Eric Bloch Column – 7 Mar

THE overriding thought in the minds of almost all of Zimbabwe’s electorate, as the forthcoming elections approach, is centred upon the country’s distraught economy, and whether the elections will bring about any positive change.

Positive, negative future plans

An overwhelming majority of the population is starving, and cannot forsee any prospects of positive change.

Since 1997 the politicians in power have given naught to the populace other than promises of a utopian future, iced with endless disclaimers of non-culpability for that future not materialising, fault for the continued deprivation being wholly attributable to the diabolical and evil machinations that the politicians falsely contend are the endless pursuit of much of the developed, first world.

Those who have unceasingly promised an imminent paradise for all the population, and have not only failed to deliver it, but have brought almost all to the frontiers of hell, never-endingly pleaded that that is not their fault, but that of mystical, non-existent, “illegal” international sanctions. The reality is that it has been their ill-conceived, misguided, and disastrously implemented political policies, compounded by megalomania and paranoia that has brought Zimbabweans to the precipice of permanent deprivation.

The electorate is no longer interested in hearing about who is, or is alleged to be, the culprit for the miseries that confront it. Zimbabweans are understandably and justifiably now only interested in being given credible and meaningful assurances of real, positive and constructive transformation of the economy.

The populace want an end to homelessness, to malnutrition, to ill-health, to an inability to fund children’s education, to unemployment, and all the many other characteristics of their present abominably miserable lives.

It is therefore most significant to note the total disparity between the declared future policies of the present regime, and of those who aspire to lead the future Zimbabwe. Speaking at his 84th birthday “celebrations” in Beitbridge, President Mugabe dug deeply into the barrel of existing failed policies and, to all intents and purposes, reiterated them. He said that his government had “empowered” the populace “in the agriculture sector and it does not matter what anyone else in Britain says and the fact is permanent and the sooner the Britons learn it the better. They just have to learn to accept it.

Not only did the President demonstrate complete oblivion to the failure of his government’s agricultural policies, but he pretended they had been a great success. The reality is that agricultural production today is only about 35% of that which it was 10 years ago.

From producing 210 million kg of tobacco, Zimbabwe is now producing only 55 million kg.

From producing enough maize and other grains to feed the entire population, and to export to almost all the region, Zimbabwe now has to import almost half of its requirements. The national herd is little more than one-third of its size of a decade ago.

Numbers employed in agriculture are less than a fifth of those so employed at the turn of the century. And none of this dismal destruction of the jewel of the Zimbabwean economy is due to the actions of Britiain, USA, European Union or other so-called enemies.

Nor is it due to negative climatic conditions to any material extent. The fault lies almost wholly with the abysmal manner of seeking to attain agricultural indigenisation and economic empowerment.

None can justly challenge that that was necessary, but pursuit of it in disregard for international norms of justice, in contemptuous disregard for merit, ability and resources, in pursuit of self-enrichment for the favoured few, and in total failure to consider the national needs, produced nothing but destruction, and that was what materialised.

However, that has not deterred presidential thinking to repeat that which has already failed, for the president’s reference on his birthday to the agricultural policies was in the context of an intention to pursue similar policies in the mining sector.

He said: “When you produce them (minerals), you produce them with a view to enhance your own wealth and capacitate your own people and increase your per capita capital and income, or are you producing them for others? At the end of the day, who is the owner of the gold, the diamonds and the platinum that we produce? That is why we have brought in a new law in the mining sector with a view to empower our people in that sector.”

President Mugabe made this statement in the context that he has no intention to relent or reverse on his plans to promulgate legislation in terms of which 51% of all mining companies must, at the least, be owned by indigenous Zimbabweans (and, in fact, the proposed legislation entrenches a 25% holding for government itself, with a minimum of 26% to be held by other indigenous Zimbabweans).

This intent can not only preclude any future development and growth of mining, but must bring about an immense contraction of that which already exists.

It defies the wildest stretches of imagination to expect investors to provide 100% of required investment capital, all necessary technology transfer, access to markets, and much else, only to be deprived (without compensation!) of at least 5l% of the venture they have brought into being.

What is more, not only are they to be so deprived, but the mining operations are to pay ongoing taxes and immense royalties to the state, to an extent that any investors who are non-indigenous Zimbabweans are reduced to having a 49% holding of next to nothing — and that is supposed to attract investment.

Zimbabwe has an immense potential wealth in mining, for it is rich in resources of platinum, gold, nickel, coal, methane gas, diamonds, and very much else.

But that wealth can only be realised by effective investment of capital, and of mining technology and skills, and Zimbabwe does not have sufficient of either of those resources, so it must interact with the international investment community.

But, to be of interest to that community, Zimbabwe must offer a “fair and square” deal, instead of the patronising, demanding, and economically unrealistic path that it persists in following.

President Mugabe and the party that he leads are naïve in the extreme if they believe that the electorate will satisfy its hunger pangs by receiving promises which have as little prospect of fulfilment as the failed promises of the past

It is therefore very intriguing to note the very different and demonstrably realistic stance that is being taken by one of President Mugabe’s electoral opponents.

His one time Minister of Finance, well-known for having resigned out of total frustration at the obstacles and hindrances erected in front of him in trying constructively to fulfil his ministerial duties, Simba Makoni has, in his election manifesto, undertaken to give immediate and urgent priority to resolving the food, power, fuel, water and sanitation problems afflicting Zimbabwe.

Concurrently, it is his declared intent to remove the innumerable structural economic distortions that pervade all sectors of the economy, to deregulate that economy, to assure the independence of the central bank, and to cease imposition upon that bank of unwanted, undesirable engagement in quasi-fiscal activities.

Concurrently, Simba Makoni has pledged that he and his future government will re-engage the international community, will interact positively with bilateral and multi-lateral lenders in order to access balance of payments support, and will motivate and stimulate both foreign direct investment and domestic investment.

If, in the few remaining weeks before the elections, he can convince the population of the genuineness of these intents, and provided that the elections are genuinely free and fair, devoid of any rigging, and without any intimidation, actual or implied, then undoubtedly the despairing population will once again perceive a ray of real hope for the future.

For the first time in a decade, someone in the political environment is speaking out with positive intents, instead of projecting further national suicide, and therefore opening a window to gaze at a very bright future economic horizon, albeit that inevitably that horizon is still far away, because even the most constructive and vigorous economic policies cannot instantaneously right the immense economic ills that government has bestowed upon Zimbabwe over the last ten years.

The contrast between the economic policies of President Mugabe and Makoni are striking in the extreme.

The former can yield nothing other than further deprivation, malnutrition, ill-health, desperation and misery for almost all Zimbabweans, with ongoing hyperinflation, scarcities, and all the other economic ills that are presently suffered by Zimbabwe to a greater extent than almost any other country in the world.

The latter has the potential and the promise for change for the better, albeit that regrettably and unavoidably, that change will be long and slow, for there is no quick fix for the harm that has been done to Zimbabwe by the Zimbabweans that have ruled it.