Monday, March 29, 2010

Thursday has Been and Gone

Today is Monday and Thursday – the day Zimbabweans were promised there would be some ‘announcements’ has been and gone.

A summary of today’s news following the weekend is puzzling. While Tendai Biti of the MDC has promised a relaxation of the media laws and that new newspapers will be licenced ‘soon’, Mugabe has a completely different stance. Mugabe tells us that there is no agreement with the MDC over outstanding issues – and there won’t be any until ‘illegal sanctions are removed’ by the British, the Europeans and the Americans. As for the removal of Gono (Reserve Bank) and Tomana (Attorney General) – they are going nowhere says Mugabe. On indigenisation Mugabe waxes lyrical in his demand that this must happen sooner rather than later and any black person who opposes it, must by definition be ‘ashamed of his race’ and have ‘backward mentality of subservience’ to whites.

But there are other signals around: The Harare City Council has proposed the arrest of ZANU PF big businessman, Phillip Chiyangwa for the shady deals he entered into with a previous city council administration and that Minister Chombo has been equally corrupt. Now this could set a cat amongst the pigeons! At present the likely losers will be the MDC dominated Harare City Council, because ZANU PF always has their way on such issues.

Then we have Morgan Tsvangirayi being, apparently, taken to task by his own party for his alleged public support for the removal of sanctions and is being asked to backtrack on such statements. The State Press, which is the one to bring this development to light, naturally blames Eddie Cross and Roy Bennet (the alleged ‘Hawks’ in the MDC) for making these demands of Tsvangirayi. I wonder whether Tsvangirayi ever made a public statement supporting the removal of sanctions. Was it perhaps a State Press concoction?

Then to really add some fuel to the Zimbabwean fire, we are told that South Africa’s vocal ANC Youth Leader, Julius Malema, is due to arrive in the country on Friday to lend his support to ‘Zimbabwean Youth’s’. What a circus that will be.

Another item for digestion is that Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment Minister Saviour Kasukuwere and black empowerment activists on Friday ‘stormed’ out of a meeting with white entrepreneurs over what they termed “racist and backward” comments made by economist Professor Tony Hawkins when he likened the Indigenisation and Empowerment Act to apartheid law! It’s very clear who the real racists are in this debate, but don’t bet on it that too many other people in and outside Zimbabwe will be able to openly say so. And don’t bet on it either that the meeting was solely comprised of ‘white entrepreneurs’. You can be sure there were more blacks than whites at this meeting.

Then we have Mines minister Obert Mpofu allegedly on a property-buying spree which has attracted the interest of a parliamentary committee investigating the plunder of the controversial Chiadzwa diamond fields. The parliamentary portfolio committee on Mines and Energy is trying to establish how the minister allegedly acquired at least 27 properties in Victoria Falls alone over the last few months. And what of Mpofu himself? He has today apparently cancelled ACR’s prospecting licence in the Chiadzwa diamond fields, while the High Court says such cancellation has no legal force or effect. But what the hell? Where does legality have any place in the ‘New Zimbabwe’ anyway?

On the face of it, Jacob Zuma’s recent visit to Zimbabwe was a complete and utter waste of time. One wonders how Zuma will react to today’s public statements following his earlier enthusiasm that everything should be resolved by the end of March!

Life once more is getting very interesting round here, and the link of political events to ZANU PF greed is overwhelming. One cannot help but wonder if Zuma, like his predecessor Mbeki, has been bought. He has a chance now to disprove it. But don’t hold your breath.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Economic Malaise

I had some interesting meetings yesterday with various people – a respected economist, a labour consultant, a businessman. I heard the following ‘facts’ about the Zimbabwean economy as of yesterday: -

1. Zimbabwe’s formal employment level is now less than it was in 1970 while the population has doubled.
2. 2008 was a very bad year for exports. 2009, after US dollarisation of the economy was worse.
3. Cash held by the banks in Zimbabwe is one-fifth of the cash held in Botswana’s banks. Botswana’s population is less than half of Zimbabwe’s population
4. Most businesses are over-staffed with the wrong skills. Retrenchment should be an option to save the business, but in Zimbabwe retrenchment packages are so huge, that retrenchment is not a business option for the employer. A retrenchment package in South Africa is likely to be in the region of two weeks salary. In Zimbabwe it is more likely to be two years salary.
5. The ZCTU is currently trying to get legislation introduced whereby people are paid according to their family needs – the more dependents, the bigger the wage.
6. We already have a situation where an employee can be off work for almost a year, and still get paid even if he doesn’t report for work for one single day of that year. In the case of pregnant women the situation is even worse for the employer.
7. A school leaver in Zimbabwe today has absolutely no chance whatever of securing employment in Zimbabwe and will, of necessity, have to look elsewhere, unless he wants to work for the Chinese (see below).
8. A Chinese company has a contract to lay hundreds of kilometres of fibre optic cable throughout the country. The trenches are being dug manually. The manual labourers are being paid 50 US cents per day – i.e. $10.00 per month. A 20 kg bag of mealie-meal costs between $10 and $13. (I have seen the trench diggers around and about Harare)

I also spent a little time yesterday pricing some computer peripherals. An auxiliary keyboard which retails at R100.00 in South Africa, retails at $65 (R490) in Harare. A 250 gigabyte external hard drive retails in South Africa for R500.00. In Harare it retails for $250. (R1,875). I shall have to make another plan!

