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Opinion: What is the Zimbabwe problem?

In this article I contend that greed (for money, wealth and power) is the Zimbabwe problem. At the onset, power is mobilised to acquire money and wealth and in the case of Zimbabwe, power is predominantly gained from politics, state military machinery, religious authority (includes undeserved authority through the use of fake religious credentials e.g. claims that one can speak to god or is a man of god, and education which also includes use of fraudulent academic qualifications for deception and prestige and this is very common with senior public figures. Once money and wealth is accrued, power is further mobilised to ensure that the amassed gains are retained by all means necessary. The Zimbabwe problem as articulated above applies to the period spanning the onset of colonisation in the early 1890’s to date and it unveils itself through the bleak socioeconomic inequalities that have plagued this nation for close to one and a half centuries.

In saying this I am not suggesting that before colonisation, Zimbabwe was not afflicted with greed, but it was restrained by institutions which frowned upon it and in its place enforced sharing and redistribution. During the Mutapa dynasty, Rozvi empire, Mzilikhazi’s and Lobengula’s reign, wealth was held in custody of the people. Where required, it was redistributed to those in need through various means such as cattle loans, Zunde ramambo etc. It is encouraging to note that we still practice some of these tenets, for example today Zimbabwe’s direct foreign currency inflows are dominated by what economists refer to as “international remittances” but in actual fact these represent a form of sharing between those who have and those who do not.

Unfortunately, the above redistributive practices have been overshadowed by individualistic practices where wealth and money gained through various forms of unrestrained and in some cases undeserved power is channelled to particular individuals and their dependents. This failure to respect the principle of equal or fair distribution of wealth and power weakened and in some cases destroyed some of the empires mentioned above. Similarly, the gross inequality that Zimbabweans are enduring today has rendered the country ripe for a popular rebellion.

However, we have historical and contemporary examples which strongly call for caution, these include the Libya uprising and more recently the street protest that aided or legitimised the removal of Robert Mugabe from power. Today, Libya cannot be described as a much more peaceful and prosperous country than it was during Gaddafi’s era, equally Zimbabwe has now become a far more dangerous place to live in than it was during Mugabe’s era.

Some have argued that, the Zimbabwe Problem is colonialism, white settler neo-colonialism, nationalist authoritarianism, corruption etc. In the rest of the article I will argue that greed is the seed of some of these important factors to a point where in some instances they become mere instruments and outcomes of Greed for Money, Wealth and Power. In the conclusion I will assert that for the nation to solve the Zimbabwe problem, the starting point would be the redistribution of the money, wealth and power acquired through excessive greed. Some will maintain that this is impractical citing the chaotic land reform but it is important to acknowledge that for Robert Mugabe, land reform was to a large extent opportunistic, and a means to fix the white farmers whom he believed were sponsoring a new opposition party the MDC. Nevertheless, at the end of this and subsequent articles, it will become clear through concrete examples indicating how the redistributive process can be implemented immediately, at a fraction of the running cost of the ineffectual and highly politicised anti-corruption commission.

This will require major reforms, but as Professor Jonathan Moyo and other political scientists have pointed out, ZANU PF cannot reform itself out of power. And as I have pointed out in previous articles, the main opposition party has not demonstrated political and thought leadership which suggests that they have thinkers capable of transcending the status quo. Specific examples will be provided in the main text but of note is the role they played inviting sanctions on the basis of claims that the government has failed to respect property rights without paying any attention whatsoever to the historical grievances concerning the property in question. In my view, the redistributive processes can only be implemented by the silent majority comprised of all who didn’t gain freedom from the 1980 political independence.

As a young man growing up in Zimbabwe where we are raised to accord respect to older people, I fell into the false confidence trap. I believed the future of my country was secure because we had and still have educated people including the then prime minister Robert Mugabe, only to realise years later, that his University degrees could not totally whitewash his primate side, unambiguously demonstrated by his role in the Matabeleland genocide.

I also had a false belief that the Zimbabwe ex-combatants freed me, but realised they only freed themselves together with their friends and families, for how could I be free when I as a holder of a doctorate degree cannot find a job in my country of birth where over 96% of us are unemployed.

