The Herald (Harare)

17 January 2014

Zimbabwe: Hon Ministers - When the Drumbeat Changes

column

I plead guilty. I abandoned post for quite a while, and then returned to it without feeling I owed my bosses any explanation. For that I have been suitably chastised. I deserve it. I take it.My big apology to you my readers for going AWOL since late last year. I have dug a hole in the ground, and spat into it. I will never do it again. Ndapfidza!

One Nadia Piffaretti

I could not believe it, reading a view on our economy from the World Bank lady, one Nadia Piffaretti.

I will ignore her growth projections for our economy, but will come back to it in some instalment. I want to highlight something which all but one of our media missed totally.

Or simply entombed into acres and acres of inane editorial grey.

Nadia Piffaretti (what nationality is this girl, what naming culture that gives us such a long, phonetically intricate surname in this age of parsimony?), I am told, is the World Bank's senior country economist for Zimbabwe. And it showed.

She said: "The rand has lost a lot of ground and that situation is not going to reverse anytime soon. And this presents problems because the Zimbabwean economy experienced a rebound when the dollar was weak, but now when it (the dollar) is going the opposite direction, Zimbabwe finds itself in serious problems as it has a weak economy being funded by a strong dollar . . .

"This brings in the issue of competitiveness. It's cheaper to import than to export, therefore the import bill will continue rising on a permanent basis."

Envy's argument

Dear reader, I kindly request that you re-read the quote from the World Bank lady. Do it for me, please! South Africa's rand is weakening.

Drastically too, in ways that are reminiscent of what we went through before we dollarised. Cynics would say, yes, South Africa is becoming an African country, an African economy finally, like all of us.

The South Africans thought they were smart, now they are becoming like all of us. Such sentiments and some such spite I have heard from jealous Zimbabweans and other Africans.

I don't know what it is about us. We love each other's company so much that none from our whole African lot must prosper. It breaks our unity, all of it founded on the commonality of poverty we share.

Eeh, that's us, and we are proud believers in a genus of poverty which equalises, which levels. We have no problem with a rich white man.

We have big problem with a black man breaking past poverty, breaking the ranks of collective poverty.

My blackman, my blackman, why thou forsaken me, we yell in ill unison!

So the South Africans are imaged as a haughty nation once in denial, but just about to acknowledge their African fate in spite of themselves.

And there is envy's grin, splitting our African faces, those of from up north of the Limpopo.

When we cannot sell, even to ourselves

Because of envy, we miss a key difference which makes South Africa escape our fate, indeed which is likely to make South Africa take a different trajectory, thus defining its own fate as one sui generis.

Apart from being a huge economy by continental and even world standards, South Africa is a producer economy, a manufacturing economy that we are not, that we are failing to be.

Indeed that we seek to be through Zim-Asset's fourth pillar, that of beneficiation and value addition. I wish us good luck, but South Africa is already there, firmly ensconced, and we are not.

Quite the contrary, we have been taking a dramatic reverse jive in flashy style, much like young man Guppy, the Dickensian coxcomb of "Bleak House" fame.

When a huge, manufacturing economy has its currency weakening, next to a neighbour of a weak manufacturing base, next to a neighbour whose sense of sovereignty strangely translates into a monetary philosophy that dollarises, the result is not a South Africa which joins us in standard indigence, in typical post-colonial "African" poverty.

The result is a stronger producer or manufacturing economy which becomes so big an export juggernaut that we who are her neighbours instantly transform into giant warehouses, into one giant mass consumer market.

A weakening rand, within the context of a customs union, becomes a formidable export boosting strategy. And whatever we produce, in our puny-ness, with the attendant poor workmanship, the attendant inefficiencies, the attendant poor packaging, selling, marketing, you name it, becomes so unattractive, so uncompetitive that we cannot ourselves buy, it given an alternative.

Do we get that? That is what the Piffaretti girl is trying to drum into our heads, Zimbabwean ladies and gentlemen!

Cravers of things imported

Let me show you the sheer ramifications of not getting the girl's important message, the same way we didn't get it when one Nathaniel Manheru not just broached it, but also illustrated by examples from Delta, Dairiboard and some such manufacturers.

That was last year. Today we have messages from our Industry and Trade Ministry telling us Government is busy revising the import tariff regime.

And there are compelling reasons for doing that. We have got to a stage where we are importing even mineral water, some of which yield dregs that we happily chew as the grand finale to that watering process, heads lost in misty pretensions of membership to high class.

We import mineral water, we who own the Pungwe River, itself reckoned as only second to the snowy and yet gracefully tumbling rivers of Geneva.

Those waters hardly need treatment to become pure and mineral, the fad and excuse for selling them as bottled commodities.

