The day the Zimbabwean dollar died
02 February 2014 | 5025 Views
LATELY, national focus and debate has been on breathtaking malfeasances affecting key institutions of our country. The names which have stood largest in that whole debate have been ZBC, PSMAS, Marange Resources, suggestively Air Zimbabwe, and lately the Harare City Council. All these are key. ZBC carries our mind. PSMAS carries our body. Marange, jokingly dubbed "Government ATM", carries our stomach. Harare City Council is our home. Of course Air Zimbabwe carries our flag, our ambition, our pretensions to greatness. Arguably, these institutions carry Zimbabwe between them. When they do well, national weal is assured; when they falter, we become sick, become a sickly society.
What Obama can't get
Against that background, the current concern, current anger, is quite understandable, justified in fact. Those involved must be made to pay, whoever they are, whatever they are. It should not matter whose cow gets gored. Looking at the matter, it is clear we have come to this awful state because of sins of both commission and omission. Oversight failed. Rules were abused. Old colonial practices were dusted, twisted and made to self-serve.
Above all, the moral fibre snapped making way for breathtaking venality. When that sort of greed is read against the times, the offenses get compounded, the weight of guilt multiplied. Where families are living on less than ten dollars a day, it is criminal for any one Zimbabwean, whoever they are, to take home such obscene salaries as we have seen. If you consider that Robert Mugabe, President of this country, takes home under US$4 000, the whole matter inverts the ladder, and with it our whole value system which gets thrown topsy-turvy. Much worse when you get to know that Obama struggles to reach the US$4000 000,00 mark annually. So, what has been happening in those institutions is condemnable, criminal in fact. And that such malfeasances are possible in our country, under our systems, graphically illustrates the glaring shortcomings of the whole architecture of our society. We have some homework. Iwe neni tine basa!
Where conscience still reigns
Of course you are right to retort "kwete iwe neni. Ndiwe!" You would be right and consistent with what I have always regarded as a well memorized and rehearsed Zimbabwean way of responding to challenges and failures. We look for who to blame, who to scapegoat. We are happier if the blame neatly falls within the dominant political dichotomy, seemingly upholding our own prejudices against this or that party, this or that leader, etc, etc. We are one people ready to die to prove that the world does not want us to live! Reading through reader responses to these bad stories, you are struck by the intensity of our reaction as Zimbabweans. That is most heartening, if you ask me. It means we are engaged. It means we haven't got to that stage of becoming inured to malfeasances, deadened by the abundance of malpractices, to the point of relating to the latest outrage with studied indifference, with a shrug, with equanimity if you like to sound verbose. It tells me we still have a national conscience, and it's healthy. That is the plus side of the national character.
When all are to blame
But there is a downside, the minus. To the reaction, the reader tenor is political. The thrust is blame apportionment, not always done on the basis of an informed opinion, reasoned judgment, but one prompted by the urge to bear out one's own political prejudices. It is Zanu-PF to blame. No, it is MDC to blame. We look at matters like we are set for the polling booth the next day, we an over-politicised nation. That way the debate becomes interminable, with participants pelting one another, to the total exclusion of the issue on hand. It is a national weakness, and there has to be a way of exorcising that.
The truth is that we are dealing with malfeasances which happened mainly during the tenure of the Inclusive Government. That makes all political parties in that arrangement blameworthy. Try and place all these offending institutions under their parent ministries, and you realise the whole political divide is indicted. So, seeking to locate the sin in any one political party is futile. What is more, all the parties know it, which is why Zanu-PF is subdued, and the two MDCs so reticent on a matter which ordinarily should have fired them into irrepressible political shrillness.
Venality that outlives politics
Let me compound matters a bit. The excesses at PSMAS got known to Government during the life of the Inclusive Government. The matter was discussed in Government, prompted by President Mugabe. Responsible ministers - all of them MDC - were asked to act to correct the mess. Except for one MDC-T minister, even then outside the concerned three, none acted. And this one minister was looking for a political opportunity ahead of the July polls, never for a way of resolving the matter which lay beyond his ministerial locus anyway.
