THIS is the first part of a series of MDC-T secretary general Tendai Biti’s address to a SAPES Trust Policy Dialogue on March 6, 2014 in which he gives his take on the state of the economy and domestic politics among other things.
GOOD evening to everyone. It’s always a pleasure to come here. It has been a pleasure to be invited here on a regular basis and to have discussions with the generality of Zimbabwe and our fellow friends and colleagues from the international committee.
The reality of our situation is that Zimbabwe is in a crisis and a deep structural crisis. An unprecedented crisis. This country, those of you who are familiar with history of the same, has almost been in perpetual crisis since 1891. And if you follow these cycles, they follow what Prof Kuznets — Pro Kuznets was a scholar who wrote a book in 1929 about what he called Kuznets Cycles, 15 Year Cycles — they differ some are 25 year cycles which are called con-tractive circles. Our cycles are almost like a 15 year period. We have got a crisis since 1891. Those same crises are both political and economic. So we go through these seismic political and economic crises since 1891.
I would invite many who are here to read Patrick Bond’s book, ‘Uneven Zimbabwe’ because he graphically captures the slumps and booms of these constant cycles that this country goes through. But there is a unique characteristic of the current crisis which we are facing.
The current crisis which we are facing is a collision of many of the crises that manifest themselves as one strand. So in some situations we have got a stable economy but a political crisis. So if you take the Rhodesians economy, after 1965, after UDI to 1973 those of you who know the history of our economy that is infect the time the Zimbabwean economy was growing at its peak. So the economy was doing very well but we had this political crisis. So at any given time you have got one dominant crisis facing the country.
If you take 1982 Gukurahundi to 1987, the economy was performing reasonably well but we had the political crisis geographically located in one spatial region of the country Matabeleland. The rest of the country, we were kids then, and we actually didn’t know that Gukurahundi was referring to Matabeleland.
So this is the first time and it’s very unique that you are having all these crises, all these variations of the crisis coalescing in one historical epoch. So we have got a leadership crisis, a structural leadership crisis. We have got a crisis of a President who is 90 years of age and therefore the country is now in a suspense when will nature do what it wants to do. All these things it’s a coalition of things we have not known before.
We have got a serious succession battle in the ruling party. So the ruling party is at its weakest since independence. If again you look at the history of our country, at any given time the ruling parties have always been strong.
The Rhodesia Front under Ian Smith from 1965, Mr. Winston Field’s party, Garfield’s Party, Sir Coughlan’s party.
They have this classic hegemony on the population. So we have a ruling party that is uncharacteristically weak, its cannibalising each other, and its open warfare which has transcended into parliament. At parliament right now Zanu-PF are working together with MDC people to expose things something that was unheard of. So the leadership crisis is not just in the ruling party.
I don’t remember a time when there was a virtual vacuum either in business or in church where we did not have figures that the country would look to. I remember the days of icons like Pius Ncube, the ZCTU with the likes of Morgan Tsvangirai, the likes of Gibson Sibanda, the likes Jeff Mtandare, and a strong student movement. The likes of Arthur Mutambara some of us and so forth. You see the leadership crisis permeating everything in Zimbabwe. I don’t remember a time in Zimbabwe where civic society, the trade unions, the traditional NGOs where Irene (Petras) comes from were as paralysed as they are.
He is coming from the University. I don’t remember a time when the university did not play some kind of influential role with all the characters that we have seen in the past. So it’s almost like universal the crisis of leadership.
Then we have the crisis of confidence which is a by-product of the crisis of leadership, the crisis of legitimacy and then of course we have the economic crisis and on the economic crisis, this economy is entering a phase of stagflation, disinflation and deflation. She is a top economist, she will tell you that this is a very rare phenomenon. Under hyper-inflationary activity there was aggregate demand, in-fact too much aggregate demand, too much money chasing too few goods. There is a situation of an economy that overheats in a hyper-inflationary situation. Now in a disinflationary situation and deflationary situation there is no activity at all, there is zero aggregate demand there is no movement. I was at Georges in Kamfinsa at Pick n Pay supermarket. Not so long ago, people would be colliding with their trolleys pushing each other, now you find two or three women and parking is all over you can get free parking something that you wouldn’t do.
Seventy-five companies according to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions closed in the last quarter of 2013. Retrenchments are taking place at the rate of 300 per week and I know from my practice, when I went back I said I didn’t want to do labour law again but it’s almost like it seems it’s the dominant area of the law. People are being retrenched. So employers and employees are coming to you. Revenue in 2013 collapsed by 6 percent totally and 18 percent in the last quarter of the year. Arrears are accumulating by the second. The Government is not collecting money to meet the wage bill. During my time we used to collect money and 75 percent of that used to go to the wage bill, now they can’t collect to pay the current wage bill. This is before the threatened Increase. The next result which they are now doing which is clearly unconstitutional and unlawful is that, it was reported in the Daily News today.
