By Tinashe Chimedza
IN the past four weeks we have witnessed the rebirth of the Zanu PF government’s reliance on brutal force, coercion and intimidation to shore up its hold on power. <
The police, as usual, have been abused to target the poorest of all — those that are unemployed and are trying to trade in the informal sector that without debate now supports more people than “land” or the formal employment sector.
Attacking the informal traders and raiding the so-called black market has three, very clear major objectives: to instil fear and punish the working people in Harare and the major urban areas for voting for the opposition; to dismantle the informal sector on behalf of the Chinese in downtown; and to raise revenue for a government that has battered every aspect of the economy and shrunk its revenue base.
Simply reasoned, the so-called “Operation Restore Order” is a euphemism for “Operation Restore Fear”.
Statements in the state media are a blatant admission by the government that this is a revenue-generating gimmick more than it is a determination to rid the country of the black market.
Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) governor Gideon Gono has had to admit the shocking status of the economy, saying in his post-election monetary statement: “No other country in recent history has had to endure the challenges that Zimbabwe faced at the beginning of 2004, namely a rampant inflation at 623% annually, year-on-year money supply growth at 490,9%, persistent shortages of basic commodities and a rapidly contracting economy.”
There is an acute desperation for revenue. Just recently, the registrar-general’s office raised the costs of replacing a lost passport or acquiring an emergency travel document to very bizarre levels and one must read in these price increases the desperation of a government whose debt is soaring to staggering levels.
Added to this is the government reignition of hostility in the rural areas by making poor families part with “rural taxes”. The government treasury has run aground and is trying to squeeze every cent from the poor.
Having failed to venture into its post-election violent orgies that have become a permanent feature of Zimbabwean elections, the government has found a seemingly good cover. It is not a secret that the government has strangled the economy and the revenue base has shrunk to shocking proportions after battering the agricultural sector and leading to record-breaking de-industrialisation for nearly half-a-decade.
The urban informal sector, the unemployed and retrenchees are the latest targets. The message that is inscribed in these inhuman raids is that as long as you vote for the opposition, the state machinery will decend on you at will, and you will pay with your lives. The raids on poor people in the city of Harare conducted in the name of order are a new invention to punish the urban voters for voting for the opposition.
We have also seen in the last three months that the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has been Zanu PF’s chief target, believing, mistakenly, that if it breaks the labour movement it will be able to outwit the opposition and rubbish it into history.
These attacks on the working people in Harare and the ZCTU must be seen as a deliberate effort by a government bereft of policy to entrench a waning hegemony.
It is likely that these raids will be carried out with greater ferocity in other urban areas to send that one message that Zanu PF relies on — fear and violence. Far from being “rubbished to the dustbins of history” as President Mugabe preached about the opposition in Indonesia recently, these brutal acts by the government expose the actions of a shaky centre that is refusing to hold, and with it will fall many.
It would be fatal self-deception to argue that the raids were driven by an objective of cleaning the streets or restoring order in the city of Harare for example. For all we know, the social and health crises in the capital and other small towns emanate from the local and central governments which bear and testify to one signature — Zanu PF.
Consistently and without shame in Harare, the commission running the affairs of the city without ademocratic mandate, has been shown to be the ever-running Euphrates of these problems. If tackling issues relating to the city were the concerns of the government then the first and most important act of confidence would be to kick out the commission, hold elections and restore a participatory decision-making process in the administration of city affairs.
We can’t afford to wear blinkers for a moment and assume that the raid on the foreign currency traders was a genuine attempt by a people’s government to reconstruct the economy. More often than not, the trails of foreign currency trading have led to the central committee and politburo of the ruling party.
Is Chris Kuruneri not seeking to testify that the foreign currency tidings he engaged in were expressly approved by the RBZ chief, suddenly a paragon of fair trade? If the target was to deal with the black market, then rudimentary economics tells us that unless the fundamentals of generating exchange are addressed first, these brutal raids will actually fuel prices on the black market. The raids drive the black market deep-under and risk-takers want to be rewarded for daring to stick out their necks to exchange the few pounds their hard-working relatives in the diaspora are sending home.
Over the past five years or so, every time there has been a raid of the foreign currency black market, activity has slackened only to return with a vengeance. The solution does not lie in keeping the police brutally busy on the streets fighting battles with peace-deserving citizens, but in correcting the fundamentals that the ruling government got wrong. The market is a punishing arena; it rewards innovation, creativity and punishes interference, especially that which tampers with property rights and induces uncertainties.
But what is more sinister in these raids is that the government knows that millions of Zimbabweans are going to be in need of food relief for the fourth consecutive year. It is not by chance that these raids have been conducted at this time. It is intended for a scorched earth policy against urbanites that have built this informal economy through sweat and meagre incomes. It therefore must be disrupted and make them depend on the mercy of the government to enable government to manipulate them easily when starvation comes.
The state-owned Herald even celebrated so contemptuously claiming: “Thirty-four illegal flea markets were destroyed and 30 other unauthorised structures in the city’s high-density suburbs were also demolished.”
There is no doubt that these 34 flea markets were supporting thousands of families and thanks to the Chinese downtown, they have now been made redundant and face starvation.
I dearly salute the hundreds of people who have thus far attempted to organise and resist these raids by the government. They know what is happening better than most of the politicians. They understand that Zanu PF is intruding into matters of the stomach and in this territory rationality — if it exists — is suspended.
If you can’t break them with the vote, then starvation and violence will. This is the strategy that Zanu PF has embarked upon. Disrupting the sector that has built the informal economy is therefore not only a political orgy by the ruling elite but by far an organised scheme to rein in the urbanites that have rejected the ruling oligarchy in favour of the opposition.
These latest attacks, raids and clean-up operations are nothing but deliberate attempts to destroy the informal sector, make the urban people pay with their lives and pander to the planes that the Chinese have traded to Zimbabwe, further mortgaging us to the Chinese.
I have never known Zimbabweans to be a xenophobic lot but the government’s campaign will strain relations with “our friends from the East” who are better experienced and know the costs of a violent state machinery. We know that in a very small book somewhere in the archives of China lies inscribed these words: “Dare to struggle, dare to win”. And dare to struggle and to win the people of Zimbabwe shall. These continued raids which the police vowed will be carried out ferociously across the country are a political tsunami that will alienate the regime from the people of Zimbabwe.
*Tinashe Chimedza is a Zimbabwean currently in Sydney, Australia.