Zimbabwe: Questions of the day in 2018

Spread This News

By Seewell Mashizha

Golden-voiced jazz singer and pianist, Nat King Cole, in the song “Ballerina” sang about the fact of people living and learning. So, yes indeed, we live and learn, but what are the lessons that we learn?

In the early years of Thomas Mapfumo’s transition from a singer of mostly rock music covers to a singer of Chimurenga music, he did a quizzical song called “Imhere” (It’s a drag) in which he questioned the things people do as a matter of routine. Mapfumo sang:

You go to an eight to five job every day
But, with whom do you enjoy the fruits of your labour?
Routinely you tend the crops in your field
But, with whom do you share what you reap?

At this point in time, these questions are real and direct and they require our absolute attention.

In a situation closely resembling that which obtained in Zimbabwe soon after independence, events that Zimbabweans are familiar with continue to unfold in the labour movement of South Africa. In Zimbabwe, in the beginning, there appeared to be a meeting of the minds between Government and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). As a result, May Day celebrations became predictable rituals presided over by the ruling party. Logically, people began to expect Government to announce wage increases or new minimum wage levels each First of May.

The partnership between the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the ANC of South Africa is reflective of the apparent coalescence of interests between labour and Pretoria. In Zimbabwe, this arrangement had casualties – largely the labour movement! Before long, Zimbabwe’s labour movement had become emasculated and lay in limbo until the advent of the first food riots (19 -23 January 1998).

With the passage of time labour issues became increasingly more and more politicised. This in turn led to ever more political polarisation within labour. A direct result of this polarisation was the emergence of the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions (ZFTU) formed in 1998 in support of ZANU-PF for the purpose of offsetting the impact of the ZCTU among the workers.

The ZCTU became a nursery for the MDC. Not surprisingly, quite a number of the MDC’s founding members came from the ZCTU including Morgan Tsvangirai and Gibson Sibanda who in the ZCTU were secretary-general and president respectively. With the formation of the MDC in 1999 Tsvangirai became founding president and Sibanda his deputy.

In subsequent years, the two rival trade unions held separate workers day celebrations at different venues and hosted politicians from constituencies of their political persuasion. This situation has repeated itself in South Africa with the coming on stream of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU).

This organisation claims to have a membership of some 800 000 and has attracted the likes of Zwelibanzi Vavi and Jay Naidoo into its ranks. SAFTU has proclaimed COSATU to be a moribund organisation. We wait to see if SAFTU will align itself with any of the political players.

It is difficult not to see the manner in which certain happenings south of the Limpopo are reminiscent of events and processes north of Limpopo: the polarisation and the separate May Day venues and celebrations. To that we can add the recent decision by South Africa to take over land from white farmers without compensation. We wait to see if there will be any fallouts as in Zimbabwe’s case.

I have taken an interest in the affairs of South Africa’s labour movement following the nation-wide strike agitated for by SAFTU and which seems to have been heeded. Prior to workers day, SAFTU president S’dumo Dlamini told the gathering, “We call upon all workers to work together. Their enemy is one: Monopoly capital.”

At the celebrations, SAFTU further asserted, “We are going to continue with our campaign to get the National Minimum Wage Bill scrapped and to fight for a living minimum wage on which workers and their families can have a decent life.” There was also an exhortation from SAFTU that South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, should in the aftermath of Davos ensure that all investors are worker-friendly and that they undertake to pay South African workers a living wage critically better than prevailing levels of remuneration. SAFTU rejected the proposed R3500 minimum wage.

The reference by SAFTU to Davos is of relevance to Zimbabwe, following incumbent president Emmerson Mnangagwa’s foray there and his announcing that Zimbabwe is open for business. Pertinent questions to ask necessarily have to do with the relationship between labour and capital as well as with how new investors fit into the declared new dispensation. How much are the new investors bringing in FDI prepared to pay?

SAFTU’s warning is especially apt for Zimbabwe following the hiccup surrounding Australian-based mining conglomerate, Broken Hill Proprietary Company (BHP) Company’ which after 5 years sold its 67 percent majority shares in Zimbabwe’s Hartley Platinum Mine. In December of 1993 BPH Limited came to Zimbabwe with 311 million worth of investment in Australian dollars (about 201 million US Dollars). This was, at the time, the single largest private-sector investment in Zimbabwe since 1980. The Australian company was later to talk about a serious negative cash flow.

Regarding the company’s pull-out, John Grubb, president of BHP Zimbabwe at the time said, “Despite BHP’s and Zimbabwe Platinum Mines’ best endeavours and positive support from the government of Zimbabwe during all phases of the development of Hartley, it has not been possible to overcome the operational and financial under-performance.”

However, suspicion that BHP may have pulled a fast one on Zimbabwe has never quite gone away, especially since its operations were a Greenfield investment meriting various concessions and a grace period where taxes were concerned. How else does one explain the apparent viability of the platinum venture since the withdrawal of BHP in 1999?

Mnangagwa’s call to Zimbabweans to think more about the economy is a good call. This is why up to this point in time with elections beckoning there is hardly any acrimony to speak of between the major political protagonists. Growing the economy and growing jobs is every serious politician’s dream. On this point there is convergence. The divergence comes as it should on the matter of priorities and strategies as well as orientation. This is time for work and rapid development. An incisive joke that was doing the rounds in Zimbabwe around 2016 quotes a Chinese national as having said, “Zimbabweans too much pray-pray and too much talk-talk.” The Chinese have an enviable work ethic. Significantly however, Chamisa has openly declared himself anti-Chinese and is threatening to send them packing if he should emerge victorious.

It may well be the case that in the event of Chamisa ascending to power he would expel the Chinese. But common sense dictates that we take that with some caution. The late Michael Sata of Zambia once said practically the same thing as Nelson Chamisa is saying. In the end, however, Sata did not act on his threats. The reality on the ground must have held him back. You have to be out of touch to want to disengage from a nation that within the next decade is likely to become the world’s number one economy. Accordingly, the question must be asked: At whose bidding is Nelson Chamisa uttering his strange sentiments? Would Zimbabwe under him become an outpost of the USA? Is Chamisa aware that without the Chinese the economy of the United States would scream? One cannot help but wonder if Chamisa’s pronouncements are not in some way connected to the USD15 billion that he used to talk about. Showing a disturbing lack of wisdom and diplomatic etiquette he openly bragged about the fabled figure.

It is election time again. Populism has previously worked for others. Chamisa is well within his rights to try it too. He now promises that all unemployed people will receive benefits from the state. He does not, however, say where the money will come from. His grandiose schemes would cost phenomenal sums in billions. Regrettably, we do not at this point in time, have such amounts in our treasury and it will be years before we can even begin to imagine having such vast reserves. However, we do have resources in plenty, and these can be leveraged to generate what the country needs in capital.

To date The MDC Alliance has pronounced neither an economic blueprint nor a trajectory, preferring instead to make regular spectacular pronouncements designed to whet the appetites of MDC rally-goers for a possible Chamisa-led administration. By contrast Mnangagwa has made clear what he is aiming at without ambiguity or equivocation: ease of doing business, one-stop shop facilities, speedy business transactions, expansion of economic activity in the country through economic zones and other ventures aligned to ZimAsset. Command agriculture has delivered and there are moves to spread the command idea to other areas of the economy. These are the questions of the day in 2018.

Which way, Zimbabwe?