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Eric Bloch Column

Post-election economic blueprint

By Eric Bloch

NEVER has the level of national despondency been as great in Zimbabwe as it is at present. Inflation is soaring upwards at a draconian pace, with many prices increasing as frequently as daily.

Unemployment is intensifying endlessly, as the ongoing contraction of the economy impacts upon consumer purchasing power and demand, resulting in cessation of almost all contract employment. Employers are also pursuing employee numbers reduction by natural attrition and by retrenchment programmes. Numerous employees, in distraught financial circumstances, are readily accepting voluntary retrenchment programmes, in desperate endeavours to resolve immediate financial problems, but without regard to future financial needs.

The infrastructural collapse is accelerating, with commerce and industry, agriculture, mining, tourism and the populace as a whole becoming continuously inconvenienced and stressed by recurrent energy load-shedding and supply breakdowns, grossly defective telecommunications, roads with potholes of such magnitude that motorists fear they have strayed from their intended routes and arrived at the Great Hole of Kimberley, and prolonged water supply interruptions.

Healthcare resources are becoming evermore limited, with a mass emigration of doctors, nurses, and other skilled health care providers, and with hospital equipment ageing and in disrepair. Education is similarly negatively affected, as is almost every other facet of the Zimbabwean infrastructure.

Scarcities are more and more pronounced, with shop shelves having been as bare as the renowned Mother Hubbard’s cupboard for more than six months. Consumers, in desperation, are forced to resort to the black market to access basic essentials such as soap and detergents, cooking oil, light bulbs, toilet paper, and the like. Bread, flour, milk and eggs (as well as many other products) are as scarce as the legendary hen’s teeth and, in the rare occasions that any are available, the prices are prohibitively high. Public transport has become so costly that it is beyond the means of many, with the fares payable in a month exceeding the average worker’s monthly earnings.

All these, and innumerable other socio-economic ills have created a gargantuan divide in many families, for over a third of the population has fled (albeit usually reluctantly) to other countries, in order to seek a livelihood, and earn sufficient to support a plethora of dependents back home in Zimbabwe.

With these dismal, trying circumstances, it is little wonder that almost without exception, Zimbabweans are imbued with an endless sense of doom and gloom, misery and depression. The widespread dejection is accompanied by great disillusionment.

For years government has steadfastly denied any responsibility for the appalling, ever-declining, economic circumstances, has continuously ascribed those circumstances to non-existent international economic sanctions, allegedly being vigorously applied against Zimbabwe by the European Union, USA and some Commonwealth countries, in general, and by the United Kingdom in particular.

The stated motivations for those non-existent sanctions are said to be to bring about a regime change in Zimbabwe, and restoration of colonialist control. But government’s never-ending, vituperative outpourings that all Zimbabwe’s ills are attributable to the Machiavellian machinations of government’s perceived enemies are no longer believed by any of the population, other than a very gullible few.

At the same time, Zimbabweans query why, if that which Government claims has foundation, it has failed to counter the economically-destructive actions with effective countermeasures. (They recall that Rhodesians, during UDI, successfully circumvented sanctions for 14 years!). As a result vastly increasing numbers of Zimbabweans believe that government has irremediably destroyed the economy, having reduced it to a level which precludes recovery. That belief is deepening the intense despondency that characterises Zimbabwe today.

But although so many have given up hope, a few have not, and remained determined to continue efforts to bring about the greatly longed-for change. Amongst those is the very frequently criticised and castigated Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), and this is evidenced by some of last week’s Monetary Policy Statement, presented by RBZ’s governor on January 31. The statement entitled “Consolidating Economic Productivity and Inflation Stabilisation”, briefly noted that the extent that RBZ has unsuccessfully sought to influence economic change.

The governor recorded that: “Since December 18, 2003, the Reserve Bank issued acres and acres of policy advice, to government ministries, local authorities, parastatals and the business community, under-scoring what needed to be done to realign the economy back on the rails of success. The non-implementation of some of the policy advice given to stakeholders, especially to government ministries, local authorities and parastatals remains a sore point for monetary authorities as, in the process of filling that gap, the bank has found itself having to carry extraordinary responsibilities outside its normal core business simply to keep Zimbabwe fed, to keep Zimbabwe oiled, and to keep Zimbabwe afloat . . .”

However, despite such disregard for its advice, RBZ has not been deterred from its determination that Zimbabwe must, and its conviction that Zimbabwe can, achieve a positive economic turnaround. That is in marked contrast to the negativeness of most in Zimbabwe today, and is loudly evidenced by the inclusion, in the Monetary Policy Statement, of: “As we enter the dawn of the forthcoming combined elections, work is already underway to crafting a robust Post Elections Economic blueprint that will anchor a lasting foundation for price stability, inflation control, investment promotion, as well as revamping the general productivity levels in the economy.”

Although not stated, RBZ clearly recognises that the magnitude of economic policy changes required is such that there is no prospect of government having the courage, or the moral persuasion, to effect those changes prior to the forthcoming elections, for fear that doing so would be interpreted by the electorate as a governmental admission of economic mismanagement, and of government’s culpability in creating the intense poverty and hardships afflicting almost all Zimbabweans. But RBZ seems therefore, to pursue the “better late, than never” stance, and is therefore timeously preparing advice for the post-election era.

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