Zimbabwe @ 34, a sad introspection

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FORMAL sector unemployment is very high, companies are closing down, the economy is teetering on the brink, we don’t have a national currency and corruption is running riot in high offices. That is the state of Zimbabwe on Independence Day.
Are we independent? From what? To do what? What is there to celebrate on Independence Day? Thirty-four years on, are we in any way different from the rest of Africa or are we the worst of the lot?
In short, is there hope for ordinary Zimbabweans? What mark would those who paid the ultimate price to liberate this country give us for what we have become?
Let me state plainly that corruption and general mismanagement in Government-linked enterprises and local authorities have done a lot to discredit the image of our liberation war heroes. This is quite separate from deliberate distortions and misinformation about the motives for the land reform and economic empowerment programmes which seek to directly benefit the poor.
Beyond the short-term, I should proudly say we have tried to be different and more inclusive economically.
The general narrative about Africa is that the continent has regressed since the advent of independence. It is not unusual to hear some disillusioned Zimbabweans shouting that we were better off under Smith. GDP figures are always readily available to buttress these often misleading claims.
Sadly, a majority of those who revel in this researched nostalgia have no clue of whose welfare is covered under those glowing GDP figures. They can’t explain why it would then have been necessary for someone with a university degree to opt to go to war than simply get a job, buy a house in the suburbs, buy a car and marry.
All said, these protest messages reflect our current lived reality: the impatience to enjoy, the self-indulgence about what we don’t own or produce, the love for the transient, lack of appreciation for the spirit of sacrifice for the greater good and our search for the elusive glamour of Hollywood as gleaned through the flat screen.
It reflects the life of greedy and ostentatious opulence we see around us, much of it unaccounted for.
Yet it is arguable that as Africans we have generally been like apologetic about their independence, often treating it as if it were a gift, more an accident of history than a call of destiny. We have refused to make a clean break with colonialism, imperialism and its capitalist tentacles which make it nearly impossible for an independent African state to act as such: standards, norms and best practice are established for us, so that anything different is sinful deviance. We have to tow the line.Advertisement

The result has been predictable since Ghana’s independence in 1957. We all repeat the same development formula and expect a different result. We remain forever beholden to the mother country on how things should be done, even where it’s clear it’s not working.
We are a rich continent with the poorest people on earth. Our resources are not ours, our economic policies are not ours, what we produce in our mines and fields is not ours; we are only good as employees of companies owned by sons and daughters of the former colonial power. We can’t manage ourselves, hence the need always for “international best practice”, international protocols and conventions to be adhered to; instruments drafted by Europeans to address specific, immediate, practical circumstances but are being hawked as universal truths for adoption. We have to be told who and how to define our own heroes even.
To a certain degree, Zimbabwe has dared to be different – being able to assert its independence against mighty odds, although still unsure and not curious enough to know what we are worth. We have bucked the trend, the given, the accepted – development models which measure national progress and prosperity only in terms of GDP growth rather than the overall income distribution and the wellbeing of people.
Zimbabwe decided to throw away the whiteman’s independence “jewel” which shorn in Harare and Bulawayo’s CBDs and lush commercial farmers, and has opted to have a majority of its people as direct creators and owners of an envisioned new jewel.
Thousands of our people didn’t go to war to return to be mere labourers in a free Zimbabwe!
Zimbabwe’s historic break came with the land reform programme. That on its own should be a source of immense pride, having been the motive force for the liberation war. And that decision courted swift retribution. It was unprecedented and likely to set a bad example. It had to be punished as a warning, never mind that the bitterness came cloaked in the garb of human rights, rule of law and property rights and the penalty as “targeted sanctions”. Indigenization just rubs it in.
We would be supremely naive to lower our guard yet. The masters of this colour-coded universe don’t forgive and never forget. Never mind that our sins are of their own invention: that we can’t own even that which is God-given within the geographical boundaries which colonialism demarcated for us.
Beyond the idea of taking back land, Zimbabwe’s other break was the madness of the methodology. Many attempts at land reform in most countries have foundered on this. Zimbabwe decided the best methodology was one which won the war, after losing patience with the willing seller, willing buyer approach which made it almost impossible for our people to ever get the best arable land.
