Talk of hoarding and economic sabotage

IF there is anything the world requires today,” declared President Mugabe last week, “it is the examination of our conscience.” The purpose of such a soul-searching exercise was to find out w

hether leaders were serving the interests of the people or their own, Mugabe indicated.

He was speaking to a visiting delegation of the New Birth Cathedral from Atlanta, US. He called for honest leadership and commitment to policies that serve the interests of the people. “The ordinary people want to see what we do,” he told his guests at Zimbabwe House.

As usual, this was followed by a chronicle of Zimbabwe’s liberation history and what government was doing to empower its people.

The Herald didn’t ask who had been empowered by government’s policies except for Mugabe’s cronies or why we are in such a mess. It is also doubtful that Mugabe would have been entirely “honest” about the effect of his ruinous land policies to men of the cloth who appeared more impressed by his eloquence than honesty.

Another deficiency in the story was its lack of purpose. What was the bishops’ mission? Who financed their trip? Who was hosting them and where? All we got was that they managed during their whirlwind visit “to see a true picture of the situation in the country” as opposed to Western media propaganda.

But surely they can’t “see a true picture” from just one source who not only has a vested interest in that picture but is also seen by many as the prime cause of the national malaise. You cannot see a true picture of a country from a perfumed hotel suite in the city centre and spending the day in the opulence of the presidential compound when 70% of the population lives in abject poverty in the countryside. Shouldn’t honesty and truthfulness start at the top, and especially among those professing the faith?

We would hate to assume that these prelates belong to the same faith as the indefatigable pair of Comrade Coltrane Chimurenga and Sister Viola Plummer whom everyone knows are embedded with the lootocracy in Zanu PF.

Talking of honest, one in need of such exhortation is Mberengwa West MP Joram Gumbo. He appealed to Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono to extend his August 21 deadline for the surrender of old bearer cheques by rural folk because unscrupulous “white farmers” had offloaded billions of dollars buying cattle.

He claimed white farmers were buying a beast for as high as $160 million “to offload the cash they had stashed”.

One would be tempted to ignore such extravagant claims were it not for their racial overtones and the exaggerated influence of the few remaining white farmers.

All but the most deluded can be deceived about who is most involved in foreign currency deals and would therefore need an extension of the surrender deadline. Is Gumbo trying to tell us something by diverting attention to a particular racial group?

A friend of Muckraker’s last week came face to face with the chaos caused by the recent introduction of the “new family of bearer cheques”. After a business transaction he was handed a $100 000 note of the new family. When he went to deposit it with a building society he was told “it can’t”.

They said he needed “a clearance certificate” from the RBZ and Zimra proving the source of his money. This was despite RBZ governor Gideon Gono clearly setting a ceiling of $100 million that individuals can deposit without a question being asked.

He duly proceeded to enquire with the RBZ by telephone. He was referred by Gono’s secretary to the public relations department for clarification. It turned out to be the beginning of long nightmare.

The first person in the PR department said she didn’t have an answer and referred him in turn to the Financial Markets Department. The guy there referred him to the Banking Services Department. There was more darkness in that cavernous vault.

He was referred from one person to another without a hint of light. At long last he landed on somebody designated as chief bank teller who sounded equally confused. He made him hold on to the phone for well over five minutes while he was “looking for a pencil”.

After getting the pencil and listening to the insurmountable problem, he referred him back to the PR department.

In this maze he eventually stumbled on “Zanza’s secretary” who advised him to go to the shops and buy groceries and get change while she sought for the “official” position. She then took down his details and promised to revert to him. Were he a person of limited mental resources he would still be waiting today.

This “unofficial” solution materialised after a painstaking 35 minutes and 13 RBZ “referees”. It is frightening to imagine what happens in the back of beyond in remote areas when the occupants of the glass tower at Samora Machel are themselves so perplexedly ignorant.

Still on the new money, we were alarmed that senior police officers are reportedly being arrested in the line of duty for fighting corruption through corrupt means. Some were helping “criminals” who could buy their way to safety by letting them slip through police cordons.

A number of motorists who have been found with “illegal loads” at roadblocks speak of being ordered to “throw a brick” into the grass verges before being allowed to pass. There are no records of these “bricks” and nobody knows how many the wayfarer might lose before getting to his destination. One Marondera driver was ordered to buy groceries in a nearby shop plus food and drinks for his passengers to slash his money to the “legal limit”.

It must therefore be fascinating that amidst the orgy of bribe-taking, cheating and intimidation of frightened and confused rural travellers we are told hungry Border Gezi youths who have no jobs were deployed to “curb corruption”.

It’s a farce beyond comment.

