MUGABE COMMANDER IN CHIEF OF MAN MADE DISASTERS IN ZIMBABWE
Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace
…But God loves our nation and he listens to our prayers
TWO recent developments have inspired me to write and share a perspective on the troubled political, economic and social situation we find ourselves in.
The first is a number of articles that have been written bemoaning the silence of churches in the face of the injustices in the country. One recent article went as far as questioning whether God Almighty is no longer listening to the prayers of Zimbabweans as our woes seem to mount with no end in sight.
The other development is the current natural disasters wreaking havoc in the Americas at the moment. Mexico has been hit by an earthquake measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale. This was followed a day later by Hurricane Katia hitting the same country. Florida is bracing for Hurricane Irma and 52 of the 67 counties in Florida have received hurricane warnings with some subjected to mandatory evacuations. The Caribbean islands were hit by two Hurricanes, Harvey and Irma. A year ago in October 2016' Haiti, endured the vagaries of Hurricane Matthew in which more than 1000 people died.
As I started comparing these disasters with our own, I came to the conclusion that God has not deserted us and we are highly favoured but perhaps we are our own worst enemies. In our current suffering, there is the hand of man, not God.
Natural versus Man-made disasters
A natural disaster is as the name implies, caused by nature. In legal and insurance language, it is termed an Act of God or Vis Major while man-made disasters are an avoidable consequence of man's actions in a cause-effect relationship, take for example the economy of Zimbabwe. It doesn't take rocket science for one to realise that we find ourselves in this position because of poor policies, bad governance and corruption among other things.
Natural disasters are earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons, mudslides, heat waves, volcanic eruptions, droughts, and such like reactions of nature like the floods caused by excessive rains in areas like Tokwe Mukosi. They are unavoidable and usually last for a short period. But the effects of man-made disasters, on the other hand, last a long time and not everyone is affected as in natural disasters. These kinds of disasters can affect a targeted group of people for example politically motivated killings like Gukurahundi. The after-effects of the disaster are characterized by division, lack of national cohesion, blame game and defensiveness.
Below I mention some of the disasters ravaging our beloved nation although the list is not exhaustive.
The Economic Tsunami
At independence, Zimbabwe was a thriving economy, the breadbasket of Africa, and seen as the second most advanced economy and a model of a post-colonial nation. Former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere told President Robert Mugabe, that he was inheriting a jewel, and should treasure it. The Zimbabwe dollar was equivalent to the US dollar. “Inflation” was not an ordinary word known by those not schooled in economics. The industry was thriving, driven by a strong manufacturing base.
All cities and towns had their industrial base to drive their growth and they were thriving. Kadoma had its textiles, and David Whitehead was a ready market for the cotton from the productive farming community in Gokwe and other surrounding areas. Kwekwe prided itself in its Steel Industry ( RISCO, later ZISCO), creating thriving towns and metropolis such as Redcliff. The steel smelting plants such as ZIMASCO were like added bonuses to the town. Gweru had its mining and agro-process industries, and was famous for its Bata shoe company; it is said the Bata plant in Gweru was the largest in the world. Bulawayo, affectionately known as the City of Kings was revered as the shining jewel in Zimbabwe’s crown. Outside of Harare the Capital, Bulawayo was an industrial and manufacturing hub. This was the headquarters of the once shining National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), which was efficient and viable because there were goods to transport. The Cold Storage Company (CSC), processed meat due to the strong Cattle Ranching in the semi-arid region of Matabeleland. Most of the meat products found their way to the markets in Europe. Then, of course, the capital Harare. The Sunshine City. Cecil John Rhodes chose Salisbury as his Headquarters, and capital of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, purposefully because of it's captivating splendour. It turned out to be both an industrial and commercial hub of the country.
Other cities and towns grew and survived out of the mining activities around them. One can mention Shabani and Mashaba; Mhangura, Mvuma, Renco, Bindura, Shamva, Alaska, Hwange, the list is endless. Life was normal; in fact, life was good then. These mining towns even had thriving football teams such as ZISCO, Shabani and Mhangura.