What is needed now is to raise productivity so that we are food self-sufficient. It might take time; our farmers still require “massive handholding” by government. Rome was not build in a day.
Reports indicate that we are backward by way of mechanization. About 30 000 tractors are needed and we currently have less than half of that. People are always short on seed, fertilizer, irrigation and chemicals. Those who abuse government assistance must be severely punished, including losing the farms. It’s part of the war.
The main source of bitterness among our people is lack of employment opportunities, poor service delivery in water and electricity. Resources have been a key limiting factor in the implementation of Zim Asset although it is downright malicious for anybody to expect a Government policy which requires resource mobilization to start manifesting results just eight months after adoption. But then people lose faith when they see rampant corruption going unpunished while they are told their plight has to do with sanctions. Why should sanctions affect only the poorest in society?
Government’s community share ownership schemes are an initiative which is beginning to be appreciated where the policy is being implemented like the Zimplats’ Mondoro-Ngezi-Chegutu-Zvimba. There will always be sceptics, cynics and political naysayers as was the case with the land reform. The cynicism is justified when the share ownership schemes are launched with fanfare by the president only to be followed by endless controversy such as the Zimunya-Marange share ownership project.
People have reason to suspect that somebody is eating on their behalf without their authority. Communities must benefit directly from their natural resources.
In the urban areas, capitalism’s “lost decade” has yielded a lot of opportunities for enterprising and resourceful retrenchees, most of whom have set up shop in most high density suburbs producing a variety of furniture items, some of which is sold in major shops in town. They are the core of SMEs where reputedly about $7,4 billion is in circulation. Reports indicate that there are 2,8 million small businesses in the informal sector employing about 5,7 million people.
I think it is however premature for Government to start thinking about taxation. These little industries are the future and need to be nurtured, given support and appropriate infrastructure to grow. Their owners need to be organized and trained in marketing and managerial skills to leapfrog them into the formal sector. They need time to grow, improve their products. Government should help them find markets.
I don’t believe individually there is more tax to be made there than what is siphoned from the formal sector through corruption.
While our bookish economists are full of admiration for the size of the South African and Nigerian economies, just like they were of Rhodesia’s enclave economy, what is obfuscated are the staggering levels of poverty. Whose economy are we admiring when black South Africans don’t own the resources which fuel that economy and don’t benefit from it? Can we read anything from the rolling strikes which have crippled the gold and platinum mines?
What’s the import of Nigeria’s economy overtaking South Africa’s if 112 million Nigerians out of a population of 168 million live in squalor? Are we not better with a broader economy where rural and A1 farmers make more money per tobacco selling season than some urban employees earn in a year?
The economic models which post-colonial Africa has pursued have the hallmark of structural adjustment programmes without the IMF and have all failed to alleviate poverty.
No doubt we have huge blotches in the quality of education, health, housing delivery and there is massive urban decay in infrastructure consistent with unplanned post-independence migration and increased traffic. However, for me the biggest failure is our inability to forge a shared vision, to end unnecessary political polarization which has served to create a negative sentiment of political instability and a high country risk for would-be investors. The opposition has been totally anti-people on this, opposing every pro-poor policy just to get western financial backing.
As Zimbabwe celebrates 34 years of Independence, we need to ask ourselves whether the current wave of corruption cases spurred on by a spirit of heartless gluttony are consistent and consonant with the selfless sacrifices for which so many lost their youthful lives. While government has embarked on a number of policies to improve the welfare of ordinary Zimbabweans, is this the best we could have done? Do our actions, individually and as a collective, do honour or discredit the virtues which inspired the liberation struggle for this country?
Can we justify to our departed heroes why we can’t enjoy the pride of having a national currency?
This is a time for reflection, soul-searching and personal introspection. There is a Shona saying; nyadzi dzino kunda rufu, but it looks like Zimbabwe is the only country where that saying doesn’t apply. Thieves, murderers, rapists, crooks and the corrupt can be exposed and still refuse to die. Politicians can sell off their birthright for political power and still relevant.
We dared to be different about our independence; we need virtues which go with that trajectory.