The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Biti - When the Giant Totters Off Stage

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The only time mankind admires infancy in manhood is when this comes as kindness and humility, never as a measure of mind. As I write this piece, I am still at a loss as to what exactly Tendai Biti, the Minister of Finance and MDC-T secretary general, was getting at when he clawed up a pedestal all to tell the world that Zimbabwe's Government coffers ran a balance of a mere US$217 dollars, or something like that.

A day later, the same mouth, definitely only conceivable in a child-man, was blaring again, staunchly dismissing the story, adding a day later, Government coffers were US$30 million richer, thanks to routine revenue inflows. Easy minds might think the child-man had redeemed himself. Or controlled the damage to the Nation. Only if you measure the figures against the savings of an individual or company.

But these are national accounts we are talking about. What is the difference between US$217 and US$30 million when it comes to coffers of a country? You begin to see that the so-called retraction may have been frenetic, but it hardly passed for a retraction at all. The child-man was merely extending the ridicule, giving it a flip page for longer laughter. That is what we must grapple with.

Salt to a wound

To bear out my reading, TB came back with the same story a day or two later, on Thursday. He told a CZI meeting in Harare that if Zimbabwe was a company, it would shut down. "It's just not sustainable. If Zimbabwe was a private company, it would have been closed.

"Definitely it wouldn't function.

"We are presiding over a very unsustainable economic matrix", said the Minister. Not quite the words of a retracting mind, rather of one who brings salt to a wound, not plaster. It is a major assault, a sustained one at that. That is what we must grapple with.

Losing more marbles

A very pleasing week for the same minister, if greatness comes by way of hideous headlines. One daily had him again on Thursday, spewing more outrage.

The MDC-T was mulling a boycott, unless Zanu-PF acceded to personnel changes in the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) secretariat.

"We are not going for polls if these hooligans are the ones still in charge of running the elections." A little further down, the minister regains civility: "Our position is ZEC should be allowed to recruit its own staff, keep the competent members and give the golden handshake to those failing to do their jobs.

"We are not victimising the ZEC staff but the new ZEC board should be allowed to recruit staff, grade them and retain employees they see as gems for the organization." The minister rapidly flips from imagery of uncouth violence to a refulgent one of precious stones, all to describe the same organisation, the same collection of staff. That is as mercurial as he is.

More important, he uses the word "new" in new ways. ZEC is among the first Commissions to be put together. That is how "new" it is, which is why it is a bit odd that its staffers are only becoming an issue now. Much more, we are, dear reader, listening to the same minister in charge of an account with a mere US$217, but suddenly capable of performing the feat of cashiering "hooligans" who, judging by the minister's temper, must surely be handful enough to needle his sapped backside. And of course the same minister who would rather give a lecture in Canada than give money to ZEC for it to start voter registration.

Except it is not odd for him or his party to demand a clean voter registration a mere week after releasing money to ZEC. It is an age or miracles, I tell you.

He says more. The voters' roll must be fully digitalized, or else the MDC-T goes to court. Further reforms must be made, or else 20 steps backwards are guaranteed. Observers who come for the referendum must stay on: "We will give them farms so that they stay, and continue monitoring the situation." Then surprise, surprise! Two days later, the MDC-T issues a statement: "The MDC(-T) totally dismisses as false, utterances of an election boycott attributed to our Secretary-General Tendai Biti during a press conference held on Tuesday 29 January 2013 at Harvest House. Biti did not, at any point during his delivery, mention, let alone insinuate the idea of an election boycott by the MDC (-T).

"It is unacceptable for the Daily News to misrepresent or distort the statement made by Hon Biti . . .

"While we cherish freedom of press, we in the same vain (sic) encourage responsible journalism and call upon journalists to verify their facts before publishing."

Verify facts indeed! You would think the Daily News ran an investigative piece, otherwise how do you verify descriptively proceedings of a press conference?

Beating a server-dog

I was just watching to see how the Daily News would react. Stunningly, the hot-mouthed paper, much like a loyal serve-dog, hissed a mournful whimper, before beating a hasty retreat into a dark corner, hoping for an early forgiveness from the irate master!

If you have grown up in the village, you can most certainly visualise the scene so vividly reminiscent of your father's flea-darting cur. That is what it means to be in the lap of captive politics. But that is for another day.

Let us add that the previous week, the same party had lashed out at the Zimbabwe Independent for claiming an altercation between Chamisa and the same Biti. No, that never happened, roared the two ministers at a hastily put-together press conference, both titling lips at each other like they would give us intimate scenes from happy gays in a blue movie!

Of course they never disclosed that the run-in was between Chamisa and Moyo. I am still to understand how replacing Biti with Moyo makes the altercation any happier politically. Or how claiming Zanu-PF mischief at the Zimbabwe Independent balances power between MDC-T and Zanu-PF, the latter a willy-nilly beneficiary of such backhanded tribute.