Then came the man-made economic Tsunami. A combination of bad populist political and economic policies by the Government which led to capital flight and fear to invest in Zimbabwe. Government expenditure was high, and they were borrowing and spending with reckless abandon. As sources of borrowing externally dried up, they started borrowing on the domestic market and thus crowding out the private sector.
Black Friday and Gono's Casino Economics
The payment of unbudgeted allowances to ex-combatants in November 1997 is often cited as the straw that broke the camel’s back; the economy just could not sustain it. On Friday, 14 November 1997 which then was referred to as Black Friday, the Zimbabwe dollar lost 71,5% of its value against the United States dollar. The stock market crashed, and the Zimbabwe economy never recovered.
Instead of fixing the problem, Government went on to make matters worse. Under the Governorship of Gideon Gono, the Reserve Bank started printing money, an approach even a novice to economic knows is a failed, knee-jerk, ostrich mentality response to an economic crisis. Avenues of corruption and means of pleasing the elites were opened through the quasi-fiscal practices of the Reserve Bank managing the economy and purchasing inputs for farmers. The beneficiaries were the political elite and the military and judicial hierarchies who were seen as critical to the survival of the regime of Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF. The economy was run like a casino, and they were even proud to publish a book about it.
The net effect of all this was the total collapse and decay in the economy. Companies started retrenching and later shut down. Once vibrant mining towns and communities turned into ghost towns overnight. Bulawayo is now a shadow of its former self. Both CSC and NRZ have become dysfunctional debt-ridden parastatals. Many Zimbabweans lost their means of survival and have become a nation where even university graduates are reduced to petty vendors on the streets. They have invaded all cities and towns forcing established shops and commercial establishments that were the pride of the capital city, such as Greatermans and Thomas Meikles, to close. Mind you they also employed a good number of people who have since joined the unemployment lines.
First Lady Grace Mugabe, notoriously known for her motor mouth made a statement at a political rally that vendors should not be chased away from the city centres instead of addressing the real problem; that of unemployment. The result is now an unending battle between vendors and Local Authorities who are unable to deal with the situation. We have to live with the consequences of this pronouncement, made by an unelected politically powerful First Lady. This is not only business unusual but is a national man-made disaster which can really be avoided if only someone were brave enough to make Mrs Mugabe shut her mouth and behave like the learned person she would have us believe she is. We must, however, remember that he who creates a man-made disaster is not the best person to fix it.
The Land Reform
The Land reform was both an economic and a political disaster. The government attempted to solve the problem of imbalances caused by colonisation but in the process created an even bigger problem. While no one questions the objectives of the land reform, it was senseless and barbaric to kill and main people and essentially the economy in its name. In his book; “When Governments Stumble“ Ben Freeth tells a chilling account of the gruesome murders and violence during that period where the rule of law was blatantly violated.
The chaos and retribution that characterised this process smack of a racially charged vindictiveness on the part of the political elite, especially the President who saw this as a punishment for commercial farmers who had openly supported his arch rival MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The Land Reform commenced shortly after Mugabe had suffered an embarrassing defeat in the constitutional referendum. Otherwise, how does one explain that a white farmer who bought his land after independence and had papers to prove it, would lose his farm in the name of land redistribution? How do you explain that the definition of a Zimbabwean for land distribution took a racial undertone rather than date and place of birth?
Whatever the justification for this action, the consequences are inescapable and undeniable; the country lost the farming skills of the white farmers, who went on to employ and deploy those farming skills to other African countries like Mozambique, Nigeria and Zambia, from who we shamelessly went on to import maize because we could not feed ourselves. Further, we created a divided nation, stirred racial hatred, and made it difficult to create an all embracing national ethos.
