By Chido Makunike
OVER the last weeks we have seen frustrated customers unable to access their money almost engage in violence outside numerous banks all over the country. Many homes went without food and ot
her essentials not because of their expense but because they could not access cash.
Many people, informal traders, those residing in rural areas and many of the lowest paid do not have bank accounts and depend on being able to transact exclusively in cash.
They obviously are particularly hard hit by the bank notes shortage. I wonder how they are getting by.
We have arrived at yet another month-end when most people get paid, and several months after this latest and amazing example of how the priorities of the regime of President Robert Mugabe and the welfare of Zimbabweans do not intersect at all. Yet there is no end in sight to the problem. Just like the fuel crisis that first began several years ago, we have watched the government simply sit by and let a huge problem get worse.
Finance minister Herbert Murerwa has indicated that $24 billion of new notes has been introduced into the system in the last few weeks, but there is little sign of it. If the “assurances” we got during the first few months of the fuel crisis are anything to go by, this could very well be an outright lie by the minister. It could also be just a fraction of what is required. Either way, it shows a government completely out of its depth.
One imagines panicked govern-ment ministers and other bureaucrats having consultations and running around looking for urgent solutions to the bank notes shortage. But is this image a correct reflection of the Mugabe regime’s reaction to this latest crisis? Are they worried about it at all? Logically, one would think they would have to be.
We may as a people be too chicken to tell Mugabe off when he infringes on our constitutional rights as he has been doing for years. But surely even a despot who delights in any opportunity to display his brutality must know his victims have their limits? Even if we allow our political freedoms to be eroded over the years, surely depriving the happy-go-lucky Zimbabwean of his own cash to entertainment over a month-end weekend is pushing him too far?
It would seem logical not to mess with the sentiments of a mother who needs to get cash to feed her children. Even an incompetent dictator would see that all this can only further alienate him from his subjects in dangerous ways, would he not? The rage one could almost feel in the cash queues, of a ferocity quite different from the good-natured banter of the fuel queues, has not endeared an already unpopular government to a tired populace.
This latest example of government’s incompetence and lack of concern about the welfare of Zimbabweans may not lead to Mugabe’s toppling but it certainly increases the cost of suppressing the people.
The praetorian guard has to be on full time alert now, the Israeli water cannons are required to use more of the diesel that is in short supply, the CIO must work harder to report back what people are saying.
From the foregoing, it would seem to make sense to believe that urgently fixing this latest of many crises would be a top priority.
Not necessarily. The very fact that we have lived with a worsening notes shortage for months now suggests there is no particular rush to deal with the problem. In the early days (or early years) of the fuel shortage Mugabe and his ministers were quite clearly worried about its effects on their standing with the people, even if they did not give a damn about the economic consequences. Statements would regularly be issued, even if they were lies most of the time, delegations to oil producing countries would regularly be sent; then Energy minister Enos Chikowore, as useless and dull as today’s Amos Midzi, was fired.
Have you noticed that there is no such sign of hyper-activity about the notes shortage that arguably affects even more people immediately and desperately than the fuel problem? The aloof Mugabe has not seen it fit to comment on this latest problem at all. Cowardly central bank officials are in hiding. Murerwa has nothing to say.
I had to laugh when the government propaganda services claimed people were calling on him to fire central bank officials. How can a minister who himself should have long been fired be passing the buck now? And who can fire him when the president himself is useless and should be fired? The whole lot should go, starting with and especially the president if we are to get any relief from the chaos that is now creeping into all aspects of life.
Which brings me to my central thesis. These may all be signs of a regime whose time is up and which no longer has the ability, courage and desire to solve all these ballooning problems, but it may also reflect a more cynical reality. Until the final collapse happens, the present chaos serves the regime’s purposes very well.
Government ministers and cronies can continue benefiting from crooked deals in foreign currency, fuel, maize, gold and now even local currency.
Assets are continually being stripped for the inevitable day when it must all crumble. The citizens are too tired, confused and hungry to know or care too much about all these crimes that seem distant to their immediate needs for food, cash and fuel.
The desperation spawned by the chaos has caused splits in the ranks of the opposition, as everyone does what they think they must for their personal survival in a shrinking economy, including selling out their party colleagues. Government critics are softened up with inducements to join the corrupt rulers or tone down their rhetoric.
The rulers may know that none of this can go on indefinitely, but it certainly gives them a lot of breathing space. It may also ensure that when the final collapse takes place a lot more damage would have been done, the collapse may be bloody and violent, and the reconstruction harder and longer, but they would have bought a certain amount of security locally and abroad that it will be impossible for a new dispensation to completely uncover.
It may therefore not just be the usual incompetence and cynical “we don’t care” of the Mugabe regime. It may also be a deliberate tactic of management by chaos. Once again with the notes shortage, as with the fuel and other crises, the score is the Mugabe regime 1, Zimbabwe 0.
* Makunike is a Harare-based writer.