Valuable to Zanu-PF

Let's situate all this in a broader context. While all this is raging, you have another story attributed to TB. He wants land reforms to come to finality. Let's quote him: "Up until 1999 over 74 percent of the bank lending was going towards the agriculture but since the 2000 when the country embarked on the land reform exercise, only 7 percent of the bank lending is going to agriculture whilst over 20 percent going to consumptive lending. It's just not on."

Very revealing statistics of double-edged value: to the land reform discourse; to the indigenisation debate as it relates to the financial sector. And it's significant that Gono appears to have flipped over a new page on indigenisation, if his latest monetary statement is something to go by. Why is TB helpfully setting the stage for Zanu-PF?

More food for thought

There is more to come. On another day, at another forum, we had Gorden Moyo addressing the issue of food security at the US Food for Thought discussion. I am sure no pun was intended by the Americans.

They have their own type of humour, not this one!

Moyo is quoted saying: "You cannot reverse the land reform programme without causing mayhem. The next government in a new Zimbabwe will have to consult citizens on controversial policies such as this.

"We do not necessarily have to stop such policies abruptly. If ever we think of changing, say the indigenisation policy, we need to do it in a way that moves the country forward without creating social anarchy."

Get it right, dear reader.

The minister is not discounting policy reversals; he is addressing manufacturing consent around such policy reversals in order to obviate social anarchy which he fears. It is a backhanded acceptance that land reforms and indigenisation are indeed deeply rooted, profoundly popular and acceptable.

The issue is for whose benefit will such reversal be meant? And for a minister who cautions against embracing the Chinese for fear of "a new form of imperialism", I think it is quite fair to ask if he is discounting all imperialism, or only new imperialism, in which case a return to old imperialism is understandable, nay desirable.

Until controversy do us part

I want to make the last reference before turning to some kind of analysis. Well, the white man from Buhera is dead. We mourn him. For ever irrepressible, Makumbe made sure he went away amidst plumes of itching smoke, indeed not before giving the living one last shout before he resumed his long sleep, hopefully a restful one. In a true mhesvamikono or teaser-bull fashion, he got the big bulls bellowing, all to bully little ones frenetically after the few heifers in heat.

Makumbe wanted to stand in Buhera, all to replace Matinenga, whose wish-image is dual: to appear a disinterested power-player who can bow out of the game on his terms and, secondly, to stave off embarrassment which was sure to stalk him to an ignominious political end. For if you know Buhera well enough you would know that the good advocate points to no landmark, no footmark, to back up the five years he has been walking that famished land.

None at all. And the whispers were loud enough. Not that this diminishes his emulated example. Not many politicians have the sense to leave in the face of rejection, leave well before it comes.

Fighting for the Albion of Buhera

The Prime Minister, the elder bull, bellowed: "Do you know how the MDC started? Others now want to reap where they did not sow. You were not there during the difficult times." He was bellowing off little teasers who opposed Makumbe's candidature.

Indeed there was stiff resistance to Makumbe's entry, something that was beginning to make him reconsider his decision, get it from me. In any case he was a virtual stranger in his village, but a big roaring name here in Harare and the Press. But the Prime Minister needed to accompany Makumbe as he walked his last mile on this earth. And the Prime Minister was not well at all.

Yet he had to be there, and was there. An immediate thought hit me: why was it any more necessary for the elder bull to chase these little, troublesome teaser bull when the Albion of Buhera was already cold and still?

Surely there is no posthumous candidature in politics, in this world? Which can only mean the PM was taking advantage of the dead white man to address a vexatious issue well beyond Buhera West.

He was talking to his national constituency, something we have to weigh with an even hand. The issue of primaries remains vexatious. The issue of challenge to the leadership remains insoluble.

Not so homely hooligans

More controversy, this time from Matinenga. Forever a peacemaker who nevertheless fought a grim war on the wrong side, the good advocate went for his home hooligans (I deploy the term more accurately than minister Biti!). "Unonzwa vanhu vachiita maslogans vachiti nhingi mudenga. Rovera pasi. Bwa.

"Tsika nemagirazi ake. Chii chinotibatsira kana tikati munhu pasi bwa? Takati slogan iyoyo kuno hatiyidi. Ngatitsvagei imwe slogan ine zvainoreva."

This is the outgoing MP, Minister Matinenga. But that was not for long. Minister Chamisa, himself MDC-T's national organizing secretary, made a swift retort: "I want to correct Minister Matinenga. We do not believe in violence. Bwa yedu haisi yekurova vanhu asi ndeyekudonha kwemunhu." Ha-aa, what is the minister trying to say? And all this against an MDC-orchestrated campaign against Sulu Chimbetu's innocuous lyrics yekuti "batai munhu"? Which is more menacing? That's John Makumbe for you, forever controversial! Rest is peace, Sinyoro/Vemachira Machena/Vazungu vakauya nengarava!

