LAST Friday, the official first day of spring here in South Africa, I made another voluntary pilgrimage back to Zimbabwe ending in the Midlands capital of Gweru. I am taking any opportunity to visit my homeland.
The vibe in Gweru was positively optimistic and the momentum for the national economy is still upwards. Of course there was a bit of murmuring concerning the new ZESA tariffs and the reinstatement of duty on some food items.
After this visit, I was left with a thought that perhaps there is need to educate our country to take some temporary pain for the future growth of our economy.
The general Zimbabwean instinct is always to try and locate blame with some party or individual when issues that cause distress are encountered. I read several state-owned newspapers while I was there just to maintain balance with the private media. The general insinuation was that both the duty issue and the power increase had been unleashed on the Zimbabwean consumers because these two ministries were under the leadership of Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma, both senior MDC leaders.
These increases were, therefore, implicitly the fault of the MDC.
Journalists must be educated to stop apportioning blame for collective cabinet decisions. There has to be a line between what is of national interest and what is partisan political interests and they should stop pandering to the whims of Zimbabwean political warlords.
The 31% ZESA tariff increase effected from September 1 was long overdue. Zimbabwe currently has no borrowing powers after it defaced its own financial system. For the economy to meet its growth targets, it needs power and the money has to be found somewhere.
Here in South Africa, the Thabo Mbeki government prevaricated on increasing power tariffs a few years ago, sending South Africa into a deficit position. Delaying pain is not equivalent to getting rid of pain. As a result of taking the eyes off the ball, we are having an accelerated tariff increase here in South Africa to catch up with the lost years.
I personally think re-imposing duty on basic commodities was the right thing to do. No country worth its salt can justify importing all the cooking oil and green soap from another, unless it desires to wear the provincial status tag. Zimbabwe is coming out of a period of de-industrialisation. A certain degree of protection is necessary until the gross industrial capacity utilisation starts edging past the 65% mark.
If we can get our sunflower oil from Olivine, it means we would have supported the agricultural production of the new farmers producing sunflower seed. Once the oil has been extracted, the cake residue is a key input in stock feeds which in turn would support the stimulation of a sustainable poultry, piggery and cattle feeding industry.
The natural instinct of most Zimbabwean businesses is to profiteer at the slightest provocation instead of looking at the long term sustainability of the business, so we need some checks and balances to keep this from happening.
It is inappropriate to base a whole business model on the misery of your neighbours. A well known Johannesburg wholesaler where many Zimbabwe shoppers used to patronise decided to bring its business closer to the Zimbabwean market. It built another shop between Musina and Beitbridge. Sadly, the shop has now been shut down as the Zimbabwean economy recovers.
At one time Musina was a 24-hour city but if you drive through it on any evening or Sunday afternoon, it is now a ghost town. I can predict that much of the shops whose consumer profile had more than 50% Zimbabwean shoppers will also be sliding towards a shut down in the next year or so as long as the Zimbabwean rulers keep their eyes on the ball.
I am one of the advocates for civil servants and government employees to have their remunerations reviewed upwards beyond US$500 a month. I, however, believe this should be linked to productivity and efficiency of delivery of service. I do not see how they should first lay claim to the diamond money of Marange while the poor peasants of this area are still languishing in poverty.
Back to my trip, this time around it took me nearly four hours to drive through the Beitbridge border post with nothing to declare. Surely one does not need a PhD in supply chain optimisation to see that the border process can be improved dramatically if the willingness is there. In July, I crossed into Botswana from South Africa and it took me less than 20 minutes on both sides of the border even though the volume of people was high.
As soon as I parked at Beitbridge, a hwindi was at my car door offering to get me across the border in no time if I paid a certain fee. His logic was that someone driving such a nice car should not waste time in lengthy queues.
One of my 2011 resolutions is that I will not pay to rig the queues or simply to make them do what they are already paid by the state to do. I am against Nigerianisation of the Zimbabwe civil service. Some Smart Alec at Zimra has now decreed that the road access fee, temporary import insurance and who knows what else should now be processed by one officer while the other officers at the other desks twiddle their thumbs.
Surely this cannot be optimal utilisation of the available human resources, and Zimra’s mandate ought to be to process the documents of travellers in the shortest possible time so that they can spend as much money as possible in Zimbabwe.
After watching the hwindis, working in cahoots with the officers to allow those who pay the under-hand fee to jump the queues, I complained to the supervisor in charge but he only took some feeble action after my third complaint.
Of course Biti and the rest of his government colleagues never get to experience any of this because they all pass through the Harare airport where they have officials fawning all over them. I keep a “point A to B” vehicle in Harare given the extortion vehicle hire fees there, so I am seriously contemplating only using Harare airport as my only port of entry into Zimbabwe.
While it is necessary for this Zimbabwean economy to take some pain as it rapidly recovers, this pain should not be disproportionately carried by only the poor. The rich, the government and private industry can start by paying their outstanding electricity bills to support economic growth.
Tafirenyika L. Makunike is the chairman and founder of Nepachem cc (www.nepachem.co.za), an enterprise development and consulting company. He writes in his personal capacity