Zimbabwe we want vs Zimbabwe we have

Provisions of the new Constitution of Zimbabwe, which could be said to suggest values for guiding the Zimbabwe Agenda for Socio Economic Transformation, include Chapter Two which is entitled National Objectives: Objectives to guide state and all institutions and agencies of government.

Section 13 requires the State and all its institutions “to promote private initiative and self-reliance” and to “bring about balanced development of the different areas of Zimbabwe, in particular a proper balance in the development of rural and urban areas.”

Section 33 provides that “The State must take and promote indigenous knowledge systems, including knowledge of the medicinal and other properties of animal and plant life possessed by local communities and people.”

Although it is compromised by its translation of African thinking into English, Section 16 on Culture is also important:

(1) The State and all its institutions and agencies of government at every level must promote and preserve cultural values and practices which enhance the dignity, well-being and equality of Zimbabweans.

(2) The State and all institutions and agencies of government at every level, and all Zimbabwean citizens, must endeavour to preserve and protect Zimbabwe’s heritage.

(3) The State and all institutions and agencies of government at every level must take measures to ensure due respect for the dignity of traditional institutions.

While the good intentions behind these provisions are appreciated, the language used betrays the attitude, even ignorance and bias, of the drafters in several ways:

  • There is an underlying and persistent assumption that the values of unhu/ubuntu are not contemporary. Therefore the best that can be done with them is to tolerate them and give them some respect.
  • There is an underlying assumption that the values of unhu/ubuntu are marginal, fragile and mostly obsolete and impractical; so that the main reason for enshrining them in the new Constitution of the Republic of Zimbabwe is to help “preserve” them, just in case our children totally forget that such values and practices once existed.
  • It is not clear that the drafters understood that the philosophy of unhu/ubuntu provided the driving spirit behind the abolition of Rhodesian apartheid and the creation of modern Zimbabwe. It is not clear that the drafters understood that unhu/ubuntu in Zimbabwe is a revolutionary philosophy.

It is therefore not surprising that there is little economic research in Zimbabwe which focuses on the rural population and economy.

Most economists and journalists resisting the creation of a national currency assume that the urban minority speak for the rural majority on such matters.

When he was still Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai put the neoliberal pseudo-modernist view crudely, saying: “We can’t build a national economy on peasants. Having everyone going into farming is not sustainable. We have to move people from the farms to industries rather than removing people from the industries to the farms because I don’t see that working.”

Setting aside the demonstration of ignorance about the way industries are built and about the exact location of the Zimbabwe economy, what is also implied in Tsvangirai’s speech is that the socio-economic transformation in Zim Asset is the same thing as “transition” in neoliberal and opposition jargon and it means peasants cannot create change or transformation. They must transit from being peasants to being industry employees in cities. But are urban workers the highest level of evolution for the Africans?

Indeed, in such a view, peasants are not drivers of the transformation intended in Zim Asset. At best, they have to be driven from the land to the imaginary industries of neoliberalism before there can emerge a national industrial economy.

Yet the demand for “Zimbabwe neupfumi hwayo hwose” came from peasants and children of peasants; and yet the only real transformations to have taken place in Zimbabwe in the last 40 years have been driven by peasants.

These are, first the transformation of colonial Rhodesia into modern-day Zimbabwe; and, second, the transformation of white Rhodesian land monopoly and colonial land tenure into the current land ownership scenario through the African land reclamation movement and the revolution in land tenure which took place specially after 2000. People remember the role of Svosve and Nyamandhlovu in that revolution.

Yet the African peasant base in unhu is viewed in neoliberal economics and regime change politics as primitive baggage which must be cleansed out of the African population before Zimbabwe can “industrialise” and fit “international best practice.” That is why all the major Zim Asset workshops must be conducted in jargon and jibberish that is incomprehensible to the majority; that is why all the main Zim Asset “training” sessions have to be conducted in air-conditioned hotels by alienated bureaucrats whose sole qualification is that they know how to administer a bureaucracy which is consuming more than 70 percent of the national budget in US dollars!

President Robert Mugabe took a practical approach to Zim Asset by providing seed and fertiliser to resettled and peasant farmers, by-passing bureaucrats, by-passing the usual technocrats and NGOs.

