We cannot go left and right at the same time

Prof Mthuli Ncube and Prof Steve Hanke
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“…..We are enveloped in the politics of hate. The amount of hate that is being preached today in this country is frightful. What Zimbabwe fought for was peace, progress, love, respect, justice, equality, not the opposite… No country can live by slogans, pasi [down with] this and pasi that.

“When you are ruling you should never say pasi to anyone. If there is something wrong with someone you must try to uplift him, not oppress him. We cannot condemn other people and then do things even worse than they did.”- Joshua Nkomo 1986….

I remember when land reform started in Zimbabwe in the year 2000. It was in my final year of high school when “war veterans” began invading commercial farms owned by white Zimbabweans.

That was a confusing time for some of us who were born into political families.

On the one had the political ideology surrounding land reform seemed to make sense in the context of the country’s colonial history, yet on the other hand, it was unpleasant to watch the often violent dispossession of white farmers and their families… many of whom I went to school with at the time.

In that period slogans were rife.

Pasi this and Pasi that, were the order of the day.

Pasi ne Britain, and Pasi na Blair, Pasi ne MDC and so on and so on. The list was endless.

Ironically, in 2001 it started to become clear that Joshu Nkomo was right; a country cannot be run by slogans.

In the year 2001, farm invasions intensified, and concurrently, the Zimbabwean economy started to shrink.

At that time I was working in my father’s butchery in Glen Veiw, and for the first time in my life I heard the words “price controls,” “shortages” and “fuel queues.”

Below is a newspaper excerpt from The Telegraph, published in the year 2001.

“Robert Mugabe’s government yesterday announced the imposition of price controls on basic foodstuffs, dealing a shattering blow to the already crippled economy and threatening widespread food shortages… Annual inflation in Zimbabwe is around 80 per cent, and unemployment is at record levels…the trade and industry minister, said an official order freezing prices at the levels of two months ago was being prepared. The economic collapse since Mr. Mugabe ordered invasions of white-owned farms 18 months ago has made Zimbabweans poorer than ever before. The costs of basics are now beyond the reach of more than half the population… Zimbabwe has no foreign currency for imports and is surviving from day to day.”

Sound familiar? I’m sure it does. As they say, history repeats itself.

To me, it’s somewhat ironic that in 2019, Zimbabwe is once again experiencing inflation near 80 per cent, and that government is once again making references to price controls on basic foodstuffs.

The inflationary period of 2000-2008 clearly demonstrated to all and sundry in Zimbabwe that price controls don’t work.

If anything, implementing price controls will simply fuel shortages in shops and lead to an increase in illicit black market trade.

Still, the question on everybody’s mind is this: why is it that ED and the Zimbabwean government are failing to bank-in on the international goodwill that they received following events surrounding November 2017?

Our problem is that we are trying to go left and right at the same time.
Don’t get me wrong, the government has taken some positive steps, particularly the recent decision to compensate former farmers.

However, these piecemeal steps taken by government so far have not attracted foreign investment. If anything, investors are leaving Zimbabwe.

The problem is that we speak progressively and often act regressively.

We try to go left and right at the same time.

For instance, on August 1 2018, after a relatively peaceful election that had impressed the world, we suddenly did an about turn and unleashed violence in full view of international cameras.

We spoke progressively before the elections and acted regressively on August 1.

Even recently, our finance minister Mthuli Ncube was in the USA for the IMF’s spring meetings.

On the sidelines of those meetings, he attended a symposium held at the Cato institute where Professor Steve Hanke was one of the speakers.

Steve Hanke is a professor of applied economics at Johns Hopkins University and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, and this is what he reportedly said in the presence of finance minister Ncube:

“To get to a micro point, in February 2019, the Gaika Mine was invaded. This is a property rights issue… If you look at this mine, it was invaded and taken over and the looting began… then … within the past two weeks, the mine was finally sealed and the trespassers were thrown out….

“But that’s not the end of the story, we have had 14 months since this particular mine in the Midlands was invaded … over 80 people killed, at least US$100 million has been looted from the mine, maybe double that….Then the mine manager’s home in Kwekwe was invaded by youth wielding machetes. The group, or shall we say the gang, is Al Shabaab and the leader of this crime syndicate is … [a] current minister….”

I can only imagine the embarrassment that finance minister Ncube suffered while professor Hanke spoke those words.

I mean, there he was as Zimbabwe’s Finance chief, trying to convince the world that Zimbabwe has reformed and is open for business , only to have the allegations of looting by a senior government official at Gaika mine thrown in his face.

Again, this shows that we try to go left and right at the same time.

We preach progression and practice regression, and that is the major problem with Zimbabwe.

Even the Botswana President has joined the international community in making jokes about Zimbabwe.

According to reports, while recently meeting with young entrepreneurs President Masisi joked that Botswana had a sound investment climate, unlike an unnamed African country were payment to creditors and repatriation of profits to foreign countries in the currencies of their choice was impossible.

“We are run, not just conveniently, but very well and we work. We are open and this stability along with our addiction to the rule of law makes us attractive for spring boarding from Botswana… I will not name the other country, would you rather have your business headquarters in country X somewhere else in Africa or in Botswana?

“In terms of assuring yourself that what you put in the bank is yours and will be there. In terms of assuring yourself and your creditors that you will be able to pay them in whatever currency they need to be paid in, so these advantages should be utilized to the fullest.”

Although he didn’t mention ‘country X’ by name, the problems he pointed out in the unnamed country are very similar to those currently being experienced in Zimbabwe.

So what do we do as nation? How do we come out of our current mess?

From where I’m looking, the only way out is to have significant dialogue with the MDC-Alliance with the aim of implementing substantial political and structural reforms in Zimbabwe, in such a way that both domestic and international capital will collectively accept that we pass the credibility test.

While someone in Zanu-PF once said in the past that “ Zanu-PF will never reform itself out of power” my view is that this is the time to reflect on the late great Joshua Nkomo’s words, and accept that “What Zimbabwe fought forwas peace, progress, love, respect, justice, equality, not the opposite.”

Put simply, Zimbabwe needs to implement far-reaching reforms that open up the political space, promote freedoms and attract investment, even is those reforms impact Zanu-PF’s power retention ambitions in 2023.

What’s clear today is that Zimbabwe is crawling towards the hyperinflation horrors of 2008, and no-amount of scapegoating or sloganeering will save the country from this crisis.

We need to focus as a country.

We need our eyes and our feet to cooperatively face forward.

As it stands, we are trying to go left and right at the same time.

Tau Tawengwa is a political analyst and researcher based in Harare. zimrays@gmail.com