But we prefer waters bottled from some borehole in Johannesburg, that heavily mineralised (not mineral) and therefore contaminated and condemned water source.

That's us, cravers of all things imported.

Where is industry, with all this . . .

A normal government does something to trim such jaded, outlandish and decidedly irresponsible tastes. There is more.

Officially, this is a US$4 billion economy. Yet we import US$8 billion worth of goods and services, largely from South Africa. Where is the other US$4 billion coming from? Where is the revenue from imports generated from it?

We need better salaries for civil servants. That's us. So, very good grounds for new tariffs, prima facie. But here is another dimension.

Surely US$4 billion worth of imports cannot come from the small men and women who feed mipedzanhamo, those flea markets derisively called "Cure-Poverty".

Surely the billions cannot be accounted for by these small-time importers bringing in small, dirty garment. Or even small importers bringing in those Japanese greys, those second-hand, reconditioned vehicles which enhance logistics in the economy anyway, never mind what happens three months down the line.

Hey, Minister Bimha, the Minister of Industry and Trade, your industrialists have long become traders, have long become the second thing on your ministerial name.

They no longer manufacture or produce, which is why CZI has become such a huge, fawning lie.

Why, too, even your ministerial name is a mistake at birth mistake that ruins all that follows. Circumstantially, you have become a minister of Trade, better still Imports, Sir.

And you are doing a very bad job because your imports are evading banks and Zimra, leaving this economy anemic.

Industrial museum showroom

Here is the paradox. The minister and his ministry shall impose tariff barriers designed to save "Industry" which has itself become the biggest and leading importer!

Go to all those firms which pretend to be manufacturing and tell me how many still have any wheels turning on their premises. Including the mighty Lever Brothers!

The wheels have long become cobwebbed. Yet we still wash clean, all range of soap tablets being available, and with LB logo on their sleeves.

If the wheels are no longer turning, how come the end-product is there, in abundance?

And in place of machine operators, you shall see regiments of re-packagers doing furious work of bulk-breaking heavy lumps of imports from elsewhere. Or simply loading turn-key products hitting our markets already packaged for an inchoate consumer in Zimbabwe.

So, careful Comrade Minister, after your tariffs, there may be goods that are short. Or goods that are abundant but beyond reach. Or greater smuggling at our porous borders.

You may end up hitting the consumer, together with the economy.

Why would Innscor want to import dead, bile-soaked chicken, in place of a living, succulent chicken which is locally produced?

Why would sugar from Swaziland, imported into South Africa under Sacu rules, and them exported to Zimbabwe for Delta still cost 50 percent less than sugar fed to Delta straight from Chiredzi?

Nadia, where are you? Zimbabwe is calling!

We have got to look at what the dollar has done to our economy, and what we have done to the dollar by way of overvaluing it.

New tools will have to be developed, not template measures like tariff-raising, against a decrepit, shut-down industrial museum showroom we dare call industry.

That never gives jobs, only niche tourists!

Virtue out of private sector vice

Of course there is more than the currency relational issue. We have the whole question of decrepit technology, even more decrepit management and business models, all of which, strangely, are glorified here.

And those in Government have a lot to account for. So bad are matters in Government that we have made virtue out of private sector vice.

These extraordinarily poor managers and businessmen/woman suddenly look astoundingly pretty when viewed against a managerially ugly or inept Government.

And check it, post-budget seminar discourse or any discourse on the economy for that matter, subsists in comparing private sector practices and malpractices of government.

It is never about this or that local enterprise against its equivalent in South Africa, India, Nigeria or Korea.

Our private sector delight in ugly home competitions, never in world beauty pageants where its warty face would trigger revulsion.

We are the only country where private sector heroism is constructed from the shortcomings of the public sector as if we don't know that Governments the whole world over have never read Maslow or some such management guru.

It is a delightful escape for our gravely inefficient private sector.

Hoping for renaissance with no thinkers

And it goes deeper. So are our thinkers, principally economic commentators.

We seem to be looking for a miraculous Renaissance without a Socrates, a Copernicus, a Milton or some such.

I watched with fascination as Minister Chinamasa parleyed with John Robertson. I think John Robertson won the beauty contest, thanks to Patrick's lack of face.

Himself a lawyer, Chinamasa perplexingly allows anger to outrun discretion. He asks the organisers why they invite people like Robertson to forums such as this!

That was fatal, and a bad guy won, thanks to this human propensity for pity, for identifying with the supposed weak, the underdog.

Here was a lawyer repudiating a small white man's right to associate and be heard. Here Hon ministers: When the drumbeat changes

was a whole big minister bashing a diminutive man.

Here, too, was a strong minister of a black government bashing some little white man who is a perfect leftover of Rhodesia and its warped thinking.

