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Editor’s Memo

SA lessons

WHEN Joice Mujuru was appointed vice-president last December, there was a feeling that she would add fresh energy to government leading to an economic recovery and social regeneration.

Our confidence was boosted when on Christmas eve she told SABC that she was equal to the task of leading by example and tackling the challenges ahead.

“I hope my behaviour will spur on the population to tackle the many economic challenges ahead,” she said. She was ready to tackle the problems head-on. These included sprucing the image of the country and ensuring that the British “toe the line” about what was agreed upon regarding land redistribution at Lancaster House in 1979.

I hope the VP was not being charitable with promises because of the Christmas spirit. The jury is still out on her ability to deliver on these pledges. She is yet to assume the stature of a white knight riding in to save the country from an economic quagmire.

To say that she is not anywhere close to making sure that the British toe the line is an understatement. She is yet to attract the attention of the British. She is yet to take the first step. Mugabe has at least made an approach to Tony Blair by demanding talks.

I have not heard much in the form of diplomatic moves by the VP to cleanse the country of its bad-boy image, especially in the light of the stinging UN report on Operation Murambatsvina. It is still early days perhaps to expect diplomatic coups engineered by her office. She is still testing the waters.

But she must be seen to be doing something to fulfil her promise to straighten the economy. This is a good opportunity for the vice-president’s office to do a national service and convince us that her appointment brought in positive energy in government.

She is behind schedule as the economy is in a more dilapidated state than it was when she assumed office. She came in when inflation was 132,6%. It is now 254,8%. Domestic debt has almost doubled to $16 trillion. The Zimbabwe dollar has crashed at rollercoaster speed.

There is no foreign direct investment to talk of and the nation is getting poorer by the day. Central bank governor Gideon Gono’s projected growth in GDP and agriculture have remained a mirage. The economic pointers are heading south at a faster rate. The central bank’s policies have proved to be inadequate, hence the dreamy projections devoid of economic reason.

Mujuru’s starting point should be to advocate the drawing up of a recovery plan incorporating righting the political dispensation and restoring national confidence in government. This is the spur required by the nation. She cannot perform a Houdini here. She needs a plan to work with. There is no coherent economic blue-print with targets for her to preside over.

Her counterpart in South Africa, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, is in a more enviable position. Last month President Thabo Mbeki appointed her to head a government taskforce to ramp up the country’s economic growth rate above 6%. Her brief is to achieve growth so that more jobs are created and new investment flows into South Africa.

The Mlambo-Ngcuka team comprises senior economic ministers, including Finance minister Trevor Manuel, Trade and Industry minister Mandisi Mpahlwa, and the premiers of Eastern Cape and Gauteng. It is expected to come up with firm proposals by end of next month, which have to be budgeted for in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, due before parliament in October.

The team is not expected to re-invent the wheel because it has a template to work with in the form of the microeconomic reform strategy, decisions of the 2003 Growth and Development Summit which set a target of 5% growth, the Expanded Public Works Programme, and reform of the labour market.

The team of six is tasked to speed up the process of achieving growth.

Despite having targets to achieve and a clear outline to follow, the South African government has strived to garner buy-ins from as many stakeholders as possible, including powerful labour unions and big business. This enhances the sense of purpose.

Mujuru will not achieve the goals she set out last year so long as the economy is being run in a policy vacuum. A key facet in any economic recovery – human capital – has been subtracted from policy formulation.

Workers, business and other key stakeholders do not have ownership in the economic reform processes.

Gono’s style has been “do it or face the consequences”. The mindset of the ordinary citizen has been poisoned by negativity which explains why there were celebrations at Roadport when Gono devalued the currency by 94% last month. Those smart enough to make money in these trying times would rather purchase luxury cars or household goods than invest in the productive sector.

The country is crying out for a moral leader and Mujuru has a role to play here. She has a role to talk to her comrades in government so that they serve the country and not destroy it. The government’s public relations thrust is obtuse. Foisting government policies on to people has never worked in this era. Zimbabweans today do not trust the government. What an opportunity for her to change that by presenting the face of government that cares and is ready to listen. And, of course, less vituperative.

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