DEAR reader, this piece is going to be a heavy read and I propose a light-hearted entry to allow for some release.
Let us get right in. Following the President’s walk past the River Jordan (in arid Marange!), NewsDay expectedly ran a cartoon of the President overflowing in the white robes of the Johane Marange Apostolic Church. The cartoonist made sure the President wielded the legendary staff, itself part of the sect’s religious paraphernalia. By the President’s holy side was Mutumwa Noah, the High Priest of this sprawling church whose reaches encompasses the four corners of our SADC region.
But far from companionship, the cartoonist presents the relationship between the two as strained. Mutumwa Noah is apparently unhappy about the bright stones of Marange, and the way the President’s Government is handling the matter. He is thus made to ask the President: “Madzibaba Gabriel, when can we expect a share of diamond proceeds from Marange?” The President “looks” aghast, presumably shocked that this celestial man dares dabble in matters falling under the province of earthly Caesar, indeed neglects the celestial star beckoning him to the promised land to rake the bright muck of Mammon!
Of course, this is not the cartoonist’s intended message. It is mine, as I try to turn the sting against its owner, relying of course on the poetic licence which both he as cartoonist, and I as the reader borrow: he from society, I from his text!
When among high priests of capital ...
But beneath my levity lurks a serious point. I recall the President paying a visit to the Ngezi Platinum Mine, sometime last year just a few months into the inclusive Government. I also recall The Herald giving us an image of a President clad in a miner’s dustcoat and also well helmeted for the hard hat area. He was all-white, head to toe, miner-white and at the site of a great resource for this country, platinum. The resource is in foreign hands, firmly so.
If I also recall well, there was a whole retinue of traditional leaders of the areas, including Chief Murambwa and Chief Ngezi between whose territories lies this great mine, restless. For how can it rest anymore with all these foreign vermin crawling all over it, injecting incendiaries for massive blasts that only gladden human greed?
Good for the goose ...?
But I do not recall a cartoon on this visit in any of our Press, whether soon, or long, after. Why? Here was a whole President clad like a miner, well away from the sartorial standards of his mighty Office. In place of his usual dark, well-trimmed suit, he wore a rude white dustcoat. In place of his usually shining and well kempt head, he donned an incongruous helmet, a headgear for sweatshops. Surely, here was matter and material for cartoonists, definitionally inspired by the incongruous?
What is more, the cartoonist had, in the person of the chiefs, a figure through which to raise with the President the fundamental question of community rights in respect of platinum, much the same way Mutumwa Noah does in Marange. Yet not. Why? Chiefs Ngezi and Murambwa could have been made, through poetic licence, to confront the President on when their communities can expect platinum proceeds from Ngezi.
Judgment for the holy, plaudits for the sinful
Which is what takes me to my main question: How do newspapers read humour in various situations? How do they define, distribute and deploy humour in our society of little laughter? Which class figures and interests are routine butts of media humour? How are incongruities read and transformed into humour? Randomly? Evenly? Across interests?
Clearly there are categories of humans whose actions, no matter how serious, will always be turned to purposeful sarcastic humour, all in order to defeat any seriousness in their activities. Secondly, there will always be persons, whose association with presidency is regarded as unseemly, as incongruous and thus perfect material for mordant, disparaging humour. With these lowly creatures, leaders of nations should never be associated.
I mean I find it strange that a President who is before a 150,000-strong congregation seems out of place relative to a President who is before a handful of foreign miners whose company has been found guilty by a reputable international auditing company of evading taxes and externalising Zimbabwe’s resources, indeed a group of miners who are still to give back to the community beyond wages and a road incidental to the host community but core to the operations of the mining house. So much about Press freedom and claims to speaking for the voiceless! The Press will always be on the side of capital.
When diamonds begin to shine
This far, our diamonds have given us lots of food for thoughts. Thankfully, we now have been certified to dispose of them within the framework of the Kimberley Process. We now expect them to begin to give us food for the stomach. After all, when one looks at the so-called conditionalities given us by the KPCS, one finds them as onerous and ponderous as a mighty piece of toilet paper swirling towards the vortex of an angry harmattan. The human face of those conditionalities is none other than Abbey Chikane, the same monitor who authored the report which has got us here. He cannot crucify us so late in the selling equation.