They have stopped paying stop orders of Civil servants. So if a civil servant earns $400 or her net salary is $100 someone would have maintenance which is deducted directly someone will owe Woolworth, someone will owe OK Bazaar. They have stopped stop orders.
So if your net salary is $100 when everything else has been deducted that’s what they give you. Basically they have defaulted even in the payment of salaries. Government is in de facto to shut-down. In September we used to give ministries us$4000 now they are not, so every Government minister you want to talk to is outside the country. And for me what worries me, what makes me angry is the absence of the coherence response to the crisis. The absence of systematic coherence to respond to the crisis. I don’t remember a time when we had such vacuum such voidness.
I don’t remember a time that exhausted nationalism betrayed this trait of inertia, of impasse of collapse and of failure. In the past you would have one or two ministers who would be so active, who literally would cover up for every other deficient and omission and commission of Government. You would have one particular minister who would be so dominant. You remember the days of Chris Ushewokunze literally carrying the government on his own, the early 80s the days of Kumbirai Kangai during those huge strikes liberally carrying the government on his own. The days of Bernard Chidzero literary carrying the government on his own. So a bright star was always there that would cover up the incompetence in other areas but we don’t have. It’s just muteness, absence of a message, absence of coherence, absence of leadership. In place we see this consumerism that we have never seen, the wedding, the birthday.
The things we have never seen. We see consumerism in the salaries. The salaries that cannot be sustained even by the economy with GDP of 280 billion US dollars. So it’s a very sad moment for Zimbabwe.
We have this crisis. Crisis of legitimacy, crisis of leadership, crisis of confidence, a structural economic crisis underlined by depression they are all coinciding in one place. So given this scenario, in my respectful view, it is so important that we actually have a very strong democratic opposition.
And by democratic I am not talking of a single political party, I am talking of in plural. We need strong democratic opposition. We need strong civic society, need strong unions.
And I will speak about this later on. But let me come to the nature of opposition politics in Africa. We have had two phases. The first phase which I will call the post-colonial struggle. The post-colonial struggle is relevant in understanding the nature of the opposition post-independent Africa.
The post liberation, the liberation struggle for all its weaknesses particularly centred on politics of predation and exclusion, tribalism and so forth. Had one common trend, one common value system, which was one man one vote, literally and of course depending on which country you are coming from, the issue of land. So it was about democratisation. It was about reasserting the sovereign rights of the majority population in that country.
These rights were consistently pursued whether in Swapo in Namibia, whether the ANC in South Africa, whether is Kanu in Kenya, UNIP in Zambia, Chama Cha Mapinduzi in Tanzania and various liberation formations in most of Africa. And I think that even up to today the liberation movement in independent black Africa has remained largely loyal, despite the predatorness, despite the corruption, the liberation movement has largely remained loyal to those values of nationalism, of sovereignty and some would say of power retention. They have largely remained loyal. Contradictions have risen, of dictatorship, of autocracy and so forth but that is another debate.
But the liberation movements that are still alive at the present moment are still bound by that common thread of nationalism of minimum democratisation, one man one vote. They have remained bound by that. Now the challenge of post-independent Africa as Frantz Fanon says in ‘The Wretched of the Earth’, is the failure by the liberation movement to extend liberation independence to the economy i.e. the democratisation of the economy as Dr Mandaza has said in the preface to Edgar Tekere’s biography, these guys were functionally illiterate. They had no craft competence, they did not understand the intricacies of the state and many of those were coming from wars.
So when you come from a war it’s very easy to centralise yourself. So each of the post-independent leaders are these powerful big man Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Mzee Kenyatta in Kenya, Comrade Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Comrade Samora Machel in Mozambique, Comrade Agostinho Neto in Angola. These big, big characters who then substitute the state for themselves. Start talking of the central committee substituting themselves for the people and then we get the Politburo substituting for the central committee, which the central committee had long ago substituted for the people.
You remember Thomas Mukanya’s song Zanu vanhu, vanhu iZanu. People are Zanu and Zanu are the people. If Zanu are the people and the Politburo ends up being the party it means the Politburo is now the people. But in the case of Zanu-PF the Presidency becomes the Politburo, which the Politburo has substituted itself from the central committee and central committee has substituted itself for the party, for the party which has substituted itself for the people.
So you have these predatory organisations. So the deification of the leader, the founding leader, the privatisation of the state by the leader we see it in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is a privatised state . I didn’t know that we now have a royal family, but we do have a royal family. In-fact the opulence we saw last Sunday be it some of the countries some of you come from have a royal families. So the state becomes total totally privatised. Now what is the response of the population.
The response of the population is to try and capture space that has been captured by these big individuals and to the extent that this individual is so big. The response is also personalised. We don’t want Robert Mugabe. We don’t want Zanu-PF. We don’t want Arap Moi. So the response is so very limited to the capture of space. It’s a protest movement, it’s not a substantive response based on a substantive, narrative. The value system anchored by the liberation movement in post independent Africa.