What we do for ourselves we do for our country

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STEMBILE MPOFU

Living in Zimbabwe is getting more difficult each day. It is not possible to speak to anyone without them expressing the financial difficulties they are encountering. Transport costs have risen, fuel is in short supply, medication is unaffordable for most, and basic goods are expensive. Most people are imploring government to get rid of the bond note; others say that the official rate of 1:1 is killing businesses. The shortage of forex is adversely affecting the operations of many manufacturing concerns.

When so much is going wrong we need to talk about what we are experiencing. You listen to others, they listen to you and you commiserate with each other. This is the way we deal with stress and share our pain. It is a way to vent our frustrations and manage the difficulties being experienced. Often we will try and identify the source of the problems and understand why things are happening as they are. The reasons are easy to find. For almost two decades Zimbabwe has been in political turmoil stemming from the fact that the standard of living has slowly been deteriorating. Employment decreased and many Zimbabweans left the country in search of greener pastures. This dissatisfaction with how the Zanu PF government was running the economy led to the rise of the opposition party MDC. Since the MDC’s formation there has been a battle for political power.

Years and years of grueling political turmoil turned most Zimbabweans into political experts. Zimbabweans lived and breathed politics. Convinced that the answer to our problems would be the exit of Robert Mugabe from the political stage, Zimbabweans celebrated when the military intervention saw him removed from power. The politics had given way to the possibility of a new dawn. While the political battles raged, Zimbabweans had endured the economic turmoil brought about by the corruption and mismanagement of the Zanu PF government. 2008 saw individual pensions and savings wiped out by the collapse of the country’s currency. The multi-currency regime brought some relief from the debilitating inflation and for some years some stability.

Unfortunately the use of the US dollar as the currency for exchange made it easier to externalise funds. Corrupt government officials capitalised on this. The numerous presidential trips to unnecessary conferences were a way money was taken from treasury. Quite by chance we learnt of the million dollars spent by Grace Mugabe on an expensive diamond ring. This gave us a glimpse of the theft that was taking place at high levels. Corruption scandals were the order of the day, many of them exposed because of the infighting that was taking place within Zanu PF.

As government corruption bled the fiscus, private sector corruption was rampant too. Externalisation of money earned in business and of mineral resources being mined meant that less money was going into the fiscus. The extent of private sector corruption was hardly ever exposed but it was equally rampant.

The bond note was introduced, ostensibly as an export incentive but its true purpose was to plug up the ever-growing hole in the fiscus. It gave the government the opportunity to borrow money through treasury bills so that it could meet its obligations. And borrow the government did. According to the Parliament Budget Office the budget deficit could reach $3 billion by the end of the year. Government borrowed to pay civil service salaries and for the agricultural input scheme that saw inputs being distributed to citizens in the lead up to the July 31 election.

It is clear that what has brought us here is many years of bad economic habits. It is now time to take stock. Like an addict that realises how his addiction has ravaged his life and decides to stop taking his drug of choice, Zimbabwe has now taken steps to begin the process of withdrawal from its past economic practices. Like any addict the pain of withdrawal will make us yearn for the fragile comfort that was brought about by these bad habits. We will wish to go back to the relative stability of the pre-election period when we were struggling but coping a little better than we are coping now. Even though we know that the economic situation at that time was far from ideal, it was much better than what we are experiencing now. An addict will shake and shiver and go through immense physical pain as their body adjusts to the absence of the drug in their system. This is what Zimbabweans must also undergo in order to break with the past.

So as we protest about the current state of affairs, vent our frustration and commiserate and comfort each other, let us also force ourselves to take a step back and begin to think of our individual futures and our country’s future. Our first step is to move away from the mindset that we are powerless and have no part to play in determining the country’s future trajectory. After 20 years of political contest we tend to think that politics and politicians take up all the space and are the ones with the sole responsibility of taking the country forward. So often we hear people lament, “if only government could do this or that, then maybe things will get better”. We wait in hopeless expectation that our government will create jobs for us and ensure that a certain environment prevails before we can begin to realise progress. This is a false narrative propagated by politicians because it puts them in front and centre of our lives. We must discard it because we all have a part to play.

We are currently experiencing the pain brought about by certain economic measures that have been introduced by the Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP) and the 2018 Budget. The intent of the measures is to reduce the budget deficit and for us to meet the loan repayment obligations we have agreed to with our external creditors. Once done, business will be able to access lines of credit without government guarantees. It is revenue generated by us the citizens that will make it possible to achieve this. In the meantime however, we will be the ones to feel the pain of withdrawal. While we are at this point we must be thinking creatively and constructively about ways to ensure that our government does not relapse and begin doing the things that have brought Zimbabwe to this economic quagmire.

To do this we must fully acquaint ourselves with the undertakings that have been made by government vis a vis cutting expenditure and instituting fiscal discipline. We can spend our energy challenging government on the issue of payment of duty in forex for cars and other luxury goods, but that is a non-issue in the light of the bigger issues that will ensure real change happens. We must take interest and demand transparency with regards infrastructure projects, ensure that the trimming of the civil service takes place, keep track of the progress being made on the privatisation of parastatals. The media and business must track the budget and its promises diligently. Parliament should play its role to the fullest. MPs must begin to engage seriously with these issues and desist from the political posturing that has characterised the August house since elections.

Corruption must be tackled head on. The fight against corruption must not only focus on historical cases. Current cases that emerge must be dealt with swiftly and decisively. A clear message must be sent to those who use their positions to carry out actions that impoverish the nation that such behaviour will no longer be tolerated.

As citizens we must juxtapose our expectations against the reality of our situation. Our country is not producing enough goods to earn the forex required to meet our requirements for fuel, for medicines, wheat imports and a host of other essentials. No amount of protests or strikes will change this situation. Neither will dialogue between political parties. If Nelson Chamisa and ED Mnangagwa were to sit down today and declare a truce, the country will still not have enough forex to meet its needs. The answer to our economic challenges does not lie in political dialogue, as politicians would have us believe.

Doctors and teachers will strike and demand to be paid in forex but the probability of that happening is very slim. If there is no forex to purchase the fuel needed to power the economy so more revenue can be generated, is it realistic for government to pay civil servants in forex?

What will bring about change in the medium to long term is if we begin to channel our energy towards producing goods and services that we can export to earn forex for the country. We need to begin to see our country as a complete unit and see how everything is related to the next thing. Our actions and interactions influence the whole and therefore influence us as individuals. When individual businesses decide to raise their prices to maximise their profits, they are poisoning their own chalice. If the price of stock feed is inflated it means the price of meat will increase putting it way out of the reach of many. Stockbreeders will sell less, the drop in demand means they will breed less livestock and therefore need less stock feed. The stock feed business will therefore find itself with little business in the medium to long run.

We must know that whatever individual choices we make influence the state of our country. Decisions and choices that are negative will create a negative environment for everyone in the same way positive choices have a positive effect on the whole. We need a fiscally disciplined government that has zero tolerance for corruption. Our parliamentary representatives must begin to work for the good of the people as opposed to indulging in political posturing that brings no benefit to the nation. Our opposition parliamentarians recently chose protest over engagement and as a result missed the budget presentation when it is them we will rely on to challenge any budgetary transgressions. Our business community must take a long-term view of their profit-making mandate, realising that at the end of the day they need a financially healthy population if they are to succeed. Fleecing consumers means that in the medium to long term few will be able to afford the goods and services on offer and their businesses will fail. There is an urgent need for our citizens to begin to engage in activities that will see the country producing more goods that earn forex. We must change our mindset from that of waiting to be employed to that of creating our own employment.