There are also several stories circulating that Jacob Zuma has been ‘tough’ with Mugabe and ZANU PF and some announcements are expected on Thursday (tomorrow) that will give evidence of this. In particular the recently promulgated Indigenisation Act is due for a major re-think. Hmmmmmm! I have grave doubts. While there may be some ‘announcements’ the evidence of the past shows that Mugabe and ZANU PF are terrified of losing face on anything significant and we have already heard many ‘no going back’ statements on the Indigenisation of Business. And then there is the lie factor: when it suits their power needs, there is vast difference between what Mugabe and ZANU PF says and what Mugabe and ZANU PF does.

Don’t believe that the economy in Zimbabwe is getting better. It isn’t. It’s getting worse.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

State of Fear

“It is when power is wedded to chronic fear that it becomes formidable” – Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind

Another interesting view of the world was written by well known American author, Michael Crighton (who I believe recently died). His book, State of Fear, was about global warming. A novel, State of Fear criticised the current world view on how we are allegedly creating our own destruction through the creation of greenhouse gases which are leading to global warming and the rising of the seas which will swamp many islands and create havoc with anyone and everyone living near the current shorelines of the world. Crighton provides substantial evidence, and quotes his sources, that the current world view is simply a propaganda war by world governments to keep their citizens in a state of fear that will make them more pliable and easier to ‘manage’.

In Zimbabwe, Mugabe is determined to keep his citizens, particularly those who may oppose him, in a state of fear. Hence, the recent promulgation of the law to indigenise ‘foreign’ businesses. ‘Foreign’ in the context of Zimbabwe means ‘controlled by whites’. All businesses in Zimbabwe are staffed, largely, by black people, the majority of whom are most certainly anti ZANU PF, so they too are in a state of fear because they know that their businesses stand to lose, their jobs are in jeopardy and few people have any illusions today about what happened to half a million farm workers when the farms were seized. Neither do they have any illusions that the farm seizures led to the destruction of agriculture and a large slice of the economy.

Mugabe will us the Indigenisation Act as and when it suits him to remind everyone who is in control and what will happen if that control should be threatened by a free and fair vote. It is simply a means of keeping the population in a constant state of fear.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Pillars of the Earth

I have been in South Africa again and it is some time since I contributed to this diary. South Africa is always an experience of value giving me time to read, digest, evaluate and think about the present and the future of Africa in general and Zimbabwe in particular.

Have you read “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follet? If not I commend it and the sequel, “World Without End”. They are both novels, the former set in 12th Century England and the latter two centuries later. What is staggering to me about “Pillars of the Earth” is the similarity between 12th century England and 21st century Zimbabwe. The central characters in Pillars of the Earth are ordinary people trying to make a life for themselves amidst the medieval political and social minefields of the English aristocracy where the enriched and powerful Kings and Queens, Lords and Earls and some Bishops and Priors make the life of the serfs a complete and utter misery. The enriched upper class are almost without exception, arrogant, greedy, treacherous, lustful and devious. They use their positions only to increase their power and their riches and for them, murder, rape and torture of the struggling lower class are not crimes, only methods to achieve their personal gains.

Transport this political and social system to most of Africa in the 21st Century and nothing has changed – only the players. There is perhaps another difference – outside Africa there is another world that has moved on to democratic principles of government and where information moves literally at the speed of light. This difference should make a difference to Africa – but will it? A look at Liberia and Haiti tells us otherwise.

I managed to learn a few other things. In South Africa there is constant talk of how it might or might not degenerate into another failed African state and the comparison is always Zimbabwe. Some South Africans have no illusions about their future political and economic prospects. The one difference is that in South Africa the future will be created by the ‘Generation Xers’ – the Julius Malema’s of their world. Julius Malema is a 30 something hothead youth leader within the ANC who has a congenital hatred of the white South Africans. His hatred for whites is only less of a motivational driver than his hunger for power, which if he gets it, he will clearly use to ‘deal with’ his opponents in the same manner that Mugabe deals with his opponents. But in Zimbabwe it is the youth who offer hope for the future. In Zimbabwe the youth are well educated and have personally witnessed the destruction wrought by authoritarian misrule.

Does anyone ever learn anything from history?