The result is that the Ministry of Agriculture and Mechanisation has been caught off guard because the silos deteriorated during the lean years of drought and economic crisis.

The Grain Marketing Board (GMB) is uncertain how to collect, store and preserve all that locally produced maize and how to pay all the farmers for the maize on delivery using an almost non-existent US dollar budget.

Those farmers who delivered maize to the GMB in May to July 2013 are just now receiving their payments in late March 2014, not through direct Treasury funding of the GMB but through a loan offered to Government by CBZ Bank. There are three broader points to observe about the 2014 bumper harvest.

  • First, we would be talking about three to four million tonnes of maize if we had better liquidity and if we were paying the equivalent US$10 for a 50 kilogramme bag of fertilizer instead of US$40.

A 10kg seed packet of sugar beans cost US$30 in the 2013-2014 planting season, when it should normally costs US$5 to US$8. Similar prices also applied to other various inputs and chemicals required to grow tobacco, cotton, soya beans and groundnuts.

This means that both the President and the individual farmer were severely restricted by the local price-structure based on the expensive and mostly inaccessible US dollar. This limitation also arises from the highly skewed wage structure based on the US dollar.

The President would have purchased four to five times the quantity of seed and fertiliser for the same resettled and peasant farmers if liquidity had been in the form of a national currency.

The farmers would have doubled or trebled their hectrage for the 2013-2014 cropping season in response to the increase in affordable inputs or they would have used their own funds in local currency to match or treble the President’s contribution.

We should in fact challenge our economic planners and technocrats to quantify the deflationary costs of the expensive US dollars used in Zimbabwe, together with the costs of the absence of a national currency.

There is at least a double impact, first because the US dollars are more expensive to obtain here than in the rest of the region; second, because the expensive US dollars reaching Zimbabwe make South African imports into this country feel like “dumping.”

In the same way, the profit margins for tobacco farmers would be much wider if input prices here were based on a local source of liquidity instead of the expensive US dollars.

Much wider would also be the profit margins for diamond, gold, and platinum mining.
It can therefore be demonstrated that use of the US dollar as a substitute for a national currency has become a clear and present obstacle to the economic boom which is waiting to happen.

In this situation, it is important to go to our Pan-African heritage now for guidance. Booker T Washington is one of the founders of Pan-Africanism. This is what he had to say against Africans who always yearned for external rescue, Africans whose disposition was to escape from themselves:

“A ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel. From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal, ‘Water, water; we die of thirst.’ The answer from the friendly vessel at once came back, ‘Cast down your bucket where you are.’ Water, water; send us water,’ ran up from the distressed vessel, and was answered, ‘Cast down your bucket where you are.’ A third and fourth signal for water was answered, ‘Cast down your bucket where you are.’ The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heeding the injunction, cast down his bucket, and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from (the gulf of) the Amazon River.”

For Madzimbahwe, the bucket means indigenous knowledge and values, technology, the techniques, the science, the skills, the literacy, the education and all the other resources which we possess. The maize story in 2014 means that it is the peasants who know best how to use that bucket! For too long, our institutions have viewed themselves as training corridors for channelling the best and brightest professors and Group A students to the Anglo-Saxon world who, through aid projects, would then send some of ours back under the guidance of expatriates who would then draw up blueprints or amend what we have drawn up to suit so-called international best practices. Even worse are most of those who were trained in the western universities and physically returned home to Zimbabwe but have not actually come home.

When they think of the Zimbabwe economy they cannot see beyond the unreal numbers produced by urban-based trade unions with no trade; the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries with no industry; schools of Strategic Planning and Business with neither a relevant and original strategy nor a thriving business; and departments of economics who have produced no original research on the land revolution, on the rural majority, on resource nationalism, on diamonds, platinum, coal, lithium or on the impact of illegal sanctions on their people.

If we take Booker T Washington’s illustration, the question of a national currency and liquidity in Zimbabwe today, for instance, is similar to the falsely perceived lack of fresh water in the gulf of the Amazon River.

The peasants have produced two million tonnes of maize but the Grain Marketing Board is waiting for a budget in scarce US dollars to repair silos built with Zimbabwe dollars using local brick and cement 20 or so years ago.