Those who hate MDC-T will be gladdened, quickly accusing MDC-T of not having the will to fight corruption. And that all these matters have now been exposed under a Zanu-PF government, by Zanu-PF ministers, would seem to validate the argument that Zanu-PF chiwororo! But that is not the story coming through. Simply, corruption has the capacity to survive under, defy and outlive, any political settlement, including an inclusive one.
Political readings don't take us very far. We have to look elsewhere for answers. And now that none of the parties can claim righteousness, none escape blame, it means we have, for the first time in the life of our Nation, a chance to address the issue of corruption without any political connotations. What then are the points to note? Of course there are so many and I am sure Government will move in swiftly to plug the administrative holes. But I want to broach an often missed angle.
Cleansing ceremony for economy
Fundamentally the venality that afflicts us has no political totem, knows no sectoral confines. It thus must be fought from a pedestal of national consensus. It knows no easy, reducible confines. There is a way in which the aforementioned institutions are just but a tip of a big, national iceberg of malfeasances. As matters stand, there are many in both the public and private sector who feel vicariously indicted and also passively on trial for what is going on at ZBC, PSMAS, Marange, Air Zimbabwe and Harare City Council. For the situations at those institutions largely mirror what is going on in the Zimbabwean economy, what is going on in many enterprises.
What may be different is that ZBC, PSMAS, Marange, Air Zimbabwe and Harare City Council have been exposed and publicized. One hopes they don't end up being the only ones. As matters stand, many in oversight roles elsewhere feel as guilty as the Ministries and boards of the above enterprises I have alluded to. The problem is systemic, and let's face up to that fact. And for me the key issue is whether or not what has, and is happening, at ZBC, PSMAS, Marange, Harare City Council and suggestively Air Zimbabwe, gets sorted out conclusively and definitively, all to mark the beginning of a cleansing ceremony for the whole national economy so badly wishing for itself a new ethic. So when did the rain start to beat us? Here is my take.
One holiday for a folk
Whatever many other reasons we may find in our examination of the problem — and they are many — one thing is very clear. The dollarisation of the Zimbabwean economy equipped us with a currency which made us global players, largely for worse. True, read against the gnawing problem of currency instability which obtained then, dollarisation was indeed salutary, a salvation. But there was a downside to it, and one which unleashed very powerful demons we now have to grapple with. Dollarised wages meant that for the first time our labour was now being rewarded in a currency which enables us to transact in any market of the world. Immediately, our wage expectations became global, with our conditions of service incorporating footloose clauses. Whereas it was unthinkable to bargain for overseas holidays as a condition of service, this became a norm for a dollarised workplace. We became an itinerant people, far easier so than ever before. And as we say in Shona, new things are for the foot that travels. New tastes too!
The day the dollar died
Instantly, dollarisation made us purchasing kings in the whole of Southern Africa, in the whole world. We are the only economy where a green-pack is a daily toy for all. Elsewhere in the region, it is only found in vaults of central banks, or furtively on black markets. Not here where we easily whip it out of an old woman's bra, all to the chagrin of a haughty, well-trimmed American diplomat. One time former US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr Charles Ray cried: "Zimbabweans, is that what you have done to my country's currency?" Not only was his country's currency dirty, it had been made cheaper than our old dollar. I felt good to hear the American cry for his beloved currency. Today we have made the US dollar not just ordinary, but dirty and unsightly too, we Zimbos!
Attacking the dollar, attacking ourselves
Dollarised wages gave us a purchasing illusion of global proportions, of course in an economy too shrunk to back up that ever-convoluting illusion. After your US-denominated wage - however paltry - you felt comparable to a wage-earner in the American economy. After dollarisation, corruption became payable in the world's strongest convertible currency, as a matter of rule. Not that this was not happening before, but that now and ever after, it had to happen in that currency, however petty the corruption was.The only other way of escalating the transactional value of corruption would have been to award it in actual carats of diamonds, or nuggets of gold, a real escalation indeed! And when we dollarised, we transferred the run-down value of our own dollar to the American dollar, which is why it is only in Zimbabwe that a loaf of bread costs one US dollar! Not only did we attack the American dollar physically, we also attacked its value, in the process making ourselves very expensive by its reckoning.
