MY TURN WITH TICHAONA ZINDOGA
FOR those not familiar with the semiotics and nomenclature of Zimbabwean language and politics, “2008” represents a “time of great suffering” — something between the suffering of God’s people in Biblical times and Shaka Zulu’s “umfecane”.
In 2008, Zimbabwe suffered a national crisis characterised by a severe drought and an acute shortage of basic commodities such as food, fuel and cash. The country registered world record hyperinflation which ran to billions of percent. The country’s currency, the Zimbabwe dollar, was rendered worthless.
With this worthlessness went people’s savings and lifetime investments. The country’s “worthless” currency chased few hard currencies that became so precious and traded on the parallel market. People spent most of their time in queues seeking to buy scarce commodities.
Teachers and nurses and other working people abandoned posts and either joined the daily scrounging for survival or went abroad — as did many other people as they looked for “greener pastures”. Hospitals went without medicines because the Government did not have the foreign currency to buy the essential commodities — as did local authorities who failed to buy chemicals to treat potable water.
People died. The gravest count came in the form of a cholera epidemic which claimed more than 4 000 lives. Zimbabwe was burning. In 2008, the country held elections. The harmonised elections, comprising local, Parliamentary and Presidential polls were held in March.
The elections were indecisive with the Parliamentary elections giving us a “hung” Parliament for the first time, as the main parties Zanu-PF and MDC-T were separated by only two seats, in favour of MDC-T, while the party’s candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, edged incumbent President Mugabe in the first round of the presidential race, but without sufficient votes to earn an outright victory.
A run-off was necessary, which took place in June and was won by President Mugabe, but not without controversy since Tsvangirai purported to pull out of the race at the eleventh hour leading to a legitimacy crisis. The economic suffering that preceded and followed the elections of that year is what largely renders to 2008 its symbolic status.
It will be crucial to explore this situation further. On one hand the Government failed dismally to control the economy as the task mainly fell to one Gideon Gono, who was the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor. Apparently, Gono had only one idea to solve the country’s economy and severe shortage of foreign currency: the printing press. He is accused of running the mill of the press that churned useless notes and money whose value did not last days.
Today, some of the notes like the one hundred trillion bill, are rare collector’s items. Gono was accused of sending money changers with bags of cash onto the informal market in efforts to get scarce forex.
It only made the economy worse. There were efforts to control prices and facilities were put in place to try to bring goods into shops, but the opposite was achieved: empty, yawning shop shelves. This was a time of great suffering. It also led to a number of social problems, including broken families. Zimbabwe was emotionally scarred. Zimbabweans do not want to forget this period, and what this means is that they do not like to suffer the same conditions.
Who can blame them? “Return of 2008” Over the past few days, and in particular since Friday last week, there has been increased and panicked talk that 2008 “has returned”. Since Friday, there were messages circulating on social media and amplified by some sections of the mainstream media of a new wave of shortages of basic commodities, increases in prices and return of fuel queues.
Sections of the population went into panic mode and bought commodities at inflated prices. Zimbabwe is now using a local currency called “bond”, introduced last year. The parallel market devalued the local currency and some retailers refused electronic funds for purchases, while tiering prices on the basis of mode of payment.
In all this it has not been difficult to see an apparent glee in some circles over the so-called “return of 2008”. First of all, retailers were all too happy to hike prices and profiteer from the panic and confusion.
They made a killing. Secondly, and connected to the above, there are indications that some bank managers and tellers have become rogue and have been diverting money into the informal market.
These people may be the biggest players in the currency crisis that we have lately witnessed and measures should now seriously be taken against them. Thirdly, and more interestingly, some political players were all too happy to embrace the crisis. Political fortunes are to be made out of the suffering of the people. This is why the opposition in Zimbabwe welcomes the idea of a symbolic return of 2008.
It presents a window of opportunity. Let’s take you back to 2008. There was drought and there was Gideon Gono. However, much more substantially there were sanctions against Zimbabwe which Western countries maintained and strengthened to cause the suffering of Zimbabweans, fomenting a crisis that they hoped would force the ruling party, Zanu-PF, out.
People could be forced into an uprising or vote for the opposition as an alternative. The opposition MDC-T was offering Zimbabwe US$10 billion for reconstruction, which would be availed by the West — America and it’s allies. Western donor agencies were also selectively giving food handouts promising a future of plenty under MDC-T. Acts of sabotage against Zimbabwe by its detractors in denying the country aid, balance of payment support and sources of income such as exports and FDI, were described as “putting pressure on the regime”.
You should have read the likes of the Daily News and Financial Gazette (coincidentally they are one thing now) as they weekly celebrated the West “turning screws on Mugabe”. Pressure on the economy and the resultant suffering and anger of the people was this “turning screws on Mugabe” that the Daily News and other sell-out rags were celebrating. It is not surprising that they are at the forefront of this hankering after 2008. It is in tandem with their treacherous, sell-out agenda. They also benefit materially and financially from the war chest against Zimbabweans.
As we shall soon discover. It is no doubt that the biggest beneficiaries of the suffering, 2008-like, of Zimbabweans are the opposition and their appendages.
No surprise, then, that even little characters such as Fadzayi Mahere and Evan Mawarire are getting excited. They are seeing votes and political opportunity. Mawarire, the “flag pastor”, is back in the limelight. Crises will always have their beneficiaries.
This is why some people are actually looking forward to another 2008. But with a good harvest this year, a deflationary currency and hopefully a cleverer RBZ Governor in John Mangudya, the return of 2008 is not guaranteed.
Lastly, the burden to not only rectify this situation, but also ensure stability lies with Government — the government of Zanu-PF. Some officials from Zanu-PF and Government have been accused of benefiting from chaos and crises due to their proximity and control of certain sectors. It is in the interest of the party to rein in these unscrupulous elements who threaten the stability of the country.
We cannot see how President Mugabe can allow the situation to fester and thus earn his party an ignominious defeat when all things, including a clueless and plodding opposition, have been making it easy for the ruling party to win than lose. And if indeed the party is serious in bringing itself an unlikely 2008, then good grief!