There is no doubt that Zimbabwe is facing monumental problems. In addition to the Covid 19 crisis, there are obvious political divisions both in the opposition MDC and in the ruling Party Zanu PF. This leaves the population in total confusion. Both are faced with serious internal divisions. The divisions are often tribal.
Meantime we hear stories of massive corruption involving donor funds given to Zimbabwe to prevent and cure COVID 19: millions of US dollars have been stolen and continue to be stolen through fraudulently granted contracts.
Exorbitant and exploitative prices are charged, and yet there is no dependable hospital for those who have been affected by the Pandemic. This is particularly so for the poor. A mere test will cost US$25. A ventilator costs US$3000. Corruption is rife both within the ruling Party and the opposition.
Meanwhile journalists and activists who expose this corruption are arrested, imprisoned, and accused of fanning violent opposition to government.
Yet the biggest crisis is the economic one, with salaries having quadrupled in the last two months, especially for the Security Forces and the Civil Servants. These comprise more than 60% of the Formal Economy employees. The quadrupling of their salaries without a quadrupling of productivity, especially of food, immediately leads to hyper-inflation, and Zimbabwe is already gripped by this disastrous inflation. Mealie meal is unobtainable, selling for US$5 a bucket. People are gripped by food shortage.
It appears that the only solution envisaged is the military one: more tear gas and guns are being ordered to deal with the crisis, based on the much feared demonstrations rumoured for 31 July. Yet demonstrations do not solve problems. Instead they create instability and chaos. It would be terrible for Zimbabwe if more demonstrators are killed in a week’s time. During the last demonstrations, the organizers had disappeared by the time by the time the Army appeared. This was part of their planned strategy; the Army could not catch up with several demonstrations occurring in different locations one after the other. Innocent bystanders remained and some of them were shot. This is likely to happen again.
It is important to identify the problems and solve them, rather than see the military solution as the only answer: a military solution cannot solve economic problems.
What are the problems Zimbabwe faces?
The biggest problem Zimbabwe faces today is the shortage of food. This affects both rural and urban areas. Vendors who were able to feed themselves by earning enough for one meal a day can no longer do so.
They and their children are starving. Luckily schools are closed so they don’t have to pay school fees. Farmers are reaping their maize just now. Because of the severe shortage they are selling it at US$5 per bucket, too expensive for the poor. Reserving US$5 million each month will solve the hunger for that month. Some of the money donated for Covid-19 could be spent on maize for the poor. This is an essential step.
Zanu PF has its own distribution system which dominates the State system: this system provides food only to Zanu PF members. It would be wise to engage the churches and other welfare organizations which have lists of the starving in their areas to help with the distribution, and it would be good if the names, ID, age and work of those who receive are recorded for future reference.
Government would have a key planning and supervisory role. This is because hunger is always with us, and we need to divorce it from political loyalty and provide for the starving whoever they are. In the future food could be reserved for over 65s and for mothers of under-fives. This would be a much cleverer way of reaching the really needy, instead of giving the food to Party youths and activists who sell it at a profit because they are penniless.
Hyperinflation is again with us. There may be food in the stores but the poor cannot afford it. There are a number of causes of Hyper-inflation, but the main one is the printing of money by the RBZ. RBZ prints paper money and they also provide banks with Treasury Bills (TBS).
Both of these are forms of rampant inflation, although TBS is much better than printing worthless paper money. Government’s challenge is how to pay the Security and Civil Services, both of which have large numbers of employees who are poorly paid and are always demanding more money. Government has been expanding the money supply to pay them.
Some companies have exploited this inflation, but they are not the primary cause. Government itself must demonstrate and implement medium and long term economic growth plans rather than disowning responsibility and blaming others.
Providing jobs for all
Zimbabweans are desperate for jobs. At least two million are working in the Informal Economy merely to get one meal a day, mainly sadza and cabbage. This is the reality.
Yet Government has taken 13 million hectares of fertile Commercial Farming land after 2002. Whilst the small scale farmers, the A1, have been able to make a living from their 5 hectares, the medium and large scale farmers have faced severe problems, such as lack of training, skills and experience, and lack of funds. As a result probably only a fraction of the approximately 5 million hectares of land they hold is being utilized.
Few of the 200 000 farmers who received land have received legal leaseholds: instead they hold offer letters which can be rescinded in a day.
Why not utilize all this empty land to grow more maize and other crops? Civil servants and security forces can be offered good incentives to leave their jobs in return for a piece of land and supervised training. Most rural secondary schools have agricultural departments with trained staff, and if they were provided with additional land and inputs they could enroll trainees to grow more food.
There are more than 2300 secondary schools in this country and 70% of them are rural. There are also other organizations such as the FAO which have specialized in Agriculture. There are 3000 Extension Officers who do not have enough inputs and money to do their job properly: it would be good if they were enabled to supervise such programmes.
Provide medicines for all clinics
It would be salutary to provide basic medicines such as pain killers and antibiotics to all clinics. Clinics should be allowed to charge basic fees so as to be able to replace these drugs. Government would receive real accolades if it managed to do so efficiently.
Textbooks for school children
Last but not least, children have not been at school for almost a year. The decision that they will receive lessons through the internet is hopeful, but unrealistic. Three quarters of Zimbabweans do not have electricity or computers, and they certainly cannot afford the high cost of wifi.
The right solution is to provide children with textbooks that they can study at home. Unfortunately the copyright for these books have been given inexplicably to an American publishing company which is charging the equivalent of US$7 for a primary book and US$14 for a secondary book.
The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education can negotiate with this international company to provide the textbooks free or at low cost. Otherwise the Ministry can reprint the materials which were utilized earlier at low cost and make them available to all. That used to cost about US$5 million, as low cost as 20 US cents each.
This would entail a serious revamping and re-structuring of the State’s finances, in the immediate term including the 2021–2022 budget.
Chung was a secondary school teacher in the townships (1963-1968); lecturer in polytechnics and university (1968- 1975); teacher trainer in the liberation struggle (1976-1979); civil servant (1980- 1987), former minister of education (1988–1993); UN civil servant (1994–2003). These weekly New Perspectives articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, immediate past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society (ZES). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and cell: +263 772 382 852