How could we be free when one can be shot for protesting and young women sexually abused by civil servants employed to protect their rights.

I thought our parastatals will remain intact only to realise they were headed by uneducated ex-combatants who felt they were entitled to a job that they are not qualified to do.

I was so sure our people would never end up as economic migrants in foreign lands as I had seen of countries surrounding Zimbabwe because I was confident that only Ian Smith’s Rhodesians government could deprive black Zimbabweans of their rightful citizenship, only to be shocked that even the self-appointed liberation heroes could.

I remined confident that our then University of Oxford educated finance minister knew best when he agreed to devalue the Zimbabwe dollar in the 1990’s on the advice of young barely out of university white Harvard graduates working at the World Bank and IMF. Even as an uneducated young man, I was not convinced there was any advantage in devaluation which only cheapens the export of cotton and gold but lead to the importation of manufactured products priced at over 1000% of export proceeds.

These experiences have made me and perhaps my generation lose faith in the elites, the elders, the politicians whom we celebrated at independence, and an opposition steeped in the neoliberalism dogma, it made me realise, a truly post independent leader is yet to emerge.

Therefore this paper is motivated by the sad realisation that our future has never been in safe hands and it still isn’t, unless and until it is squarely in the hands of the silent majority.

Before I proceed, I think it is important that I provide further clarification of my positionality. In this piece, I write not as a politician, social or political scientist or historian because I am not any of the above. I write as a Zimbabwean with lived experiences and basic historical knowledge of our country. Most importantly, I write for the silent majority rather than scholars, politicians or beneficiaries of unearned wealth.

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Conceptualising the Zimbabwe problem as I have intimated (greed for money, wealth and power) gives us the opportunity to become aware that our problems cannot be solely blamed on white settlers, ZANU PF or MDC but it transcends all social spaces, religion, government, public and private corporations.

In this paragraph I would like to illustrate that greed sees no race and how greed points to the heart of the Zimbabwe problem much more than colonialism. I hope to achieve this objective by providing a brief account of how both white settlers and the politically connected black Zimbabweans ended up with land so large that they could not practically utilise it but still kept it for themselves.

In the UK where most of the white settlers came from, the average farm size is less than 90 hectares but at the onset of the colonisation of Zimbabwe, the pioneer column mercenaries were awarded 1 200 hectares of land each as a reward for invading Mashonaland and another 2 600 for invading Matabeleland. As a result, some of the mercenaries ended up with close to 4 000 hectares of land, but these land rights were easily exchanged with mining claims and in some cases cash. Therefore, it was and it still isn’t uncommon for white Zimbabweans to own as much as 120 000 hectares of land. Because of limited capital, technological advances and labour shortages, it was impossible to utilise this land in full.

Despite the excessive land holdings, at one point the white settler mercenaries comprised in part of young working class lads from the slams of London and other cities in the UK were prepared to completely deprive black Zimbabweans of all their land. This was only averted through a court challenge in which the then figurehead of colonial expansion, the Queen of England intervened on behalf of black people.

The above historical episode partly illustrates the prominence of self-interests than colonialism which undeniably, still lives with us today.

Fast forward to the fast track land reform, some black recipients of A2 farms (most likely ex-combatant or influential member of the ruling party) accorded themselves farms that are just as huge as their white settler predecessors. Today some of the beneficiaries of A2 farms are growing weeds, even as the country fails to feed itself. I am aware that some scholars dispute that the majority of land is in the hands of political elites but the reality is that we currently do not have reliable statistical information, because from my professional experience as a scholar, ZIMSTATS is not fit for purpose. Nevertheless, I am very confident that if an independent land audit was to be carried out, it will reveal that ZANU PF politicians and their beneficiaries are at the centre of the greedy land grabs.

The above white settler and black A2 farm recipient analogy represent a direct transfer of an historical injustice, from white to black and is clearly not redistributive.

