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Editor’s Memo


PRESIDENT Mbeki’s neatly tailored account of Zimbabwe’s land reform programme and his dismissal of corruption as a contributor to the country’s huge foreign debt is disingenuous to say t

he least.

We know he has to justify doling out South African taxpayers’ money to pay Zimbabwe’s debt to the IMF but surely he could do better than this descent into platitudes. This must rank as one of the most dishonest statements by a head of state on Zimbabwe in recent years, although admittedly there is hot competition in the field!

Mbeki told a land conference in Johannesburg last weekend that Zimbabwe was immersed in debt because of the reconstruction which took place after the war of liberation. It was justified for the government to spend more than it had to provide social services such as housing, education and health.

Corruption did not play a part in this glowing account. Mbeki was also quoted as saying: “To suggest Zimbabwe’s land reform was marred by corruption was wrong.”

Which hole has the president just emerged from?

Can I invite President Mbeki to take the Zimbabwean template of land reform and implement it in his back garden so he can watch the flowers dying?

For President Mugabe’s regime, the statement could not have come at a better time. It is a justification for the glaring history of failure and inept governance that has brought us to where we are today. This dishonesty will be Mugabe’s lifebuoy at international fora to justify Zimbabwe’s Zanu PF-inflicted economic meltdown.

The Mbeki tale of Zimbabwe blends well with Mugabe’s conspiracy theories. The octogenarian leader is being cleansed of all culpability in Zimbabwe’s fall from grace. There was justification for it. He was doing it for his people, according to President Mbeki. Here is a good leader who loved his people so much that he plunged the country into debt and abject poverty all in the name of social upliftment.

We should however sound a cautionary note. This version comes from the same man who said HIV did not cause Aids!

Just a reminder to Mbeki: President Mugabe’s government is notorious for its profligacy. He has maintained a huge cabinet – reportedly in per capita terms one of the largest in the world – which has drained the fiscus of resources that could have been used for social investment. The current cabinet, with its acres of dead wood, is testimony to that.

Not content with distortions in the pattern of public expenditure, it has never been explained how ministers become extremely rich overnight. It has nothing to do with business acumen because the portfolios under their charge bear all the marks of incompetence.

Members of Mugabe’s government have not hesitated to raid the national purse for personal enrichment. I am sure President Mbeki is familiar with the corruption scandal surrounding the VIP Housing Scheme and the War Victims Compensation Fund.

Can I remind Mbeki that President Mugabe’s brother-in-law who secured a huge payout from the fund because of a supposed 95% disability was on the front page of a national daily last month advertising his credentials as a farm owner? He has not been prosecuted despite promises that he would be made to account for his ill-gotten windfall.
Nor have any of the other well-placed beneficiaries.

Then there is sheltered employment in government. This explains massive defence spending in peacetime when the health sector is crumbling. For Mbeki’s information Zimbabwe last year commissioned ox-drawn ambulances in rural areas where suborned traditional leaders have been given Mazda pick-up trucks. The promises of health for all by the year 2000 evaporated long before the chaos of land reform in 1999.

There are more examples of policies which compounded our poverty like the four-year campaign in the DRC and the doling out of unbudgeted monies to war veterans. This is expenditure which did not benefit the country. Is there any justification for senior government officials to be driving the latest Mercedes and Peugeot 607 limousines imported using scarce foreign currency? This is corruption by another name.

I would also want to draw his attention to reports by the comptroller and auditor-general on the handling of loans advanced to parastatals. A 2000 report by the auditor-general on the management of debt said the government should not commit itself to loans whose conditions are not feasible.

“The ability to fulfill the loan conditions on time should be highly considered in the negotiation of loans since some lenders’ requirements might be difficult to meet,” the auditor-general said.

There is no accountability in parastatals where managers are appointed on political lines and are not obliged to explain huge losses incurred. Air Zimbabwe provides an emblematic example of a well-run profitable concern transformed into a basket case by the regime’s friends and hangers on.

There is corruption in our government and President Mugabe knows that. That is the reason why the country’s ranking in international corruption indices is not enviable. That is why the country’s credit risk is so high. Mbeki does not need to go very far to confirm this. He should find out why South African banks are not prepared to give Zimbabwe lines of credit.

Zimbabwe has established an anti-corruption ministry in response to grand corruption. But we can be sure its ambit will not extend to the high and mighty.Mbeki appears blissfully unaware of the unbridled graft and greed by government officials in the land reform exercise. Many got more than one farm each. They parcelled out the best land to themselves. They commandeered tractors and vandalised irrigation equipment. They ignored court orders to vacate properties and return looted equipment.

Looking the other way will not help Zimbabwe at all, neither will it assist South Africa. It certainly won’t convince the world that Mugabe was right with his land reform nor will it attract investment to the region.

We must ask, what contribution can President Mbeki make to solving Zimbabwe’s crisis when he engages in self-deception about its causes?

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