Nick Mangwana View From The Diaspora
Zimbabwe has almost reached a national debt crisis. People are owing money for everything from electricity that hardly “comes” to local authority taxes as well as water and other council utilities.
Debt collection is now one of the most lucrative industries in the country. But then the crisis does not end there. It’s now pervading every part of the nation.
There are people that can afford to pay their debts but simply choose not to, because it is simply not wired into them that when one borrows they have to pay back. The writer recalls an incident that happened many years ago in one mining township.
There was a woman who ran a poultry project on their yard. She would sell chickens on credit to mine workers and at the end of the month she would go to the workplace on payday to collect her dues.
Those were the days when people were paid their wages in labelled envelopes.
One day this woman went to collect her dues from one of her customers, who lived in the same neighbourhood, and he gave a chain of social challenges which made it difficult for him to settle the debt.
She was a reasonable woman and deferred to the next month. That same evening she saw the same person she had excused coming from one of her business competitors holding another live chicken for that evening’s meal.
She immediately intercepted him and they wrestled for control of that chicken and she took it and put it in with the rest in her fowl run.
What irked her was the philosophy of someone incurring debt with one person but failing to pay that debt.
Instead of prioritising the repayment of that debt they choose to go and borrow from someone else ,because they have defaulted on their current obligation.
Unfortunately, this is the same mentality in Zimbabwean people many years on.
This type of mindset cannot be blamed on harsh economic times. It can only be explained by a culture of debt defaulting. This has nothing to do with someone not having capacity to pay. It has more to do with someone lacking commitment to pay.
Unfortunately, in this group there is the political elite that has a spirit of entitlement.
They borrow from financial institutions but when it comes to paying their dues, they play politics. They have a culture of impunity and even the banks cannot dare issue recovery writs against them. Their lifestyles do not suggest that they are indigent. They have a spirit of entitlement and impunity. You can imagine them saying to the banker in their heads; “What are you gonna do about it?” This type of behaviour is not good for the country and it affects the ability of financial institutions to loan to the next person.
The tragedy of this mindset is that it is also taken from people’s personal lives and is carried on to their State functions. This same political elite takes their penchant for not paying personal debts to work where they don’t prioritise the payment of national debts by commissioning more spending sprees not occasioned by affordability. The devil of spending what one does not have as well as having skewed priorities has to be confronted. Like most truths, it does not make comfortable reading.
For how can a country that is struggling with a debt overhang of nearly $10 billion never fails to avail top of the range vehicles to its top officials and other questionable use of public funds? Isn’t it really down to priorities again?
It is iniquitous to be in debt and continue to pile debt upon debt, which is only used to finance recurring expenditure especially a voracious appetite for consumer goods and luxuries. It is equally iniquitous to saddle one’s grandchildren with this burden for generations to come.
The country should bequeath a legacy of prosperity and not a legacy of debt. The nation cannot continue to duck responsibility. Sanctions have been very deleterious to our economy. They continue to cause havoc, but we are also responsible for the situation the nation finds itself in. We have to ask ourselves who we can borrow from now when we have exhausted any credit limit and yet defaulting from our payments.
If most of the decisions made were about survival, nobody would blame a nation for choosing survival over debt repayment. But any claim that this is the dilemma facing the nation will sound hollow when it is clear that Zimbabweans do not prioritise debt repayment. Some have exhausted their credit worthy among friends.
There is a general feeling that Zimbabweans are bad debtors. It is now wired in the psyche of the nation to ignore one’s obligations whilst accumulating more with very little prospect of paying. This has nothing to do with the difficult state of the Zimbabwean economy because even those who seem to be doing ok in the Diaspora seem to suffer from the same social malady.
So the argument that people choose survival over their reputation does not wash. The saying that to get rid of someone, lend them money used to ring so true among our lot. Now, you lend them money which they don’t repay and they still come back for more. They are perfecting the art of smooth talking. But that can only be a bane to the nation. But what causes people not to prioritise paying their debts?
It is a social injustice for a nation to borrow. Individuals fritter that money away and everyone’s child and grandchild is saddled with that debt. The nation cannot be called to austere whilst a few are profligate.
One of the problems in Zimbabwe or among Zimbabweans is measuring success by the amount of visible material possessions. Even those who are known to be stealing do not want to steal and stash the money away for future generations. No. That does not bring emotional utility. It you got it, you got to flaunt it. Flawed as the idea might be, if one is flaunting their money then that is fine. But if one is flaunting money they cannot repay then the priorities are skewed here.
When a nation is called upon to austere it is not a call on the poor to forgo their sadza and veggie meals from two to one. It is a call on those that eat in Michelin Star restaurants on the back of a public purse (debt) to hold back. It is a call to go back to those years soon after independence when minsters were running around in Datsun Bluebird vehicles. Yes, reader, you got that one right. That used to be an official car. Not these days of top of the range this and top of the range that whilst the nation groans.
The nation is completely disfigured by greedy and unbridled materialism. Everyone should face to their debts head on and the State should also face its debts head on.
Both for the State and individuals, there is also such a thing called living within one’s means. If it’s not seen, it does not mean you don’t have it. There is one prominent businessman who was asked what he needed an 18-bedroomed house for and he realised he just could not answer that question.
He came up with something like he built that house knowing that one day he would think of converting it into a hotel. Today’s young people would have added “LOL” (laugh out loud) at the end of that statement because it is laughable indeed.
And of course a few months after shooting that video the nation learnt about his mounting debt problems.
This is typical of the national psyche. The sad thing is that, if this debt was being used to buy local goods then one would say it was being used to stimulate economic activity and that would be good. But the nation’s appetite for things which are foreign is baffling. Some are even considering importing bricks in order to just build a house that is different from the next guy. This type of use of money has very little economic value to the country except if one considers the haulage truck used to ferry the bricks as a major economic activity.
Some lament the moral repugnance of having our grand children with a debt overhang which the nation has nothing to show for. Imagine a situation where the only inheritance one receives from a deceased parent is a massive debt and they cannot account for where the money went or what it was used for. Some inherit sovereign funds. Why should our children inherit debts? This is an odious legacy to leave our children.
The debt repayment default rate is too high in Zimbabwe and it shouldn’t be so. The country is moving itself into a stringent debt straitjacket from which it will struggle to wiggle out. It is morally responsible for each generation to pay its debts as it goes along, so that the grand children cannot inherit a grand debt.