Candid Comment: Time for more results, less rhetoric

FIRST things first: it’s not a bad thing to join millions of fellow citizens in passing on good wishes to the new Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on his ascent to the post of premier.

This is necessary because his success or failure and that of government have a bearing on the welfare of us all.

Yet at the same time it would be pertinent to remind Tsvangirai and his colleagues in government right from the start that time for long speeches and rhetoric is up. The next step demands leadership and delivery.

The rather easier part has been done. Negotiating, bargaining, and signing agreements in five-star hotels while wining and dining extravagantly was the relatively easy part.

The real task for Tsvangirai and his colleagues in government lies ahead. Problems confronting them and the nation are many and varied. They are multifaceted and mountainous. The climb will be steep and hard.

Zimbabwe desperately needs a New Deal to end a decade of misery and suffering authored by President Robert Mugabe’s hopelessly corrupt and incompetent regime. The damage inflicted on the fabric of the nation and its social fibre by this coterie of lazy, greedy and failed leaders is severe.

Tsvangirai and the government need to appreciate that we are engulfed in a sea of troubles. The waters around us are choppy and that requires ministers to stop behaving as if they are on a summer picnic as soon they take office today.

The behaviour of ministers hanging around in offices like tourists on holiday must stop.

The attitude of public officials who think that getting into office is a means to primitive accumulation of wealth via stealing and bribes must no longer be entertained.

It’s refreshing Tsvangirai promised “honest and open” leadership. But it doesn’t end there. He must not just give his word, but walk the talk.

From day one, ministers must show they mean business. They must also remember they are public officials paid through taxpayers’ money. They are not “chefs” but public servants. They were elected or appointed to serve the people, not to boss them around and steal from them.

With the entry of Tsvangirai into government, navigating the stormy seas surrounding Zimbabwe’s economy could be somewhat easier if those in charge work together in thrust and purpose. 

The first 100 days will be critical. They will show whether or not the government has picked the right or wrong direction.

As Tsvangirai rightly said, the top priorities of the government would have to include, first and foremost, dealing with the humanitarian crisis which is characterised by hunger and disease. People are starving, mostly in rural areas. They need emergency food relief. That must be mobilised and distributed immediately without prejudice.

Mugabe’s regime has a long history of using food as a political weapon, feeding its supporters alone while starving rival followers. It also has a record of banning food distribution among the population considered to be politically hostile.

Government must first move to stamp out cholera, an easily treatable disease that was allowed by the ancien regime to spread like a veld fire, killing over 3 000 people — which is a massacre worse than the civilian killings during the recent Gaza war. Nearly 100 000 others were affected. Mugabe’s government dismally failed to act. Foreigners actually rescued the situation.

Apart from dealing with hunger and disease, government must deal with social services. They must move quickly to ensure schools, universities and colleges, hospitals and clinics and other public utilities are reopened. Public transport must be revived. Water and electricity supply must be restored. Sewage systems must be repaired. Garbage must be collected.

Roads must be repaired or resurfaced.

These are the basic benchmarks we shall judge them by before we even come to the tougher task of economic recovery. The state of the economy is shocking. This must be noted. Mugabe and his cronies succeeded in destroying a once-prosperous economy, turning it into the Zimbabwe Ruins.

The damage is huge and appalling. It would need a massive aid package to reverse. Zimbabwe needs urgent aid and balance-of-payments support to stabilise the economy before instituting fundamental reforms.

This means a comprehensive economic stabilisation plan is essential. It has to deal with basic and structural economic problems. The revival of agriculture, the mainstay of the economy, and industry is key. Domestic and foreign direct investment are needed. Loans, grants and aid inflows will be vital.  

In that connection, political reforms must come soon. The rule of law and property rights must be restored. This means the judiciary and other key arms of government must be freed from executive chains.

Political repression and impunity must stop. Civil and political liberties must be restored. The media has to be unchained now. We need a new constitution. We also need to stamp out the endemic culture of political violence, arbitrary arrests and torture. The country needs to be freed from Mugabe’s legacy of fear, hunger and poverty.