Eric Bloch Column

Trumpet-blowing not fooling us all

reast-language: JA”>FOR a prolonged period of time following upon government embarking upon its ill-conceived, counter-productive, and highly destructive Land Reform Programme, the Ministry of Information and Publicity (sic) concentrated most of its propaganda endeavours on the theme: “The land is our economy, the economy is our land”. Although many are aware that Zimbabwe does not have a mono-economy, but a diversified one which, in addition to agriculture, includes mining, tourism, manufacturing, distributive trades and a meaningful services sector, nevertheless the theme will have been relevant (prior to that Land Reform Programme), for agriculture was the undoubted foundation of the economy.

However, with the launch of the programme in a dictatorial, abrasive, non-collaborative manner, with contempt for economic fundamentals, agricultural operating realities, justice and equity, needs for skills and other resources, the theme rapidly lost any relevance. The economy sank into deep decline, for the principal economic sector had been severely crippled by the state and was unable to maintain its contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The decreasing inflow from agriculture to GDP, coupled with the concomitant near-total loss of business confidence and consequential almost total cessation of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), rapidly brought the economy to its knees.

Government’s revenue flows fell sharply (without any matching reduction in its spendings!), forcing it to resort to even more massive borrowings than previously, and a resulting upsurge in its indebtedness, the national debt rising to billions of dollars and to levels which cannot be serviced.

Zimbabwe became a defaulter with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (otherwise known as the World Bank), thereby cutting it off from further support and wholly destroying its credit rating world-wide (even Zimbabwe’s political friends such as Libya and Malaysia have become extraordinarily reluctant to provide Zimbabwe with lines of credit, be they for essential products such as fuel, or otherwise). Zimbabwe’s economy collapsed in a very few years to such a gargantuan extent as has reduced Zimbabwe to bankruptcy.

Hand-in-hand with the characteristic of virtual insolvency, the emaciation of the economy as a direct result of the appallingly implemented Land Reform Programme, is evidenced by a continuing state of hyperinflation (with annualised real inflation substantially exceeding 300%, a gross insufficiency of the foreign exchange required to fund essential imports, debt servicing and other needs, unemployment in excess of 70%, approximately three-quarters of the population suffering at levels below the poverty datum line, and hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans severely under-nourished and on the precipice of death occasioned by malnutrition (and by a collapse of the health-care services).

Despite Zimbabwe’s propaganda ministry expending hundreds of millions of dollars (that Zimbabwe could not afford) on endless radio, television, press and billboard advertisements pronouncing that “the land is the economy, the economy is the land”, with dismally unconvincing scenarios verging upon the ludicrous, the advertising increasingly lost conviction as the populace witnessed that the contrary is the case. The only extent to which there was any validity in the contentions of the advertising was that as the land was abused more and more, with consequential inevitable lowering of agricultural production, so the economy shrunk in tandem to the agricultural demise. Thus, there was substance in the claim of the reciprocal relationship of the land and the economy, but not as the ministry had desperately wished to imply.

Eventually even the obdurate minister of Fiction, Fable and Myth must have realised that the propaganda campaign was not succeeding. Zimbabweans are not so gullible as to believe that their stomachs are full when they are actually empty. They are not so naïve as to believe that there is a wealth of agricultural production nation-wide when they see almost nothing but barren fields, and they are not so myopic as to be unable to distinguish fact from fiction. So the ministry clearly recognised, even if very belatedly, that it needed to change its advertising campaign. And it did so with great ingenuity: it substituted the word “prosperity” for “economy”, prepared new, if equally sickening jingles to assault the ears of radio-listeners, and filmed new scenes of allegedly fertile fields with joyous masses dancing vigorously in rejoicing at the imminent harvest of a bountiful crop.

But Zimbabwe’s populace once again could not be hoodwinked. The people of  Zimbabwe know when they are unable to buy maize meal, and when bread is excruciatingly scarce because of an insufficiency of wheat. They know when they have to queue for days to buy sugar that there must be a shortage of that commodity. They are fully aware when the prices of beef and poultry accelerate exponentially that contrary to living in prosperity they are being reduced to ever-greater poverty. Zimbabweans know when they and their children are hungry, when they cannot obtain employment, are unable to pay the school fees due for their children’s education, and have to walk because they cannot afford public transport. When people are reduced to endless destitution, are continuously suffering the consequences of extreme privation, and whose misery is of a magnitude that they can think only of their poverty, they cease to be deceived by advertising campaigns and propaganda promotions such as those currently insidiously but unsuccessfully pursued by government.

And yet, there is no doubt that Zimbabwe’s land could be the base for its prosperity. It is land that could yield two million tonnes or more of maize per annum, sufficient to feed not only the entire nation, but also to enable exports to help feed the hungry in neighbouring states, while generating needed foreign exchange. It is land that can produce more than 230 million, most valuable, kilogrammes of tobacco, instead of less than 70 million kilogrammes as has been the case this year. It is land that can readily support a national herd at least four times that to which it has been reduced in a very few years. It is a land which has provided employment for more than 300 000 and thereby a livelihood for more than 1 500 000, and yet it is now a land which sustains very few.

On a drive last week towards Kariba through the previously rich agricultural belt of Banket, Chinoyi Lions Den and Karoi, all that I could see were thousands of hectares of fallow land, with less than 30 hectares under cultivation (being of winter wheat near Lions Den). In previous years anyone driving that route could witness great expanses of winter wheat fields of luscious green, and much activity in the refurbishing of tobacco barns in readiness for the next season — but that was clearly no longer so.

Few will deny that Zimbabwe greatly needed a programme of land reform. But it needed one which would be positive, introducing new farmers to the land without displacing the old, able to enhance the economy and not destroy it, and which would address the aspirations of those who genuinely wished to farm and were able to do so, without destroying the very foundations of the economy. Instead, it resorted to one driven only by politics, nepotism and avarice, and doomed to failure from inception. It disregarded all well-intended advices of the farming community of old, and of the international community. It obdurately pursued the programme with absolute dismissal of all evidence of its failure. And it did so in a manner devoid of credibility and characterised by duplicity. It said that all, black or white, were entitled to one farm, but deprived thousands of the only farms they had. It said that the programme of land acquisition was completed last August, but it continues to acquire farms on an ongoing basis (in the last fortnight alone at least 25 more farmers were deprived of their farms).

All the trumpet-blowing of government in general, and its Ministry of Information and Publicity in particular, cannot continuously pull the wool over the eyes of the Zimbabwean people. Their poverty presents them with the facts, which the massive spending by the ministry of funds, which could be very much more constructively used (and not to support football teams!), does not.