Why seek his physical removal when you can pulverise him intellectually? Get him out of the way through sheer unpacking of his racist illogic, for all to see.

And the audience was predominantly black, which meant Robertson was already on a limb.

So public opinion defaulted to Robertson, thanks to Patrick who preferred anger to discretion.

What Robertson said

Here are the disastrous consequences of it all. In part, Robertson's argument said " . . . in choosing policies that isolate Zimbabwe from any prospects of attracting investors and defending policies that have forced the country to become dependent on imports of just about everything, even our main staple diet, Zimbabwe has chosen policies that are incompatible with employment growth. In claiming that we have policies designed to protect our God-given natural resources, our infinitely more precious young people are now becoming the country's main export".

He said a hell lot more: "Zimbabweans need jobs. To the investors, the only product of a mine of any importance is the mineral, but for the country, the most important product is the jobs.

"Zimbabweans need incomes and to get these they need employers from whom they will get much more than their wages. On the job, they would also get training and work experience that would genuinely empower them."

Mwana wevhu wobvunza-bvunza

Instead of seeking the annihilation of Sir John Robertson, why don't we preserve him so we put it to him kuti Mwana wevhu paya wobvunza-bvunza, nhandi mupambepfumi: Why do Zimbabweans need jobs any more acutely than the British who will not have the Japs buying into their coalfields?

How have Arabs who also need jobs been more investor-friendly than Zimbabwe when they insist on a controlling stake in their oil?

Or the Batswana in their diamonds and yet remaining a model business state that Robertson routinely cites?

Why is wanting jobs and seeking control of God-given resources mutually exclusive?

Would our "infinitely more precious young people" be any better here as mere employees of foreign mining conglomerates in their own country than they are out there as sweating exports?

How would such "training and work experience" got from being home employees and chattels of foreign concerns be any better than what they are getting presently in the Diaspora?

Is virtue in on being exploited in your home, and not abroad as a labour export?

The aboriginal white?

Robertson was a key player in writing MDC-T economic policy documents for the just-ended elections.

He also was among Tendai Biti's key advisors when Tendai was Finance Minister under the Inclusive Government.

And a lot in the above quotes suggest a second attempt at reissuing Juice, months after its rejection in a general election.

Does the fact of the electoral rejection of Robertson's clients in the form of the MDC-T in the recent elections communicate anything to him about what Zimbabweans want, the same Zimbabweans he says need "jobs", unlike any other nationality on this earth? Robertson is of white ancestry, and no white man is aboriginal to this continent, Africa?

Why is he not the "infinitely more precious young man" exported by his ancestral country in a dash of policy recklessness which he imputes to the Zimbabwe Government?

The questions he won't answer

Above all, Robertson celebrated when we dollarised. He also advised Biti against supporting agriculture to create difficulties which would create conditions for a reversal to the land question.

The new Zanu-PF government is just beginning to redirect resources back to agriculture, after a five-year hiatus which Robertson and those of his ilk counseled.

This odious habit of importing foodstuffs consolidated under Biti, without drawing any false lamentations from Robertson.

Now all estimates of Zimbabwe's recovery and growth are predicated on agricultural recovery, apart from mining, thanks to the new support.

You sometimes get the sense there is a deliberate undermining of agriculture so as to interminably permit an argument that bemoans the demise of the white farmer.

And does this whole argument being raised by the World Bank lady make any impressions on John Robertson? Could it explain why we are a net importer? Or he still blames it on indigenisation?

Which manufacturing outfit has abandoned manufacturing shop on threats of indigenisation, in the process compelling imports?

Did technology desert our industry on mere mentioning of indigenisation and empowerment of blacks? Did industry machinery grow old soon after that call?

Heeding white lessons

The big question is why an economist of such remarkable shallowness and so thinly veiled racism still gains the boldness to speak so loudly at this stage in the history of our country.

And why he is not challenged and discredited intellectually. And why he is still turning when all his peer machinery is long fastened in museum showrooms.

Frankly, I think it is because as a people, we remain daft on economics, reverential before those that once colonised us, however stupid.

We have no mind of our own.

We were given books in economics, made to read them cover to cover. But the biggest lesson we got out was to say knowledge from those white books is sacred, inviolate.

You don't tamper with it, question it, adjust it, apply it, turn it into a usable tool. It is the sacred boot; you cannot re-cobble it. Or even throw it away for another.

Rather, you trim your feet to fit it.

Today we cannot read our own circumstances. Or never believe what we read until some white man says it. We are in a perpetual class, with a white man in front, we the late governors.

Hark, I hear dark, wizened hands beating an African drum. Who dances? What dance?

Icho!

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