Often it has been said Zimbabwe is South Africa’s 10th province. This erroneous perception is based on the reliance of Zimbabwe on South Africa in terms of trade and the free-flow of Zimbabweans across its borders. Also, Zimbabwean supermarkets are awash with South African goods, a confirmation of Zimbabwe as an appendage of its southern neighbour.
But it may turn out Zimbabwe is, in fact, the 23rd province of China; they don’t call it Jīnbābùwéi for nothing. Look at how the Southeast Asian country is establishing its footprint in Zimbabwe. The US$300 million parliament building nearing completion in Mount Hampden will surely be its flagship development in Zimbabwe, but strategically it will pale in significance compared to the National Data Centre (NDC)commissioned by president Emmerson Mnangagwa this week.
What is the NDC and why should Zimbabweans be worried? According to Mnangagwa the NDC “will anchor all e-government programmes and will allow coordinated planning and monitoring of results” of all government programmes thereby “allowing the government to continue upscaling implementation of information and communication to accelerate the modernisation, industrialisation and growth of the economy.”
This means going forward the NDC has become the heartbeat of the Zimbabwean government. That is precisely why every Zimbabwean ought to be worried. In the past few years the Chinese have been accused of hacking into buildings they have built in Africa.
According to reports, Chinese companies have built at least 186 government buildings and 14 “sensitive intra-governmental telecommunications networks in Africa from which China may be spying on African government officials”.
A red flag was raised a few years ago on the Chinese-built African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa. When it became operational, a Japanese company noticed unusual data traffic between Addis Ababa and Shanghai. China was accused of installing listening devices in the AU HQ and servers in the headquarters were allegedly secretly sending data to a computer system in Shanghai each night between midnight and 2am.
Zimbabweans’ fear should be that the parliament building and now the NDC may be the Trojan horses through which the Chinese may control the government.
According to a report by the Heritage Foundation, a United States-based conservative think tank: “The Chinese government has a long history of all types of surveillance and espionage globally. So we know this is the sort of thing they want to do, the sort of thing they have the capacity to do. And also, Africa is important enough to them to do it.”
Any doubts that Zimbabwe is the 23rd province of China may have been dispelled when it donated a further 200 000 doses of its Sinopharm vaccine doubling the number of jabs they have given the country, gratis.
China has 1,4 billion people who need to be vaccinated, but it would rather vaccinate Zimbabweans ahead of its own people. The reason for this is not far to find: it is a philosophy called “effective occupation”. It may be interesting to note that the territory called Zimbabwe was at the centre of what was called the Scramble for Africa in the 19th Century. The fight was getting dirty around the 1880s with Cecil John Rhodes trying to fulfill his Cape-to-Cairo dream in which he wished to lay a railway line that would link the two extreme tips of Africa. Because the said line would give him control of central Africa the other colonising powers were worried.
The Portuguese wished to link their colonies — Angola and Mozambique; Germany wanted to link Namibia with Tanzania. As can be seen, to achieve this each one of them had to acquire Zimbabwe; so the scramble for Africa, in fact, became the scramble for Zimbabwe. This was not going to end well, so they convened a conference at Berlin, Germany in 1884 where they pronounced the policy of “effective occupation”, which compelled any aspiring coloniser to effectively occupy the territory it wished to take. That was why the Pioneer column invaded Zimbabwe six years later. Now Zimbabwe is in the midst of a latter-day scramble for its territory and the Covid-19 pandemic has become its rationale.
The United Kingdom was the first to offer Zimbabwe a hand in sourcing vaccines. It offered to vaccinate 20% (about three million) of Zimbabwe’s population against the pandemic when the Covax vaccine facility became ready. This was before the UK itself — which was hit worse by the pandemic — had satisfied its own demands. The Zimbabwean government turned the offer away because the UK wanted the exclusive right to occupy Zimbabwe like they did in 1890.
To see just how fierce the scramble is, consider that Russia is on the sidelines ready to fly the Sputnik V weapon and India, of the AstraZeneca-SA debacle, also has Zimbabwe in its crosshairs.
But in the meantime, China has seemingly won the battle but the war is far from over as there is loads of resistance to its vaccine from Zimbabweans who include medical personnel. The fierce propaganda war may still sway Zimbabweans one way or the other. But what Zimbabweans should know is that the new scramble is not about them — less than 40 000 Zimbabweans have contracted the coronavirus and less than 1 400 have died. That’s not a train crash! So this is all about the country’s resources; the gold, the platinum, the lithium, the diamonds and most importantly the fertile land.
Not a week passes without a video of men fighting over women going viral on social media. This week the video was of a man seated in his SUV with a woman. It turned out the woman was someone else’s wife. The adulterous man and the woman were given a thorough beating and were dragged in a pool of dirty water on the road. The judgmental men in the crowd helped the cuckold mete out instant justice on the pair.
But why does it seem there is a rise in the number of adulterous relationships? The answer is surely to do with the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic on poor families and how the government has neglected this stratum of society. To put it more emotively, it’s about the children! Any tour of the low-income suburbs will reveal the sorry state of the children; malnutrition is rampant and their dirty tattered clothes will bring tears to the eyes of the faint-hearted.
The pandemic hit the urban population, which mostly survived in the informal sector. The women who used to run stalls all over the place can no longer do it due to the government’s lockdown measures. Informal traders live from hand to mouth so without their daily pickings hunger hits them hard.
The women, especially, are hit hardest. They take care of the day-to-day running of the household; they are supposed to ensure the children get something to eat and something to wear. These can no longer be guaranteed because the stall from which they used to sell tomatoes and secondhand clothing have been closed.
The government which promised some form of relief for the hardest hit families has not been forthcoming. When it has, the payouts have been so paltry as to be useless. The men have been hit too. They are no longer earning their weekly wages because the factories have been closed. Without an income their tempers flare up easily.
But unlike the men, the women cannot watch while their children starve, so for survival they involve themselves in illicit love affairs. One just has to drive along the streets around dusk to see how decent-looking women line up the streets soliciting for sex. Sometimes their husbands catch them at it. But the men’s anger is often misdirected. They beat up the men who have had transactional sex with their wives; and they also beat up their wives who have given their children, and the men, something to eat from the money they earned.
Their anger should be directed at the government which has reneged on its promise to help poor families during these trying times. They should also direct their anger at their lawmakers who do not question policies such as the clampdown on informal traders and lockdowns which have been imposed on the people in a one-size-fits-all fashion. There just should be another way these lockdowns can be implemented without driving young men into grinding poverty and helplessness which drive gender-based violence.