By Rejoice Ngwenya
BEFORE the great political transformation of 1999, I had lurched onto the cargo hold of the gravy train aptly named “The Unconstitutional Commission” as part of the grateful band of middle
-aged naifs who really thought this noble but misdirected civic duty was an act of intellectual honour.
I sunk my teeth in public consultations that enlightened me on the perception of typical Zimbabweans.
As expected, the good work of us foot soldiers fell into the nimble hands of Patrick Chinamasa, Ben Hlatshwayo, Godfrey Chidyausiku and Jonathan Moyo, whose systematic adulteration of people’s views – applied with surgical precision — left honest popular opinion a mere carcass of the real thing. The rest is history.
But the juice in my story is the first encounter with one Gideon Gono, the bubbly, hardworking bank executive in my committee who diligently studied all our raw scripts and dutifully submitted them for higher-level scrutiny. I sensed the man was destined for stardom.
Even before the commercial banking bubble was making headlines, Gono’s own institution was declaring unprecedented profits backed with rapid expansion in all major cities, small towns and dusty growth points. This had to be the man of the decade!
Then he graduates from the first-class of the gravy train to join the exclusive cockpit of the “Great Gravy Plane” – the masters of high altitude flypast and self-delusion – and all hell breaks loose.
Gono’s quantum leap from a bank managerial position to one of planetary, de facto minister of finance defies all aviation logic. The magnitude and altitude of partisan rhetoric he has mastered and churned out in the few months of his terrestrial reign beats all human imagination.
Look, I’m not much of an economist, banker or fiscal guru, but I can tell politicised hogwash from any angle, especially where it is dispensed with a high-pressure pump. I am a mere civic society activist whose life hovers between the poverty datum line and the fringes of modern day slavery, but figures no longer fool or excite me. Especially those from suspect, patronising sources.
Let us look at the facts.
First, monetary policy is accepted as a function of the governor of the central bank, while fiscal matters should be left to the responsible minister of finance. But right now I am at a loss as to what Gono is up to straying on all matters of trade, industry, local government and transport.
My submission is that monetary policy indeed has far-reaching implications on all sorts of macro-economic situations, but when a Reserve Bank governor assumes this larger-than-life, all-encompassing stature of a know-it-all superhuman, there is a vital missing link in the puzzle of good national governance.
If my memory serves me right, the eras of Richard Wilde, Kombo Moyana and Leonard Tsumba – some of which registered high economic growths, monetary and fiscal stability – were characterised not only with modest public statements, but also respect for professional boundaries.
I do not remember any highly publicised, high-profile “quarterly monetary policy statements” other than traditional glossy RBZ reports.
Second, a 700% to 200% inflation rate reduction in 12 months means nothing to my young sister in Gokwe. In December 2003, she could not visit me in Harare, or buy enough bread for her large family. Next Christmas, the situation will be worse for her, because the bread will probably be costing $5 000 per loaf and a one-way trip to Harare is unlikely to be less than $60 000 – that is if there is diesel.
And Gono is still talking!
At one time, Zimbabwe was exporting all sorts of things – baked beans, gold, steel, maize, clothes, leather, flowers, milk and so on. Affretair was always air-bound and one could encounter a convoy of cargo carrier trucks snaking from Glen Norah to Ngundu Halt. I guess that is why I could walk to my bank, buy travellers’ cheques and wander around Hillbrow totally self-sufficient.
Since Gono ascended the glitzy monetary policy throne, I cannot even remember when my passport was last stamped in the back pages. I usually spend time observing events around the Roadport, watching in awe as Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri’s BMX cops pick unidentifiable falling objects from beneath their bikes!
In any case, a routine trip to Harare’s expensive international airport is empirical proof that Zimbabwe now exports more humans to England than Gorée Island ever did in its heyday.
And Gono is – you guessed right – still talking!
Number three, all my friends and relatives in England have already warned me against selling their British pound to anyone or any institution that gives less than $15 000 per unit. My insistence that it is an illegal exercise has all but gotten me a long free-market economy lecture. They have stopped sending me anything. Homelink! Home what?
Fourth, Gono’s paymaster, President Robert Mugabe, will finance his agrarian revolution and 2005 election with “our own” bearer cheques. In between, there are bits and pieces of expenditures like Chinese fighter planes, army Prados, payouts to mujibhas and ex-detainees, civil servants’ bonuses, chiefs’ cars and so forth.
Now, will this not cause a huge, unmanageable budget deficit? What will this do to interest rates and inflation?
Gono has the answer, of course!
At Christmas 2003, it took me one week to secure 40 litres of petrol. I only got to Bulawayo because of driving gingerly like a monk. This year’s Christmas, I will remain confined to my monastery because there is no way in hell I will afford to purchase a litre for $3 800 – if the petrol is there.
By the way, as I wrote this, five service stations within a 10-kilometre radius of my monastery had neither petrol nor diesel. It’s only this week that Willard Manungo told the nation that Gono’s “turnaround” had flooded the market with fuel. It’s just that, he claimed, Zimbabweans are too daft to notice!
Two hours before on the same day we had no electricity in our home – or tap water – and Gono’s CD called Asingabvume Irombe is topping the charts on Mars. Who can silence him, when he is that far from planet earth? Another alien from space, I guess!
Rejoice Ngwenya is civic society activist based in Harare.