What has become of investigations into attempts to intimidate Gono by criminal gangs so that he abandons his anti-corruption and money-laundering crusade? His response to reports of an armed gang and a fire outbreak at his farm in Norton went over the top at the weekend.

Who are the politicians or freedom fighters waving “liberation war credentials, guns and spears” to try and frighten the governor we wonder? How was the link between the unidentified gangs and war credentials established?

The whole thing smacked of hysteria and melodrama.

By the way, what was the governor still doing with 1 300 tonnes of unharvested maize in August? Talk of hoarding and economic sabotage!

Muckraker has not had the fortune to study the different species of bird in Zimbabwe. However, we can tell a quelea bird when we see one. Definitely there was none in the Herald illustration of a feature on quelea birds done by one Tonderai Matonho on Monday. The quelea bird familiar in Zimbabwe is neither red nor yellow. It’s closer to brown.

The illustration was as illuminating as using a picture of a donkey in a story on how cattle get foot and mouth from buffaloes.

It should also not be lost on readers that the poor birds are already being prepared as a scapegoat for a poor wheat harvest. Last year, we were told in the story, the evil birds “destroyed” half the country’s winter wheat. So what? This year they might destroy more, so don’t blame those dancing kongonya on the farms for bread shortages.

A major reason many Zimbabweans are loath to keep their money in banks is the high inflation. The culture took root during 2003 when there was a huge run on currency notes and people had to buy them from those lucky enough to get them from bank tellers.

The second reason is that there is no correlation between the return on deposit interest and bank charges. How do you keep your money in an account that gives you annual interest of 20% when inflation is running at 1 000%?

Gono last week launched what we thought was a noble campaign to persuade citizens to regain confidence in the formal financial system under Project Sunrise.

Now imagine Muckraker’s horror when he read in the Herald this week that government had gazetted the Finance Bill 2006 proposing a raft of tax measures, among them a clause to increase the rate of tax payable on “cash withdrawals effected through an ATM from $500 to $10 000”.

How many ordinary depositors earn that kind of interest from their banks in a month? Maximum daily withdrawals of $10 million require 5 transactions from an ATM. That is to say you lose $50 000 each time you withdraw $10 million. The criminal part is that this is tax on income already taxed under PAYE.

Who would want to keep their money in a bank after such a law that legalises usury turned on its head?

It’s a classic own goal.

We enjoyed reading tales of VP Joice Mujuru’s mission to South Africa. She was heading a delegation to attend the launch of the Progressive Women’s Movement of South Africa. She said among Zimbabwe’s accomplishments in the field of women’s empowerment was the passing of the Legal Age of Majority Act and now the Domestic Violence Bill to protect the rights of women.

The South African initiative is meant to commemorate the fight by women for their rights dating from the period of apartheid. Mujuru joined them on this “historic” occasion as a member of a regime in independent Zimbabwe where women cannot march for their rights on Women’s Day and are beaten by state agents for putting on red roses on Valentine’s Day, where women and children are detained and beaten up by police for demonstrating against poor service delivery by local authorities. For evidence ask Chra, NCA and Woza women.

If Mujuru had decided to march under disguise in the streets of Harare to Munhumutapa Building she would be arrested. She chose the safety of South Africa.

Talk of double-standards.

The interview between the Sunday Mail and Information secretary George Charamba turned out to be damp squib compared to the prepublication hype.

But we liked Charamba’s shedding of crocodile tears about the welfare of artists whom he lamented were a “forgotten tribe” in Zimbabwe. He said artists were “criminalised” by society for being creative. “Remember we come from a society that punishes its creative members. We have a society that has a high disregard for its own artistes, a society with high stigma against its creative minds,” cried Charamba.

Needless to say one of his biggest finds in this endeavour was one “Toilet” Tambaoga who appears to have been quietly put off air now that President Mugabe wants to build bridges with Tony Blair. The rest of our most creative artists are self-made men and women who owe nothing to Charamba and his galas.

It would be interesting to know what Charamba has done for really creative artists like Cont Mhlanga of Workshop Negative fame, and arguably Zimbabwe’s only published artistic genius Dambudzo Marechera whom the government that Charamba serves hounded to death. Obviously these two would refuse to prostitute their talents for political ends like morally depraved galas that sully the memories of those they purport to commemorate.

We enjoyed the little story in the Financial Gazette yesterday about the so-called costly typo that caused Air Zimbabwe and the First Family immense embarrassment. It is possible that other passengers had previously endured the torment in silence until it became too much for Robert jr who alerted his father that there was lavatorial stuff on their menu.

It’s a pity that perhaps the persons suspended over this menu disaster were totally innocent victims of local content taken too far.

Biltong and peanut butter would have saved the national airline all this. Incorrect political correctness we call it.

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