Aside from the oversized A2 farm sizes, why does a beneficiary of an A2 farm awarded on the basis that the beneficiary is capable of carrying out commercial agriculture also deserve an additional means of income as a minister, or member of parliament. In my view, the recipients of A2 farms have to be forced to make a choice, between farming and employment, they cannot have their cake and eat it, especially when 96% of Zimbabweans are unemployed?

Some Zimbabwe journalists have achieved fame by reducing the Zimbabwe problem to government corruption but surely it can’t be that simple. At the exciting height of Mnangagwa’s dubious second republic, various people leaked confidential and official documents exposing all sorts of corrupt activities hoping that his regime would do something but to no avail. Some of the information that was leaked included salaries of top managers at the MDC run town councils where executives at Harare city council were (and possibly still are) paying themselves salaries going up to US$21 000 per month, pecs included fully paid school fees for their children, company cars, option to buy residential stands at less than 10% of market value etc and yet in Harare and other cities, it has become normal for urban dwellers to depend on bush pumps for their water supply. As if that’s not enough, Harare city is pumping water that smells of sewage into people’s homes, given this injustice, what performance outcome would conceivably justify a salary of US$252 000 per annum, this is clearly rent extraction, unearned income bordering on outright theft.

Besides the opposition party, executives in private corporations are renumerating themselves salaries that do not correspond with any known salary grading system. There is publicly available information about a civil service medical aid company executive who paid himself US$236 000 per month. Surely running a medical aid company which collects subscriptions from civil servants cannot be that complicated and is no different from harvesting ripe tomatoes. I am far more qualified than this man and I have never had, nor ever applied for or let alone see a job advert that offers such an amount even in the most developed countries. How does Zimbabwe, a country with a monthly per capita income of US$94.02 manage to pay someone US$3 million per annum?. To make matters worse, while he was collecting this obscene salary, some hospital bills of vulnerable medical aid subscribers went unpaid.

He is not alone in this, similar salary scales have been identified at NASSA, National roads and several other state and private entities.

Zimbabwe and indeed Southern Africa is infested with wealthy religious leaders, who popularly call themselves men of God. Becoming a man of God does not require any training in theology, but a mere visit to a voodoo priests (aka spiritual father) somewhere in Africa and coming back a “pastor”, “papa”, “major one” capable of miracles and speaking to god. They gain authority from these self-aggrandising antics, which they then mobilise to psychologically or perhaps mystically compel their congregants to pay them money which they do not have. With this money, they now live in mansions and some even own private jets.

Jesus was born in a stable, and rode a donkey as his main means of transport while the romans travelled in luxury horse drawn carriages and lived in mansions. It doesn’t take much to realise that, materialism and occultic practices conflict with Christian values.

Indeed the government is turning a blind eye to all the above excesses, but are they entirely to blame or is this a typical example of the Zimbabwe problem.

Renowned historians such as Professor Ndlovu-Gatsheni, the late Professor Masiphula Sithole and several others have called for an urgent need to end nationalist authoritarian violence. Similarly, the MDC touched on the same issue in their recent 2023 elections campaign poster. In the ensuing paragraph I will articulate what I would consider a plan and a strategy to deal with this endemic problem, readers can then compare that with the MDC’s position to ascertain whether indeed there is validity in some of the complaints that they are failing to articulate a plan or strategy which the voters can use as a basis to decide where to put their vote. At this critical juncture, Zimbabwe cannot afford another Frederick Chiluba, Emmerson Mnangagwa or Robert Mugabe, voters must reject charismatic authority and insist on substance.

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The use of excessive and unrestrained power cannot be illustrated any better than the Nhari rebellion executions and Gukurahundi, acknowledging these and several other past wrongs will ensure that authoritarian violence ends for good. As far as I am aware, there has never been a commission of enquiry into the former, and as a result the victims and their loved ones have been denied justice and closure. Conversely, there was an enquiry and reports pertaining to the latter but these have been deliberately withheld from the public, survivors and their relatives. Consequently, there will never be total peace and harmony until and unless perpetrators of these egregious activities have faced some form of consequences. I am obviously not suggesting trial at the Hague but at least the victims need to be given the opportunity to decide or take part in a dialogue about reparation, the perpetrators of these disgraceful acts of violence do not have the moral standing to decide the best course of action. Where in the world does a criminal have the right to decide how a victim of violent crime must be recompensed.

