and activists.
Barely 24 hours later, Mnangagwa opened the fifth and final session of the Ninth Parliament. This is the last session before he seeks re-election. The President was tempted and he fell for the temptation to make the Sona at the incomplete humongous new Parliament building in Mt Hampden, the new city precinct.
The Chinese-built and funded edifice is just too big for our needs in the next 50 years. A joint sitting of the Parliament failed to fill all the 650-seater National Assembly chamber.
In a weird sense, Mnangagwa and his deputy Constantino Chiwenga all wore Chinese-inspired suits, probably to impress their benefactor. In an unprecedented move, First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa did not attend the Sona as she had her own itinerary meeting cotton farmers.
It did not occur to Mnangagwa that as much as he tried to appear tough as Chinese Xing Ping, his government has been exposed as impotent — a government overawed by its sheer parliamentary majority that it failed to pass 21 Bills in a year.
Zanu PF only once did show its power when it bludgeoned the Constitution with two quick fire amendments that were meant to consolidate the President’s powers. The President now has powers to unilaterally choose the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice, Judge President and the Prosecutor-General without having them go through public interviews. He also extended the proportional representation quota for the next 10 years and introduced a new youth quota in Parliament.
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It remains shocking why a party controlling two-thirds majority is failing to pass legislation. Is Mnangagwa being sabotaged or he came without a plan? The majority entitles his Executive to change the legislative framework for good. Or maybe, there is some sabotage from his Cabinet which sees no urgency in passing the legislation.
However, Mnangagwa has remained tied to his pro-capital approach and drip-down social development approach at the benevolence of capital. His Treasury has made sure that at least it is consistent on worshipping capital and would do nothing to revolutionarise the economy or financial architecture as favoured by the Bretton Woods Institutions.
Finance minister Mthuli Ncube, an Oxford don, is bidding to his master's inclinations without qualms. In his latest budget statement tabled in Parliament on Thursday, Ncube repeated that “private sector-led economic growth” is the overarching goal twice within the first 12 paragraphs of his speech.
Ncube, in the statement, dubbed Accelerating Economic Growth, in paragraph 4 said: “The broad objective is to create a conducive business environment for the private sector to thrive, as well as to progress the country’s commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), continental and global protocols.”
He continued on that theme in paragraph 12, saying: “The 2023 Budget will, therefore, focus on maintaining a tight monetary and fiscal policies stance as an overriding objective going forward, in support of macro-economic stability that promotes private sector led economic growth, as well as build capacity within the public sector to effectively implement NDS1 projects and programmes during the second half of the Strategy period."
Ncube made no bones about nailing his neoliberal economic colours to the mast by making sure they would tax the poor and working class to prosperity. In the statement, he did not give any tax breaks to the working class. The income tax bands were not widened, the punitive Intermediated Money Transfer Tax remained in place and duty on imported basic foodstuff was reinstated.
As if to make the squeezing of the poor working class acceptable, Ncube quoted world renowned pacifist, Mahatma Gandhi, saying: “The future depends on what you do today.” Ncube, in simple terms, means he will squeeze the poor working class dry in the here and now for “potential” economic largesse in the future.
In conclusion, Mnangagwa has failed to read or understand the Chinese. Economic growth in China is State-led through State-owned enterprises, zero tolerance to grand corruption and making public appointments based on meritocracy. It is clear there is need for State intervention, even Western countries during the 2008/9 global economic recession went full-blown quantitative easing and engaged in mass job creating infrastructure projects.
In the end, one can see that following the Chinese model is more than the optics of a grand Parliament or wearing Chinese suits, but serious commitment to and execution of policies by a group of people who put their country first.
This is a test Mnangagwa has failed as he remains fixated on pleasing capital in the hope of trickle down economics.
Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist based in Harare. He writes here in his personal capacity.