Equally, the response from the diamond industry soon after the KPCS meetings clearly shows that beyond politics of public perception management, countries finally act on the basis of enlightened self-interests, not on the basis of some miasmic, good-Lord-above moral precept. After all, governments are not religious animals, which is why they ceased a long time ago to visit the synagogue every Sunday. Again ask the British whose history illustrates the travails of running a theocracy.
As I write, America is worried about getting a piece of the diamond auction action — ahead of the Chinese and Russians — than about Maguwu, whoever he is. Israel is worried that diamonds from Zimbabwe do not end up in Lebanon, which to them amounts to allowing these diamonds to flow towards Hamas. Beyond the pretended fury we saw in Israel and Russia, self-interest and national fears have restored sanity, tempered furious idealisms. We can now move on, not as civilised master nations pitted against noble savages, but as needy diamond sellers and buyers.
But the real challenge is here, at home. When the West tried non-tariff barriers against our diamonds, using the pretext of the KPCS and its elastic, ensnaring notion of blood diamonds (as if the diamond industry right from the days of Cecil Rhodes at Kimberley have ever been clean!), a royal battle had been declared and every self-respecting Zimbabwean — Job Sikhala excluded — had to jump into the fray. And we did, hind and fore, ready to chew to smithereens anyone who stood in the way. It was a time of jingoism and indeed, diamonds united us, yoked the dissimilar into a tight mating season for a greater national goal and good. That jingoism secured the intended outcome and common sense bids that you don’t keep yelling against a dead lion. You allow the village to rest in sleep.
The instant coffee?
We can now sell our diamonds. What does that mean? A time for a new war? A time to unchain venality and sheer avarice as only a few capture the brightness of this stone against the rest of us? A time for eating chiefs? Or is this the dawn of a Zimbabwe century?
We have built euphoria around the wonders diamonds will bring to our Nation, only a short day after the first sale. Diamonds have become an “instant coffee”, bright and lifting, an instant alchemy to begriming poverty that has haunted us. And like the good air we breathe, the benefits are sure to flow to all of us, reaching each according to the circumference of their trachea (windpipe)!
The new lotus eaters
With diamonds, sanctions will vanish. With them, IMF will get a good boot in its dirty hind. With them growth will once again touch the body and soul of this chosen Nation, carrying it limb and spirit to sugar-candy mountain, atop which everything looks rich, green and serene, lotus green! With them industry will boom, creating jobs that cure instantly the social malaise that has gnawed us since the white man decided we are no good. With them pantries will grow fat and we shall all eat. Eat, eat, eat and eat until sleep is only a bother for the thinking head, all other orifices staying awake: eating or yielding smelly burps of the well-fed, the new affluent. All those infrastructural headaches we have had shall vanish in an instant, thanks to arid Marange’s five loaves and two fish that are set to feed the hungry five thousand. Oh Diamonds, thou art glorious!
Beneath the swelling balloon
That way, the balloon of flatulent expectations from a Nation for so long underfed, for so long thirsty, has been swelling, swelling, and swelling, rising, rising and rising. Our brains have gone to sleep, in this mass drunkenness. We are all on an enchanted island. No one thinks, all are punch-drunk by visions of bright abundance. Overnight, Zimbabwe has become a horn of plenty.
But what is the reality below this balloon rising on the helium of fitful farts of a poor Lazarus transported into a castle by a sweet dream? What is in Bob Nyabinde’s hozi and its marauding gonzo, both of which are sure to rudely break into the present ecstasy of this never-never land of dreams and illusory abundance?
The outsider who knows our bedroom
In this giant seizure of senseless national delight, we have forgotten that it is the outsider — not us — who knows what is in our bedroom. The revelation that we command 25 percent of world diamond supply, and upward of 35 percent when all about us is known, came from an outsider, not from we Zimbabweans, the so-called owners of this and other such resources. We are owners who do not know, owners whose hopes and sanguineness resides not in what we know to have but in what we are told we have.
