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Eric Bloch Column

Zim’s non-conducive investment environment

By Eric Bloch

HANS Christian

Andersen and the Brothers Grimm must surely have lost their reputations of being the world’s foremost tellers of fairy tales. Those reputations, of almost two centuries standing, have inevitably been eclipsed by the Minister of Fiction, Fable and Myth (otherwise known as Dr Goebbels reincarnate) and his bevy of editors, journalists and correspondents who unreservedly disseminate his vivid imaginations, hallucinations and distortions of realities. There is virtually not a single issue of the newspapers controlled by him which does not contain news reports, articles and opinions which have either been grossly modified from fact, or which contain interpretations of fact far beyond the wildest possible actualities.

Last week his flagship daily excelled itself in stretching credulity beyond the most extended and generous of bounds. A leader page article proudly trumpeted: “Zimbabwe offers conducive conditions for investment”. Are there no boundaries beyond which the truth cannot be extended? To any rational, thinking reader the very first sentence of the article must have evidenced that it was a work of fiction, for it commenced with the proud sentence that “Zimbabwe has a sound and lucrative investment climate unparalleled in Southern Africa”. How far-fetched can any statement published in a national newspaper be? “Unparalleled”? Most certainly not!

Almost every country in Southern Africa has an economy which is in sounder circumstances than Zimbabwe, and which is a more attractive investment environment than Zimbabwe. South Africa’s economy is considerably more developed, active and inviting than that of Zimbabwe. It’s inflation is almost non-existent. It has a positive balance of payments. It is on a substantial growth path. It is accommodating to investment. It has a virile stock exchange. It has a responsible, secure, and safe financial sector. It has countless other favourable characteristics.

The same is true of Botswana. No exchange controls exist. Import cover exceeds 28 years. Inflation is at minimal levels. Government is democratic, and its successive presidents know how to retire. Mozambique’s economy, distressed for many years, is on a rapid upturn, notwithstanding years of adverse and destructive climatic conditions. It promotes and facilitates both domestic and foreign investment, with minimised bureaucracy and energetic endeavours to motivate and assist investment. In varying degrees, the same can be said of Zambia, Malawi, Angola, Uganda, Tanzania and other countries within the region.

And yet Zimbabwe’s highest circulating daily newspaper has the unmitigated arrogance to allege that not only does Zimbabwe have a sound and lucrative investment climate, which statement is devoid of foundation, but also to control that that climate is unparalleled within Southern Africa. That contention is so ludicrous that not only will no thinking reader accept it and find it believable, but most must react with sad and ironic, disbelieving laughter.

The author of that fanciful article proceeds to allege that Zimbabwe embarked upon a “successful land reform programme”. How on earth is it possible to allege that a programme which has resulted in the displacement of over 300 000 farm workers, a reduction in commercial maize production by almost 80%, in tobacco production by approximately 75%, in sugar production by at least 50%, and a 60% decimation  of the national livestock herd was successful?

The author discloses that he lives in “cloud cuckooland” when he claims that Zimbabwe’s annual GDP growth is 12,1%. He makes that claim in the face of statements by Ministers of Finance and Economic Development that the last two years have witnessed negative GDP growth, and when statistics released by government, and statements by the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe corroborate that Zimbabwe’s economy has not grown, but has contracted substantially.

Equally stretching the imagination of readers to inconceivably distant levels is the author’s statement that: “The communication infrastructure in Zimbabwe is advanced” although, perhaps in relative terms, that can be so. Certainly it is more advanced (but not necessarily more reliable) than the days of communication by runners with cleft sticks, pigeon post, or the beating of drums. But the communication infrastructure is unreliable, ineffectual, and obstructive to ongoing economic activity, in the extreme. Endeavours to make Subscriber Trunk Dialling (STD) calls to centres in Zimbabwe, and to destinations beyond Zimbabwe, require extreme patience and perseverance. Almost continuously those endeavours are rewarded by metallic voice messages that “All circuits on the route you have dialled are occupied. Please try again later.” or that the “network is busy”. When, after recurrent immensely frustrating attempts to connect to a targeted number and connection is achieved, the call will — more often than not, and especially on mobile telephone networks — be prematurely terminated by loss of signal or network congestion.

In trumpeting the attributes of Zimbabwe as a sound and lucrative investment environment, the article’s author alleges that: “Whilst many may feel threatened to walk in the streets of some neighbouring countries, all corners of Zimbabwe are safe for locals and visitors to enjoy the beautiful sights of the country.” No doubt the very numerous victims of having their vehicles hijacked after their drivers were held up at pistol point will not agree. Nor will the hundreds who have suffered severe assaults after break-ins into their homes, and the hundreds more who have been deprived of valuable personnel belongings by highly aggressive intruders.

The sense of security which for decades was a proud attribute of life in Zimbabwe has disappeared, as evidenced by almost every domestic residence turned into a fortress with concrete wall surrounds, and electrified wiring mounted thereon. The absence of that sense of security is also very visibly demonstrated by the immense extent to which businesses and residences are now protected by security guards — that protection was not required in years gone past.

And the lack of security is made very clear by the unmitigated ability of war veterans (real or pseudo), and thousands of others to invade and expropriate farms, vandalise the improvements thereon, displace the farmers, and make endless extortion demands. Most of all, that lack of security is highlighted by the frequent failure of the supposed guardians of law and order to react and take appropriate action against the perpetrators of those many violent, criminal acts.

The fiction is extended even further by the fallacious claim that “Political stability in Zimbabwe is guaranteed by the progressive and dominant role that the ruling Zanu PF offers visitors and investors”. How can it be credibly claimed that there is political stability when not only does true democracy not exist, but the dictatorship of the party is such that people carry party membership cards out of fear of retribution for not doing so, the silent majority fear exercising their right to vote, Presidential Powers are exercised to advance political objectives rather than to address emergencies, thereby circumventing the parliamentary system. Constitutional commissions are hijacked into issuing determinations at variance with majority opinion, lobbyist groups such as the AAG are unhindered in being self-appointed enforcers of their own distorted versions of the law. Individuals can be incarcerated for up to 28 days without charges being brought against them, persons are determined guilty by the national press prior to trial, legislation is steam-rollered through parliament, and so forth.

Admittedly, Zimbabwe could readily have an extremely sound and very lucrative investment climate. The fertility of its land could render it the granary of Africa, with vast agricultural output, if land tenure, justice, respect for human rights and property, and for international and national law were the order of the day. Agriculture could be restored to being the foundation of a growth economy if an equitable and constructive land reform programme would be pursued, instead of one governed by racial hatred and perceived enrichment of the politically favoured. The wealth of the minerals below the Zimbabwean soil could dramatically enrich the Zimbabwean economy, if stable economic conditions prevailed, and if investors were not justly fearful of expropriation.

Tourism too would contribute markedly to the economy if genuine security prevailed in Zimbabwe, crime was vigorously attacked, and tourist needs would be readily provided, instead of being in short supply, as is — for example — the case with petroleum products. And the very considerable, well-developed industrial infrastructure could be a pavement supplier of regional needs, a source of continuing employment for Zimbabweans, a generator of essential foreign currency inflows, an ongoing provider of employment, and a contributor to downstream economic activity.

But for Zimbabwe to develop a virile, investor conducive economy, genuine democracy and political stability, real and absolute justice, fiscal disciplines, constructive and collaborative international relationships, and national unity are prerequisites. Without them, the only sound and lucrative Zimbabwean economic climate will be in the minds and writings of government’s propagandists.

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