FRENCH philosopher Joseph de Maistre – that unconscionable defender of social hierarchy, privilege and, therefore, inequality – is claimed to have once opined that a people will always get the government they deserve. Wise old head, that Frenchie! If he were right [and I refuse to agree he was], then we probably deserve the lot currently ensconced at Munhumutapa Building in Harare.
But I would suggest the believers among us [those not lapsed like me] presently ask of the heavens what we did wrong to deserve this particular government. Indeed, and especially as fresh elections are imminent [because I choose to believe the word/threat of those who have so far had their way in this fractious coalition], if some penance is required so we may not DESERVE another government like this one, then I say we should all gladly suffer whatever punishment is required!
By Jove! We must have offended the deities big time if we should DESERVE a government that presides over the shambles such as currently obtain regarding ZISCOSTEEL – a troublesome monkey we all thought had, finally, been taken off our long suffering backs with the deal to sell the company to Essar Global of India.
Yet six months after President Robert Mugabe, with due pomp and circumstance, handed the company to the Indians, it turns out nothing else has happened at Redcliff. Zero production and workers getting paid for doing absolutely nothing apart from turning up and clocking in [don’t we all just envy them their good fortune]. Nothing to do with the Indians, of course; but our very useful politicians!
And to the bemusement of the whole country, Industry and Commerce Minister Welshman Ncube blamed his Mines counterpart Obert Mpofu who in turn blamed the same Ncube. It had to take Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara to admit the embarrassment in Parliament when he revealed that the deal is stalled because our political overlords have realised, after the fact, that they sold the Indians a US$30 billion asset for a mere US$750 million. Genius!
Mutambara said the whole cabinet had been “blind, deaf and dumb”. “We didn’t know better or we were just clumsy … total dereliction of duty,” he told MPs. So, not only have we successfully and thoroughly run this company to the ground; we can’t even sell it either!
Remember, this is the same cabinet with ministers who turned up in droves to welcome Emirates Airlines at Harare International Airport at the same time Air Zimbabwe was, deep in debt, towing its own aircraft into the hangers to hide them from impatient creditors.
For these chaps, our politicians that is, it is more important that Emirates flies them where the grounded Air Zimbabwe cannot. The fact that hundreds of people employed by Air Zimbabwe could lose their jobs and their families suffer as a consequence is not their problem.
Ordinarily, elections are supposed to provide the led with an opportunity to call leaders to account. But not in our neck of the woods, unfortunately. In 2008, many thought they voted for one party to govern but had two more foisted on them, that without the asking – a case of buy one get two free!
But Mutambara is trying to be an honest politician, a very rare creature; which is why he will struggle in this business. And so I will relate a personal story – and I believe many other Zimbabweans have similar tales – in the hope that he and his cabinet colleagues can have a sense of the tragic consequences of their wanton and all too regular “dereliction of duty” – his words, not mine.
Back in 1993, I returned home from High School to find my father sitting on the sofa, quiet, head in his two palms, eyes teary, blank and staring into the unfathomable distance. There was a letter on the table, one of the last two he would ever get from Ziscosteel – a company he had loyally served for 20 odd years, and some. He had been retrenched.
That day, we had a new visitor in the house: silence. Unlike my fellow Manyika’s who ordinarily have the decency to disappear after tea, this particular visitor stayed with us until the next and last letter from ZISCO. The last communication ordered my father to vacate the company house. Where he would go, no one cared; what would happen to his young children – most still in school – no one cared; they were his children, therefore his business.
It was a terrible blow, one made worse by the fact that, for my father and the thousands of others similarly affected, it just came from nowhere. Many families broke up as those who had come from Malawi and Zambia suddenly discovered that their spouses did not love them enough to relocate to foreign lands with their Achimwenes.
I asked my father why HE had been retrenched. He did not know. Names were put in a hat: you play you win; you play you lose – that was the game. He had only ever just done his job, trusting that senior management was doing theirs. But they were not, clearly. It was not as if the global steel industry had undergone a sudden collapse forcing producers to scale down operations. No. Instead, someone at the top had not done their job right, what Mutambara calls “total dereliction of duty”.
Typically however, it was not the managing director of the day who was sent home. He kept his job and, with it, his big pay cheque. Ditto the many Ministers of Industry responsible for this and other equally struggling state enterprises across the country. We were told the retrenchments were necessary in order for the situation to get better for those who remained. It never did! There were no sanctions then, I might add.
A few years later, I was covering – as a young reporter – the opening of Steel Makers, a small Kenyan mill in Redcliff which was supposed to concentrate on products deemed uneconomic for the much bigger ZISCO to waste time on. But ZISCO never recovered and I was to be shocked in 2010 when it was revealed that this once small steel mill was among the companies bidding to take-over ZISCO. Curious, but telling turn of events!
By the time bids for the takeover were invited, ZISCO was just but a shell of its former self and Redcliff – that once pretty and proud home of steelmakers – reduced to a ghost town. There are people there still. But with their woefully thin bodies, gaunt faces and red eyes, they might well be props for a horror movie – one cannot be sure whether they live or not. Yet many wore wide grins the last time I visited my beloved home town. There was hope. ZISCO had been sold to the Indians and things would get better again. We drank many a Scud and Shake Shakes to that. And now this!
Mutambara says no one should blame ESSAR for taking advantage of the government’s “ignorance or incompetence”, and right he is. But he insists the government is now scrambling to “protect our people and the national interest”. Well, they had better be quick about it, because there is many an anxious family somewhere in Torwood whose next meal depends on their doing the right thing, finally.