We do not know our neighbourhood, we proud, believing owners. Our euphoria arises from the sores of poverty we have endured over centuries, never from the sight of riches we have, riches we have discovered and judiciously inventoried. Whence then comes our euphoria? Are we any cleverer than the foolish man who bought the Eiffel Flats, apparently from Paris’ waif?
Illusion of greatness
Secondly, the intensity of our euphoria beats that of a man or woman wielding a 100 percent share certificate. Do we own our diamond deposits, we the happy and salivating, we the expectant? What is our claim in Mimosa? What is our claim in River Ranch? What is our claim in the known diamond shard of Marange? What shall be our claim on other deposits still to be either known or exploited? Or are we emulating our proud South African black brothers from Soweto who beat their chest yelling, “Oh, see how developed we are”, confident forefinger pointing at Sanlam?
Can someone tell us how we who could not produce our own geologists sighted enough to see for us our diamonds, have suddenly found lawyers well-sighted enough to secure our stake in interests that are mining our diamonds? How does our little stake in Mbada or Canadile translate into a full, munching mouth for all of us, great and small?
False pregnancies of the past
I hear we have a 50-50 percent stake in the Marange interests. I hear at Murowa there are Zimbabweans who claim to have about 20 percent of the shareholding on our behalf. I do not know about River Ranch. Yet I am sensible enough to know that this country has mounds and mounds of mining rabble, mounds and mounds of different sizes and shapes akin to ill-gotten pregnancy, but all leaving us with hard-to-notice wombs deflated by sharp hunger, we people of fat, swelling hopes. The fat ones live elsewhere, in faraway lands where our black kind need visas and permits to merit to find work there, work in quarters where they confine their infirm and raving lunatics.
Riches from the tattered philanthropist
The morphology of the shareholding which shall determine the flow of the diamond lustre does not seem to support the euphoria we have been stoking. Our 50 percent stake is owned through ZMDC, the encumbered ZMDC. As a company which has been sued and can never sue, it reserves the right to decide on what dividend to give to the government, itself the surrogate of this nebulous thing called “the people”. Given the history, obligations and state of ZMDC, how much can we expect?
Recognising this planning shortfall, Biti tried to make proposals in the budget. At the end of the day, what comes to the fiscus? But what is the nature of the agreement between ZMDC and its partners? Is it foolproof? Have its partners met their own side of the bargain? Are we not likely to be paid by our own diamond coin? Let the media explore this for us. The President has complained about the integrity-deficit of some individuals associated with ZMDC partners, right from the extraction start. What insurance do we now have?
The elephant in the house
I said we did not know that we had diamonds, which is how De Beers carted out our diamonds to South Africa for so long, with impunity. I am sure our borders were just as manned, our officers worrying more about petty smugglers of mbanje than about those who shipped out our rich diamond ore. Are we any better today, any wiser? The Kimberley Process dealt with known diamond sites. It never dealt with our leaking borders. Where is our Zimberley Process, to secure our borders which have been so porous that even elephants have been smuggled out screaming, yet unseen, unheard?
Do we know the diamond?
But this is only knowledge as sight. More challenging is knowledge as skills. Do we know the diamond? Or we only know that one rumoured by the storekeeper when he wants to extract small pennies from your marriage vows, by way of that stupid ring we think will keep our love, will protect our affection, keeping it hard and bright like the diamond we think is somewhere in the base metal?
What is to know diamonds in an industry where money is made through apt classification of your diamonds? Beyond the rough and rudimentary divide of gem-quality and industrial diamonds, of rough and cut and polished diamonds, what else do we know about this highly mobile and mutable industry? What skills stock do we have, so near to the day of the much awaited sale? How does a man who has no fishing line, who does not know the way to the fish market, dream about a bowl-full of hack fillet?
Not Hammer and Tongues!
I hear gem-quality diamonds come in various classes, hundreds if not thousands of them, on the basis of which classification and parcels are created for auctions. I hear auctions are done per customer per day so customers are afforded time to scrutinise each parcel. We think we will understand this complex industry by going to watch what goes on at Hammer and Tongues? Or at Boka Tobacco Sales Floor?
How are we going to protect and enforce value, our value when we do not know how diamonds are assigned values in the market place? Surely, we know there is no goodwill for us, no guardian angels in this industry of venality? If they sought to mug us in broad daylight, why will they not swindle us even more in the thick darkness of our righteous ignorance? The hammer is sure to fall, only against us.