Off to Disneyland
So after dollarisation, our national tastes became cosmopolitan in the global sense. And we had the means to travel far afield in pursuit of those esoteric, advanced tastes that bore no relationship to the state of our economy, of our cuisine, or of our level of development. Suddenly we discovered we could afford what we never produced or developed, what we don't cook, can't cook! It did not matter what rung you occupied on the national incomes ladder.
At the end of dollarisation, we all had the monetary facility by way of the US dollar for global travel, global cuisine, global holidaying, global shopping, and yes, for global sex and the attendant global strains of infections. So, too, did our children. For no longer did each calendar holiday present the usual spectre of going kumusha, going to the rural areas; rather, each holiday was eagerly awaited, presenting the prospects of a trip to Disneyland, Dubai, Shanghai and some such geographically remote yet now so close destinations, given the purchasing reach of the dollar, and the rising speed and travel of our taste buds.
Today when little ones cry, we no longer quieten them by invoking the fear of lurking unicorns, those nondescript monsters of the dark; no we wipe off their tears through supple and tender offers of expensive holidays to Dubai. Nyarara zvako mwanangu, mangwana tinoenda kuDubai! In some cases, part of our families live abroad, with husbands only flying in to mate the Queen Bee. That is us, a dual citizenry and we can afford it.
Even if you occupy lower rungs, with the dollar - the new national fever - you dash to places within the region both to shop, to play and to order merchandise for resale. In those countries, you dominate, stick out, thanks to the dollar. Little men and women here, become shopping giants across the Limpopo. That has made us traders, long distance traders. And because traders need warehouses, we have closed all factories, converted them into warehouses.
America's haughty, foster child
And unlike in the "dark" days of the Zimdollar, and its onerous and corruptible exchange controls, this time you simply need to save if honest, to wait for set holiday times if "well" employed, or to collect your rewards if corrupt. And then off you go, unasked. The whole bureaucratic and monetary maze that stood between you and the world in the odious past of national currency and controls, is gone, and before you lies the whole world and your green purse, sorry pack. Yes, you feel Americanised, a haughty child of a borrowed global power founded on an adopted powerful currency belonging to a nation we blame for all our woes. Some have gone as far as buying holiday homes abroad.Many have sent their children to faraway schools and universities, all bills paid from home, unaided by institutions as used to be the norm. I am not pooh poohing honest parents who have supported their schooling children from their hard earnings; I am only pointing out that we could not all be honest citizens, fathers, mothers and parents.
We look everywhere
Overall, the result of this mass hysterical currency deviance is there for all to see. We, a small, four billion-dollar economy, today shoulder an $8bn-import bill! And of course that means a whole subterranean economy, stout enough to match the official one - dollar for dollar - is about. There is a "State" in apposition, only still civil not to challenge the official one. But it is socialising the other half of our nation, well away from official rules and means. It has big-headed citizens, made bigger by their dollar power, however ill-gotten. And because big monies transact in that arcane world, its big players once accidentally fished out, cannot understand why this furore about "earning" fabulous amounts. Our values are now global, as also are our standards, benchmarks. We no longer dream of millionaires abroad; we have brought them within our view mirrors and we seek to outdo them. True, while our leaders have asked us to look East only, we have looked East, West, North and South, all in pursuit of our globalised tastes. And we can afford to look in all directions, thanks to the dollar. Some looked South for imperial conquest; others north, south, east and west for markets. We look everywhere for spending, we a consumption nation, we a consumption people. Cry the beloved country.
