I SET foot on Zimbabwe soil only two weeks ago to find my homeland seizing with all manner of speculation and man-made crises. Of course crises are a fertile ground for all manner of rumours and innuendoes. Sometimes the authorities themselves feed into these rumours, thus making the situation volatile and explosive.
I am stranded in the Southern Province of Masvingo. The boisterous and noisy Kombi drivers are obvious by their absence. The city is quiet. OK Bazaars, the largest retail shop in the city, is closed. Shop-owners near OK locked themselves inside in order to protect their properties and goods. There is an eerie silence. Yesterday, I saw four small open truck troop carriers making the rounds in this city. Text messages advised citizens to stay put inside their homes on Wednesday. A photograph of a disheveled policeman who fell among angry rioters is being circulated.
Take the case of the Bietbridge riots by cross border vendors. The statistics say that 77 men and women were arrested and some of them will face prosecution. The whole crisis is man-made. Vendors, who had tasted the advantages of free trade, found that with a weak South African Rand, they could import simple goods such as milk products, powdered milk, yoghurt and other groceries for resale or consumption at a cheaper price than in Zimbabwe, even after taking into account the frustrations and abuses of the Zimbabwe customs officials.
The rumors, however, perhaps without foundation, said that government policy had nothing to do with strengthening local industries. Only one person, Amai (the President’s wife) owns a dairy marketing business, which may benefit from the exclusion of South African competition.
Government foolishly fed into this rumour by arguing, without foundation, that the riots were engineered by a Third Force, based in South Africa. Thus vendors’ complaints were dismissed as frivolous. A crisis that did not exist was now fully developed. A foolish solution, which solved nothing, was now implemented. A special detachment trained in beating up riotous mobs was dispatched to take care of the problem.
An incident in Masvingo gave me some insight into the power structure of Zimbabwe. As is my custom, I paid a courtesy call with the mayor of my great town. He was flattered by my wish to take responsibility to fill in a big hole on the pavement next to my property. The City Council raises some Kikuyu grass, which they sell for U$8 per wheel barrow. The mayor sent me to the Parks Manager, who instructed his messenger to conduct me to the City Nursery.Advertisement
At the nursery, I was shocked to find that an old worker, Musona, had the cheek to refuse me the grass (for which I would pay). Apparently, this lowly worker was powerful enough to disobey a direct order from two officials. It is possible that Musona was a Zanu party apparatchik and that he was not cognizant of any superior authority other that of the party.
A month earlier, I had asked, to what purpose or to whose benefit are these man-made crisis? My name-sake, Ken Yamamoto has made this revelation to me: “The policies of the ruling party are about creating a crisis through stupid power retention policies and then pretend to solve them. They blame everyone else while pretending to solve the problem (which they created)”.
Take another example of Kombi operators. Traveling from Masvingo to Chivhu, a distance of 150 kilometers, I was stopped eleven times. Surely such police road blocks cannot serve the only purpose for which the police have sworn to serve, which is to facilitate the free flow of road traffic.
The explanations of frustrated youthful officers, that two-inch square reflectors must be posted at the front end and rear-end of the car, fall on deaf ears. Reflectors from outside sources, such as South Africa, are rejected. Rumour has it that all this fuss is intended to direct business towards a well-connected chef who is selling these reflectors.
If the rumour is unfounded, there is certain credibility to the argument that the police want to drive competition out of the road for the benefit of their masters who run similar Kombi businesses. The third rumour, now confirmed by police spokesperson that the police were under orders from the Ministry of Finance to collect revenue, having been given certain daily targets, sabotages their credibility. So, we have it from the spokesperson that the police were making up crimes in order to raise revenue.
Drivers are expected to carry a SAAZ fire extinguisher .06 kg in weight. Any other extinguishers, European or American are not acceptable. These extinguishers are only available from shops with links to chefs. Thus, after paying daily tribute to the police, Kombi operators are driven out of business when even small repairs to their vehicles are required. They therefore regard the police as an occupying force rather than a citizen force. Surely, neither the police nor the commuters can benefit from such a controversial relationship.
Connecting the dots
The riots and work stoppages by Kombi drivers in Harare and Bulawayo have forced us to connect the dots. The situation is worse than I had at first realized. The pay slips for State workers indicate a generalized base income of $200 per month irrespective of the level of education and experience. Chefs (with titles such as Principal Director) are entitled to three vehicles, a free house, and other allowances.
Maintaining such a lifestyle for the 5,000 chefs requires daily arrests and spot fines of Kombi drivers, enforcing toll fees on highways, (which have been dismissed by the Constitutional Court) and relentless government borrowings.
Speaking in London, Finance Minister Chinamasa tried to connect the dots. “The key thing now is access to capital,” he said. The loop, however, cannot be closed. Government is unwilling to accept responsibility for the crisis. “Land reform was undertaken in a revolutionary way, we were following our destiny,” he said.
Chinamasa, and his superiors, are living in a dream world. He was in London to garner financial support from the very people they have offended. “The UK cannot wish us away,” he added. This is a par excellence reflection of government thinking.
Last week it confiscated 20,000 hectares owned by Huellet Tongaat, a sugar company, putting 2,000 workers out of employment. In ZANU thinking, the UK can be forced to arrange loans for Zimbabwe, while white citizens remain at the mercy of government predators. Chinamasa has mooted a new argument that if the UK refuses to help, Zimbabwe may be forced to occupy the remaining 200 white owned farms.
While government continues its rapacious behavior, destroying revenue creating companies, it also continues to support the rapacious lifestyles of its 5,000 chefs. The dots do not connect. Rapacious expenditure and lifestyles are not supportable by a dwindling revenue base. Nor can such a lifestyle be supported in any measure by imperialists who witness on a daily basis their dwindling share of the economy.
Sense of humour
I am now convinced that President Robert Mugabe has an awkward sense of humour. It is generally accepted that a president chooses a moron for Vice President for fear of being out-shined. But in choosing Phelekezela Mphoko, he chose more than a court jester.
Challenged about staying in the Rainbow Towers Hotel for more than a year when a $3.5-million-dollar house is ready, his answers passed the test of being ridiculous. Since he was a war veteran, he was more than entitled to some luxury. Secondly, the Rainbow is government owned, and government does not pay its bills. In an address at a college seething with feminist females, he waxed strong about his Mboko (maleness). A treacherous voice did whisper to him that Mboko also, translated in Shona means a fool.
The government is not anywhere near accepting the fact that their voracious appetite for spending on junkanoo trips, paying Mugabe’s cronies U$8,000 per trip leaves a negative balance in the treasury. Civil servants and medical doctors who went on strike say that whenever Mugabe takes a trip abroad, there is a correlation with delayed salary payments. Parastatals have not received their May salaries. Two days ago, they received a $100 advance.
With the scenario I have described above, I am more pessimistic than ever that the ZANU politburo will come up with any solutions to the self-made monetary crisis. They are reprobate.