Raging debate

Let's go back to the original matter. I notice there is a raging debate on Biti's startling disclosures and statements. Was he right to expose the underbelly of the country? Was he inciting, nay, irresponsible as a minister of Government? Which man takes pride in proclaiming on rooftop the poverty of his home, proclaiming up an anthill his own failures in fatherhood?

Besides he is the minister of Finance who must be cultivating confidence in Zimbabwe within the community of investors, the same community he addressed a few weeks back, firstly in Canada, and then in the UK. Why is he snuffing out all that.

In any case he was not being truthful, by his own subsequent admission. But that is one view. Another view, just as furious, says aa-ah well, the minister is just being open, transparent, candid. That is the quality which MDC brings to the Inclusive Government: candor against years and years of Zanu-PF opaqueness!

So many questions

I don't know which side is right or persuasive.

Maybe I should never know. But I am practical enough to ask a few questions. One, what do you expect in your Finance Minister, a despairingly accurate audit report or a fixed economy? Two, who should be in charge? Three, who is he complaining to? About? Four, now that Zimbabwe is not a company, so what?

What is the way forward? Fifth and more fundamentally, how is Zimbabwe's real value reckoned? By its most liquid asset -- money -- or something else?

Lastly, who benefits from such dashes of despairing candour? So many questions, none of which I shall attempt to answer. After all, I am not TB, never will be.

The story of united America

But I have a few points to make. The United States of America. As at 1 February 2013 at 06:36:55 PM GMT, the US debt stood at US$16, 439,570,448,680.69.

For those of us who are not numerate, that figure is US$16,4 trillion in debt, much of it to the Chinese.

If you consider that US has about 314,3 million inhabitants, this means each citizen carries a debt of US$52 297,82 from his government. I am also told that this national debt has continued to grow at an average of US$3,81 billion per day since September 28, 2007.

By the time this piece is published, the US debt will have come very close to outstripping what we have owed the world from 2000. Yet on no single American day have I heard the American Treasurer, one Rose Gumataotao Rios, a Latina, ever suggesting America should be declared broke! Why? Has our minister a better grasp of national accounts than the US Secretary? Could we second him to help the Americans so they begin to suitably mourn their full predicament?

The real bankruptcy

Secondly, why is the minister given to such levity? What is his state of mind, his mental health? Is it beginning to drag him? Or is he looking at grabbing headlines, damn the cost to the country? Even land gets pawned for elections, in his playful world where anything goes. But he can't be a fool, surely?

He knows that when land was in white hands, white-controlled banks availed as much as 74 percent in loans to their white peers in farming.

Ever since the land reforms, that loan facility has dwindled to a mere 7 percent. Why is such a staggering statistic under-drawn in relation to the country's finances which the minister runs? And why won't these banks subscribe to government paper? Is it about policy or about deeply entrenched racial structures on the financial sector? How do we deal with that?

Why is it not possible to link the near-bankruptcy of the State to the ever profitable state of foreign banks operating in Zimbabwe. Indeed to link the little fiscal space to the larger strategy of keeping the indigenised state so self-preoccupied as not to pursue larger empowerment policies?

Debilitating boldness

Thirdly, Biti has been touted as a potential rival leader for the MDC-T. Where does this levity leave him? Does it enhance his bid for party power, fortify his posture as an alternative power point? Or does it discount it? Or is there a more subtle game in town?

Of generating debilitating controversies for the MDC-T in order to hasten its electoral fate? To make it unelectable all to hasten its exit for a new dispensation under Zanu-PF leadership? Could this be a spoiler?

To what end? You see a comparable thrust from Gorden Moyo. He is gently threatening a review of land and indigenisation policies, the same way Biti castigates all community share ownership schemes as unlawful. Who benefits from such postures?

Who is allayed by such suicidal boldness?

When the monster writhes

Then you have Matinenga burying his dagga at the very heart and soul of MDC-T's compressed messaging. He no longer fancies those slogans that saw him in.

He wants out, but not before stirring a ruckus. And he does it. For the second time by the way!

Did you see the Miles Tendi piece? And of course he carries high moral ground. He is not bickering for state resources with which to buy a house. He met his basic needs from his professional earnings. He is not pushing for a longer tenure, which is why he has not been part of the primaries debate that has split the party.

He wants out! He has a profession to go back to. But what does he leave behind? A party which cannot find a candidate for Buhera West! And Chamisa pleads with Matinenga to change his mind on retirement.

Will he? The MDC-T has reached a stage where it is no longer an attractive ticket to run on. It has lost its core professionals, lost its core intellectuals. Those still in are there by sufferance. That is the crisis.

Not helped by the fact that each of its members now seeks self-salvation, now seeks to cut narrow electability privately, often against common weal.

So Biti will try and be dramatic, all to escape a common fate awaiting the condemned, ill-fated party.

So Gorden will try the same, albeit with diminished finesse. The monster writhes its last, its overall message badly de-centered. That is the crisis.

And in such circumstances, only Zanu-PF can defeat Zanu-PF! Icho!

nathaniel.manheru@zimpapers.co.zw

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