And the complicating politics
Zimbabwe got its diamonds in the dispensation of the inclusive government. We have different interests yoked together through this makeshift political arrangement. A cursory reading of Biti’s budget, and the debate preceding it, clearly betrays the deep fears and suspicions held by these so-called partners in government. In this climate of inclusive partnership, a resource, which comes our way, triggers deep suspicions.
We saw it with the SDRs. We saw it in successive budgets and the way allocations were interpreted. The ethos in the inclusive government is more party self-positioning than sound development planning and finance. This is why Biti raised the issue of US$30 million rumoured to have come from earlier diamond sales. This is why the same Biti invites experts to work with ZIMRA in monitoring diamond sales, indeed why his budget proposes a raft of legislation, all aimed at ensuring the flow is towards the fiscus, which he is in charge of. One may also be tempted to read the same in the fight between him and the RBZ. At the centre of it all is a core question of ensuring transparency and accountability in the utilisation of this bright gold which can easily turn into a curse for our nation.
Remaining at the flea market
All these broad environmentals are not helped by the fact that the diamond industry itself is wistful about what this find from Zimbabwe means in terms of prices on the world market. There are also sobering facts about the whole industry. Uncut diamonds amount to an estimated US$8 billion market. Significantly, this primary market sires a US$30 billion secondary jewellery market, clearly showing where the money of this market is.
Those that eat are not those that mine, or those who wash and dust rough diamonds for the flea market of uncut diamonds. It is those that beneficiate. Our hopes and euphoria rest on Zimbabwe’s doubtful status as a diamond trading nation, never as a source of diamond manufacturers, a status that requires more tertiary skills. We have a challenge, a huge challenge which the present euphoria masks.
It is a challenge of national economic development planning and policy, a very delicate science ordinarily, certainly much more complicated in our circumstances of inclusivity and sanctions. Both inclusivity and sanctions have distorted the national planning template, in the process creating false objectives and goals, false gods and prophets. You have Marange or Shurugwi, both historically enclaves of unremitting poverty, suddenly finding themselves leading mining enclaves closer to centres of the world diamond trade than to Dotito or Gutu.
The poverty that divided Marange from the rest of us has given way to a value which still does exactly the same. We are an economy so badly truncated, so badly disarticulated and without internal mechanisms for transmitting growth spurts from whatever source. That is why mounds of past mining still left us dormant.
A rich nation with mind of a slave
In our excitement, we have treated diamonds as a trade issue only. It is not even a mining issue, which is why the development of our mining policy is well enclaved from Marange and our fight with KPCS. Through litigation with ACR, we have just woken up to the fact that diamonds beg an investment policy. The KPCS bother has implied a technology and infrastructure policy we do not have. More fundamentally, our flatulent hopes for all to eat from Marange, has raised a development policy issue, the same way that proceeds from Marange and how they shall impact on the whole economy, has raised issues of national savings, national linkages and national investment decisions, all of which imply a coherent set of policies. This is not to talk about national debt policy and an adverse sanctions fighting strategy.
One day, Biti will come back telling us we must use proceeds from Marange for debt settlement. Or to build our reserves so we improve our appeal to the IMF, we the rich children of Marange! How to lift our thinking bar beyond qualifying as borrowers and groveling recipients of aid? That is the challenge.
The rude glow-fly that cursed the moon
How to address all these concerns I have raised coherently in a policy framework to feed the children, send them to school; to employ adults, allow them disposal incomes big enough to meet basic needs, while allowing them to postpone consumption (to save); to create national savings through public sector, which turn into sensible investments propositions for national wealth creation: all these and much more is what punctures this floating balloon, is what moors extravagant expectations we all seem to be sliding into.
In the meantime, one hopes we will not all drop the hoe, roast all seed and hey, perform the ultimate act of self-flagellation: that of allowing our cracking feet to take us to the harsh asphalt of cities, all in the hope of plenty. They did so not so far away from us, and are still settling this debt of national folly. We have found diamonds. We still need to find national prosperity. A glow-fly, however bright, should never curse a bright moon.