In the previously mentioned campaign poster, the MDC came up with what I would characterise as a laundry list of about twelve demands, one of which was “Stop Political Violence”. Is it at all possible that ZANU PF would end violence merely because the MDC demanded that they should? And if they can, why have they not done so in the past twenty two years of the MDC’s existence?

In the rest of this paper I will touch on what the silent majority driven redistributive framework could be premised on, but this will be clarified in a separate article.

Sprouting from every part of Harare and other towns are mansions, some with 50 bedrooms and bullet proof windows and owned by a whole spectrum of society including civil servants shrewd enough to cover their tracks and ensure that no forensic auditor in this world would ever prove corruption, theft or any form of illegality. The few who get caught usually end up evading jail and in some cases trial, thanks to the government sanctioned and self-explanatory “catch and release” policy. Consequently, there has not been many (if at all) successful prosecutions relating to illicitly acquired wealth and yet the solution is very simple. Why not simply charge a bedroom tax on all the rooms that exceeds immediate needs and use the revenues from such a tax to fund housing schemes for the homeless and vulnerable members of the community.

The previously mentioned executive of a medical aid company who paid himself US$236 000 per month was investigated by the Zimbabwe anti-corruption commission and found not to have a case to answer and yet by all standards, his salary ticks the boxes of unearned and underserved income. Why not simply charge a 99% tax on all salaries and wages exceeding US60 000 per annum backdated to 2009 and use the funds to refinance and revive the manufacturing industry?

Based on confidential documents that were leaked at the height of the new dispensation, I calculated that a well-known flamboyant business man owns more than 250 hectares of urban land and he is one of many. Some will argue that he worked for it but the implication is that through laws of supply and demand, a young bank clerk or teacher will never afford urban land if monopolised by a few. Why not simply limit municipal land ownership to a maximum of 20 hectares per nuclei household and thereby force prices down through forced sales of excess land and in the process make urban land available and affordable to millions of prospective home owners.

Politicians and many others are importing supercars worth over a US$1 million to add to their fleet of luxury cars just when the majority of Zimbabweans are living in poverty. Instead of wasting taxpayers money funding the anticorruption commission and their useless lifestyle audits used to investigate such conspicuous consumption, why not charge 99% tax on all cars and houses that exceed four or yet to be determined number that exceeds immediate use value. Income generated from this can be channelled towards dual carriageways to facilitate in country trade and reduce road carnage on our roads which have largely remained in a similar and in many cases worse state than the Rhodesians left them.

The military has been involved in several atrocities against citizens, what does it take to reduce its size to 50% of what it was in November 2017? Zimbabwe has been at peace for several decades, what justification do we have to fund an army that consumes state resources equivalent to the higher education budget?

The list could go on but attentive readers will ask the question, how is this different from the MDC 2023 national election campaign laundry list?

In response I would reiterate that it is very unlikely that ZANU PF would be capable or interested in implement the above mentioned redistributive program because it will implicate most of its leadership. Secondly, the MDC’s failure to acknowledge historical and existential grievances pertaining to “property rights” makes it a suspicious contender especially to those who are demanding reparation for wrongs relating to unjust wealth e.g. wealth acquired through cheap labour, chibharo (forced labour), land expropriation, excessive salaries that tick all the legality boxes but morally unjust etc.

The proposed redistributive program does not outrightly preclude ZANU PF and the MDC, but the evidence provided in this article suggests that naturally, they exclude themselves. If indeed that is the case, who will implement it?

This will be explained in a follow-up article in which I will propose a more concrete redistributive framework which if agreed upon and ratified by the silent majority, the implication will be that it will not be impossible or too late for a new politics to emerge before the 2023 elections. If this were to happen, it will be a much better option than an imminent unchanneled popular uprising.

 Dr Mike Chipere is a postdoctoral fellow affiliated with the Human Economy Program housed at University of Pretoria. Ideas expressed in this article are his and not representative of any organisation.

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