Worse than Mother's n*kedness
Just wonder up Shawasha Hills, or any new housing scheme on the other side of the railway line, of foully smelling Mukuvisi, and tell me what you see. Ornamented obscenities far worse than your own Mother's n*kedness. Those obscenities which parade as homesteads. Twenty bedrooms, tennis courts atop, several, stout garages, all these for one uneasy couple, serving one, ever diminishing life! And the key question to ask is how such a small, anaemic economy affords such obscene symbols of a leisured life. Not leisured class, for classes are founded on control of the means of production.
As Zimbabweans we control none, which is why the biggest employer is Government, followed by these massive palatial homesteads. We are a leisured people who are not a leisured class, which is why the wheel of fortune always turns downward for us all. We have nothing to bequeath to our children, except those huge, expensive structures which soon go under the hammer. We can't even back up our mansions by honest paper trail, evidence that we borrowed for it all. Our monies are not earned from wealth; our loud leisure is not founded on class achievements, on sweating assets.
That is why the land is idle, why Rhodesian factories have no takers, why the wheel of industry is not turning. That is why we batten on well-to-do white Rhodesians, each one of us bragging by the size of our white godfather. That is why we hate indigenisation, preferring the idle indolence of being recipients of white or investor patronage. How do you explain the paradox that an economy claiming not to have working capital for its industries has endless capital for luxurious homes, for its ever mounting consumption? It cannot save, cannot postpone consumption for productive activities?
Screened by fufuro
Today we must acknowledge that we have dollarised, that we have created a basket of currencies of countries whose economies have now become our shopping malls, holiday resorts, our fleshpots. All controls that used to keep greed in check, that used to help prop national morality, that used to make accountability enforceable, have given way. Old rules can no longer bridle the new, outward, worldly, consumptive and footloose national personality. We thus need new national rules not just to check this destructive stampede towards the exotic we ill afford, but also to take us back to the days when we used to be a nation at work, not one at leisure, screened from the sun by lucre, fufuro in Shona. The task, I can assure you, is larger than a Chief Secretary of Government re-writing rules of engagement. The sin, I too can assure you, is larger than Dube, Muchechetere and Mahachi who have now become easy targets of our evasive opprobrium.
One more tale from Old Wives
We need a new national morality compact, itself the basis of a new economy. Old wives tell of the story of a long queue of animals, all of them newly pledged to a new dietary life shorn of rotten carcasses. They had undertaken to eat fresh foods, much like all civilised animals. To make good that pledge, they all agreed to file past rotten carcasses, each spitting "puuu chitunha", in total and irrevocable disgust and collective catharsis. The hyena, greedy as always, got its turn, lowered its jaws, drivel running faster, harder, eager than the conformist curse required of it. It went lower, lower, before uttering its curse, dutifully, most reluctantly. The ceremony ended just before twilight, disappointingly for the hyena. It hoped for better times ahead and didn't have much longer to wait. Soon night fell, with it a drape of inky darkness. The hyena went missing in that menacing darkness.
The night wore on, wore off. Then the morning came, brighter than always, with sharp rays piercing eyeballs of citizens of this animal kingdom, all freshly sworn to a less filthy lifestyle. They all wondered why the usually hospitable morning rays had suddenly become so harsh, pricking their eyeballs. Soon they found out why. The vlei of their happy play woke up strewn with ashen white carrion, woke up full of bones, all of them meticulously licked to blinding brightness. Someone must have eaten the carcasses of collective derision. Far in the distance, well away from the rest of animal kingdom, came the stout laughter of a happy hyena. But the rest of the animals, still blinded by the reflection, could only hear the laughter. In blinding reflection, they could not see the culprit. Today the priest, pastor and prophet - all along symbols of chaste self-denial - do drool, barely spitting, longingly looking at passion and avarice's carcass. Shall this Nation ever again see its own foibles? Remake a new ethos? Icho!
Nathaniel Manheru can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Zimbabwe dollar Dollar Nathaniel Manheru
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