Transcript: Zimbabwe’s Mnangagwa Discusses Economy, Land, Debt

Emmerson Mnangagwa speaks during an interview in Harare, on Jan. 18. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa spoke to Bloomberg News on Jan. 18 about how he intends reviving his country’s economy and re-engaging with international lenders in the post-Robert Mugabe era. He also outlined his plans to address historical issues such as land compensation and atrocities committed by the military in the 1980s.

Below is an edited transcript of the interview.

On Zimbabwe’s economic collapse:

“What is common cause is that we had become an isolated country, which had ceased to embrace international business. We are now a closed economy. We had no lines of credit. The Bretton Woods institutions had cut all lines of credit to our country. There are so many things that we need. We need the support of international financial institutions, we need bilateral relations where we get bilateral support from countries. We had remained an isolated island. This is the reason our currency collapsed, it became totally useless. I believe we are 16 to 17 years behind where we ought to be as a result of that situation.”

On the role agriculture plays in the economy:

“Our economy is basically an agricultural economy but our agriculture also collapsed because we had no funds to bring in chemicals, no funds to bring in fertilizers. Many indicators show that we have turned the corner. Agriculture over the last two to three years has begun to show positive growth. The same applies to the mining sector. The same for our tourism sector.”

On compensation for white farmers whose land was seized:

“Let me be very honest with you. Each land reform in history has been a unique situation. Our is a situation is that we were a colony where our land was taken. We went to war in order to reverse that situation. When we succeeded the next step was for us to take our land back. It’s now behind us. What we can do is to make sure that it is not abused where families have multiple farms. In terms of our constitution we must compensate. The issue is that the land is not for sale but people have come here and they have developed our land — built dams, infrastructure. We are already doing that exercise, many farmers are receiving that compensation. The valuation of these properties must be done and be agreed to. I believe it will run into billions down the line. Some of them are still with their farms but they have accepted a reduction in size.”

On whether local ownership laws will be changed:

“Initially the indigenization law covered all minerals. The minute you landed at Harare airport, 51 percent of your money was ours. That has changed. I only excluded diamonds and platinum for now. We do not have a real or deep rooted or well interrogated policy on diamonds or platinum. We still are working as a government what policy should we have on platinum. What policy should we have on diamonds. So before we settle that issue, diamond policy, platinum policy. We feel that we put those brakes but down the line when we are satisfied that this can also go into the open basket we will do so.”

On Zimbabwe’s plans to settle its international debt arrears:

“There are limitations to engaging with Bretton Woods institutions. The limitations arise as a result of our arrears with those institutions but they are giving positive indications that they would want to accommodate us, they would want us to show our commitment in paying our arrears to these institutions. We believe that as we pay, or seem to be paying, our arrears I believe that they will embrace us in the same manner they are embracing other countries, other developing countries in the world.”

On whether Zimbabwe intends selling an international bond:

“We are still in discussion with the Reserve Bank and the Minister of Finance on that score. We are saying this has happened to other countries and it helped them, can we not do it? We think we should do it. There is a possibility of us benefiting from that approach. If this succeeds we would really need a substantial injection into our economy, in particular into the productive economy. Basically a capital injection into capital projects. Infrastructure development is what we want. Dams, roads.”

On whether the size of the civil service will be reduced:

“The economy had shrunk. Many people misunderstand. They think that we have an oversized public service. That’s not the issue. What has happened is the public service is normal, what is not normal is the cake that must be shared. We must focus on growing the cake rather than attacking the civil service, saying it must be reduced. We focus on growing the economy and growing the cake.”

On whether the currency regime will be changed:

“There are two schools of thought. One school of thought is that we must begin to build our own reserves. We are a country that is endowed with minerals. Like gold and so on. The one school of thought is that we must have 10 percent of our gold used to build our reserves and the same for diamonds and that way we will reach a stage where we believe we can launch our own currency because it will be backed by these reserves. The fact that we don’t have our own currency is a constraint in domestic transactions. We are trying our best to build our reserves and when we feel yes, we are at a stage where can move on to having a currency, we will move on.”

On the staging of national elections:

“From the 12th of February I will be free to make a proclamation for general elections. There must be an environment of peace, no violence. We must allow people to agitate for whatever they want. They must be allowed to campaign for their views. We are opening Zimbabwe for observation. We will gladly accept those who want to observe our elections. We are open to accepting countries and organizations that genuinely want to come and observe, who come to Zimbabwe with an open mind. You can’t have an observation mission who declare themselves before they come. I am actually overconfident, which worries me. I cannot see of any other political party in the country today which embraces the wishes of the people which they demonstrated in November, calling for change. You don’t go into alliance before an election, its already a sign of weakness.”

On his relationship with Mugabe:

“I was with the former president for over 54 years. I don’t regret that, I feel very proud. It was necessary, it is history, each step where we worked together was a privilege and in terms of history that was necessary. And also what has happened today was necessary. The situation has changed, the public, the people want change and change has been granted. We must live for the future. I want the nation to be forward looking. What happened in the past necessarily happened and I have no regrets. When the time came, people demanded change and change was allowed to come by and a peaceful transition. The people’s voice, as I say, is the voice of god. All our people suddenly came together.”

On escaping from Zimbabwe after being fired as deputy president:

“Well I am not an accomplished border jumper but I did border jump. The issue was that I was fired at half past four. I wasn’t expecting it because really there was nothing, no contradiction between me and my boss. The contradiction was, the dislike was, by a cabal who felt that as long as I remained in the system I was an impediment to their agenda to take over. I got home. Within two and a half hours I got to know that my life was in danger, that I would be eliminated in the next few hours so I decided to leave the country. I could not use the formal border so I used the informal one, which resulted in me walking about 30 kilometers (19 miles) overnight into Mozambique. Then with the assistance of a friend I flew to South Africa.”

On his plans to crack down on corruption:

“I have said let bygones be bygones. This is at the level of political conflict. At the level of commission of crime, I would not be a democratic leader if I said those who committed crime should not (sentence inaudible). Let us forgive each other in terms of disagreements at the political level. We can continue to disagree but disagree peacefully. Some people, perhaps because of the crimes they have committed, have left the country. If you stole from somebody that is a civil matter, it’s a criminal matter. With regard to Professor Jonathan Moyo, there are already criminal cases. They are fugitives of justice.”

On handing the legacy of military massacres in the 1980s:

“Last week I signed the national reconciliation bill into law, which is a platform where such issues can be dealt with and recommendations to government as to what can be done. At the end of the day we should look into the future, focus into the future but also have a platform where past grievances can be looked at and addressed but the thrust should not be for us, in this new dispensation, to go and engage in the past. We must persuade our communities to work together, to unite and look forward and a create a future for our generations to come. Government is a collective unity. There is no decision by cabinet which can be attributed to one individual. If there should be responsibility, there should be responsibility of the government of the day. At that time we had unfortunate incidents of dissidents, so many people died at the hands of these dissidents. It was necessary to bring law and order in the country. It’s the duty of any government where there is disregard of the law, that law and order must be instituted. I believe that during the process of that, in some instances, there could have been excesses by the implementing authorities of the time.”

On whether Zimbabwe plans to rejoin the Commonwealth:

“It’s not a priority for Zimbabwe to join the Commonwealth. The issue that prompted Zimbabwe to leave the Commonwealth was the land issue. That is behind us so I don’t see any impediment for Zimbabwe to rejoin the Commonwealth except that it is not a priority, it is not on our agenda. I have priority issues to deal with and joining the Commonwealth doesn’t immediately bring bread on the table but it brings fraternity, good wishes.” – Bloomberg