The political Typhoon
The economic Tsunami that ravaged Zimbabwe since the turn of the century joined the company of a political typhoon that had visited the Zimbabwean people for a far longer period starting from independence. It hit the country with varying degrees of ferocity, depending on the part of the country hit the most. The first Typhoon was named Gukurahundi, which made its landing in 1983 in the southern region of Matabeleland, fast spreading northwards to Midlands area. It left a trail of murder and misery, through that infamous and senseless political orgy of violence that resulted in more than 20 000 people losing their lives in the two regions of Matabeleland and Midlands between 1983and 1987.
Long after Hurricane Gukurahundi, similar political typhoons are cited whenever an election looms. Like all natural tsunamis, storms, and hurricanes, the Zimbabwe man-made disasters all come with names, as if to remind us forever of the havoc and wreckage they caused. The biggest was Typhoon Gukurahundi. Then you have hurricane Murambatsvina; Hurricane Mavhotera Papi.
It boggles the mind why on earth people vested with the mandate to rule would go creating misery for the people they are supposed to rule and never seem to care. Why does the Zimbabwean political elite behave out of the ordinary of all elected governments, who seek pride in championing the well-being of their own people? It is a question that is vexatious to the rational mind. I have tried to find answers to this question when it comes to Zanu PF but my efforts have not borne any fruit.
The Dogma of Zanu PF infallibility
The disaster inherent in the Zimbabwe politics stems from two phenomena about Zanu PF. First, the ruling party Zanu PF party believe they have a God-given right to rule. In doing so they are not accountable to anyone but themselves. The second one is, they believe and act as if they are infallible; in other words, they can never be wrong or go wrong.. Whether the people like it or not is neither here nor there. Whether they do a good job is not the issue. To say Zanu PF is the worst former liberation political party in terms of its rule is an accurate assessment.
In the face of all the evidence of misguided rule over the past 37 years of his Presidency, President Mugabe has never taken responsibility for the state of decay in the country, nor shared in the misery of the people of Matabeleland for Gukurahundi. Nor for the company closures. Or for the cash crisis. Instead, he finds someone to blame with the usual suspects being Tsvangirai, The West and dear old sanctions. To him, all others are wrong, including Nelson Mandela of South Africa, who was a revered Statesman of extraordinary character. Of course, he and his family are insulated from the negative consequences of his misrule. Hospitals have no medicine, but he seeks his treatment in Singapore. His wayward children live profligate lives in foreign lands, and his wife wears diamond rings worth 1.2million dollars and Ferragamo shoes.
But I digress.
The lack of tolerance to alternative views exhibited by the ruling party makes every election a coming typhoon. Villages are no go areas, and those who do not chant the party slogan have to be “evacuated” and seek shelter with relatives in the urban areas, or face certain harassment and sometimes death. This was the story in 2008 when more than 200 supporters of MDC were killed for no reason other than exercising their democratic right. In typical Machiavellian style, the end of retaining power will justify the means of doing so. If the opposition cannot be pulverized into submission through brute force, then the election can and should be rigged.
It has been stated that the real motive behind Gukurahundi had less to do with dissidents than with the objective to pulverize Zapu out of existence and establish Zanu PF as the only centre of power. At that time, Mugabe openly favoured the establishment of a one party state in Zimbabwe.
As long as the Zimbabwe political establishment is captured by this mentality, this political typhoon will forever remain hanging over our heads.
But what has God to do with it?
The Mother of all disasters is that this same group of people who have run the country down from the jewel it was at independence to the disgrace it is today, are seeking re-election in 2018. They are even putting forward the same candidate, 93-year-old Mugabe, as President, the very Commander in Chief of all the man-made disasters in the country that led to an exodus of a quarter of the country’s skilled population leaving for the diaspora.
These are the same people who presided over the total collapse of a once vibrant modern economy that was the pride of all in Africa and has not owned up to any one of their promises to the people. My message to these guys is that God is a merciful God who does not condone evil and he hears our prayers and sees every tear we shed. He will not stand by and watch while people perish.