  • The country’s fuel imports are being blended with locally produced ethanol which should make fuel cheaper. But the Ministry of Finance has raised the cost of this fuel by increasing tax in order to try to convince us that we can overcome the liquidity crunch by taxing the few US dollars circulating among motorists.
  • The same motorists are also being asked to pay for road repair and maintenance through toll-gate fees in the same foreign currency, again in order to maintain the illusion that the liquidity crunch can be ended through more efficient means of squeezing out of motorists the few US dollars they have.
  • The local government and city councils who have recently been elevated through constitutional provisions are also pretending that their lack of budget can be resolved by setting up armies of parking fee collectors to force anyone stopping or parking on their city streets to pay one US dollar per hour!
  • Each time the same motorist goes to a different section of the city; he or she confronts a different company collecting parking fees for that particular turf and must therefore pay for parking all over again.
  • Those who are tourists who have just hired temporary vehicles to use, or those who are from out of town and unaware of this systemic pick-pocketing often find their vehicles towed away and must pay US$400 each time that happens in order to get the car back!
  • The same city dweller who must pay the city US$400 for every towed car will get home to find water bills and bills for property rates which have accumulated over several months because they just cannot be paid in foreign currency. The paradox is that when city dwellers used to pay those bills in the national currency, the taps were always full of water and the rubbish bins were always collected. Since city dwellers began to pay in foreign currency, there has been no water and the rubbish dumps on the streets are bigger than the soil mounds at a disused gold mine.
  • To maintain the fiction that the US dollar will create an economic boom without any national currency, the taxation system is about to be extended to vendors and owners of tuck-shops who have suddenly been rebaptised as small-to-medium-scale entrepreneurs solely operating in foreign currency and selling everything from matohwe and mazhanje to masawu and madora in foreign currency!
  • The schools have not been left behind. Despite efforts by Government to keep fees low, Government schools cannot operate their own low-cost economy. The US dollars circulating here arrive here with a huge mark-up already; and the rest of the environment is geared to squeeze as much foreign currency as possible, especially from little people.
  • Some of the following newspaper articles may be exaggerated or supported only with inadequate data, but they serve to show a growing trend, a mounting awareness of the economic effects of the absence of a national currency. Most of this growing awareness is among people who themselves may not accept that the issues they point out form part of the national currency story.
  • “Ministers’ vehicles face seizure for lack of (payment of US$11 million),” The Zimbabwe Mail, March 25 2014;
  • “Hwange companies fail to remit funds, (due to lack of liquidity),” The Zimbabwe Mail, 25 March 2014
  • “Prison Services hit by fuel crisis (due to lack of funds), The Zimbabwe Mail, 25 March 2014;
  • Deposits Protection Corporation struggles to pay depositors,” The Zimbabwe Mail, 24 March 2014;
  • “Interbank facility (of US 100 million) no panacea to liquidity woes,” The Zimbabwe Mail, March 24 2014;
  • “Bank sued over US$500 000 deposit (for failure to pay out on maturity),” Daily News, March 24 2014;
  • “US (monetary) policies worsening Zimbabwe’s liquidity crunch,” Herald Business, March 24 2014;
  • “Cheap imports costing Zimbabwe US$120 million annually,” Herald Business, March 24 2014;
  • Avoid pricing water (in US dollars) out of poor’s reach,” Southern Eye, March 24 2014;
  • “Passport demand high as many flee economic problems,” Newsday March 24 2014;
  • “Fresh waves of Zim migrants flee worsening economy,” Southern Eye, March 23 2014;
  • Industrial area turns into Zimbabwe ruins,” The Standard, March 23 2014;

While these newspaper stories point to an obviously urgent situation requiring immediate action, it is important to point out a few glaring contradictions:

  • Most economists and economic reporters fail to do research to quantify the claims made in the stories, for instance, what is the impact on production of the fact that Zimbabwe uses the most expensive US dollar bills?
  • The refusal to document the impact of lack of a national currency parallels the refusal to quantify the impact of illegal sanctions over the last 15 years.
  • While it is obvious that these stories report problems which are currency related, the tendency to avoid mention of the absence of a national currency is almost absolute.
  • Most of these stories are based on what is happening in urban centres, with a few referring to the farming sector
  • The peasant population is ignored most of the time in economic reporting. Peasants feature mainly when they need charity, such as in case of the Tokwe-Mukosi and Tsholotsho disasters.

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